Scene 1: Abu Dhabi, 01:30 PM, 45 degree Celsius
Women (and all those metrosexual men out there) beware! In climatic conditions such as the one mentioned above, neither your Raybans nor your sunblocks can be of much help. I had already lost enough colour having traversed the deserts of the Sahara (not really, just a fun desert safari) to have discomforted my long-dead grandmother (who boasted of the most gorgeous milk white skin tone) and my ‘at the end of her wit’s mother’ whose primary concern after my return from Dubai has been the restoration of my skin tone by applying layers of curd, peels of tomatoes besides other elements of nature. It’s not a great idea to have a daughter of marriageable age (I had'nt yet met the 'sheikh of my life' till then) looking like the latest Fair and Lovely model you see(the before version, just in case you were confused). Anyway, having battled the excruciating heat on the hills of Jabal Hafeez, we appeared before the hallowed portals of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE. Knowing my love for posing for the shutterbug, my fellow colleague (a very talented amateur young photographer) had zeroed in on the most flattering angle to capture my moderately pretty face against the silhouette of the grand structure when I was ‘politely commanded’ (how oxymoronic) by one of the mosque sentinels to don my headscarf before I could continue my endeavour at being Miss Photogenic Face of the year. That taken care of, I now proceeded to make my way towards the main mosque building when Commandment Number 2 was issued to me: Please put on your ‘abaya’ before proceeding further. Now, where was this mentioned? No signboard pointed this out anywhere either within or outside the premises. With thoughts such as these in my literally ‘garam dimaag’ I put on the ‘abaya’. Not the best thing to do for the following reasons:
Reason No 1: I was a puny little 157 cms sized woman donning a piece of garment meant for a Naomi Campbellesque or atleast a Deepika Padukonesque frame. Besides, grace has never been one of my favourite companions. Result, I end up personifying ‘clumsy’ like only I can in the midst of some of the prettiest women that I have been ever surrounded by.
Reason No. 2: The entire notion of the oriental versus the occidental is slowly making my insides irritable. While I am struggling with the heat, the abaya and the thought of my wheatish complexion turning into a dark chocolate brown, I hear stray phrases such as ‘This is so exotic’, ‘I feel like the Queen of Sheba’ doing the rounds amongst my Western counterparts.
Reason Number 3: I see all my male colleagues walking around without a care in the world. No ‘abaya’ business for them. No headscarf either. One of them refuses to recognize me for around 30 seconds before realization finally dawns that I am not Salma Begum but their very own Sreejita Basu. Another colleague of mine questions, “Is it really uncomfortable? . “No”, I replied with a wry smile around my lips, “It’s the comfort of Levi’s jeans, the style statement of Versace and the ethnic elegance of Ritu Kumar all rolled into one”.
Scene 2: Jumeira Beach Park, 4:30 PM, 38 degree Celsius
A complete contrast to Scene 1, Jumeira Beach Park is the ideal destination in Dubai for a dip in the sea. Add to that, the chance to catch a glimpse of the beautiful sunset while being surrounded by gorgeous men and women from almost every part of the world. After my experience of donning the ‘abaya’, one would have thought that the idea of sporting a bikini (you have to be dressed in proper swimming gear to be able to take a dip, no salwar-kameez business here) would have been my perfect idea of empowerment (even I thought so). But wait a minute...what about those ‘larger than life’ love handles? Or the untoned torso? The not-quite-perfect arms or the chicken-pox scars on my back? While I was still pre-occupied with such insecurities, I noticed a 70 something white woman heading towards the beach. Wrinkled skin, sagging breasts. Like any other 70 year old. Beach-hat and bikini in place, her wobbly legs displayed the most confident strides I had seen in a long long time. Although I did manage to take the dip (in my modest swimwear, no bikini business), I had not quite been able to shake off the self-doubts in my head.
So, here I was, not quite sure of my own stand. Not quite comfortable covering up my body in the flowing abaya. Not quite comfortable showing it off in the bikini. And I am not too surprised. In a society where the chance occurrence of your bra strap playing peek-a-boo from your top still raises eyebrows and your clothes are the biggest catalyst for you getting raped, I cannot help getting drawn towards the middle path.
I had always propagated the idea of feeling beautiful and appreciating my own self in spite of its imperfections. I still do. Like any other woman I crave for the perfect body (although I make no efforts in that direction). I like receiving compliments and I know when men are checking me out. I hope I can say the same things with the same amount of confidence when I am 70 something. And feel stunning in spite of the wrinkled skin, the grey hair and the not-so-perfect waistline.
|At Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi.Don't miss out on the green sneakers playing peek-a-boo from the abaya|