“Dekho kitna bolti hai!” (Look how much she talks) If you have ever been forced into a gathering of relatives, neighbours or friends you did not know even existed, then you have probably heard this often. This is accompanied by disapproving stares (How rude!) and finger pointing at the unfortunate victim of interfering judgemental aunties and sometimes even uncles. (Hey! It’s a progressive society and metrosexuality is supposedly attractive.) They promptly launch into a discussion of how disrespectful it is for young girls to speak in “grown up conversations”. They rejoice in exchanging heroic tales of exposing the true character of such unsuspecting girls, who are frankly a danger to our gentle and refined society.
This begs the question :”How does a girl’s voice suddenly disappear the day of a party?” Perhaps, it is tradition for young ladies from respected households to strike bargains with Ursula, the Sea Witch, “under the sea”. In this case, they do not give away shimmering mermaids’ tails for shapely human legs. Rather, they lose the power of having a voice.
It is perfectly understandable when my mother pulls us aside before a party to say: “You girls stay quiet, you are children. Just greet the guests politely.” Considering how fond aunties are of making a mountain out of a molehill, I am thankful for her protective instinct. It’s not like I find any joy in their pitiful racist gossip anyways.
Returning to the aunties’ observation of a young girl being “tez” (Sharp) and “chalak” (Cunning) if she adds in her two cents to a public conversation. No, these are not compliments at all. It reminds me of a scene in Disney’s Mulan. When the Chinese emperor’s councilman comes to Mulan’s village demanding one man from every family serve in the emperial army, she pleads her disabled father’s case. On the sexist councilman’s remark, her father says, “Mulan, you dishonour me.”
Apparently, the norms of Ancient China and modern Pakistan are not so different. Adding logic and voicing a personal suggestion could strip away your family’s honour. Now this foolish dishonourable act has stained her character for all eternity. She has a brain! *Gasp* She can make her own decisions! *Double gasp* She has, Heaven forbid, opinions! *Cue fainting of delicate natured aunties*
She has thrown away her entire future with a few careless words. “But, I think…..”. Why oh why did she feel the unnatural urge to think? Her mother beats at her chest in mourning. Her father wonders how much money he will save now that her dowry is out of the equation. Her sisters curse at her fretting that society might assume the disease of “feminine thinking” runs in the family like diabetes. All the while, the young woman in question sighs in irritation at all the needless drama unfolding before her. She pities those who waste their time and energy on it.
Let us now delve into the serene life of the lucky young lady who has miraculosuly gained society’s approval. Glowing with pride her mother gushes, “My shy daughter hardly ever speaks in front of strangers”. Translation: “I have trained my daughter to serve mutely and jump on command”. Me: “Can she also fetch and roll over?” In short, the naive lady believes she has raised her daughter to be the perfect wife and daughter-in-law. The only question the girl will ever ask is :”Aap chai mein cheeni kitni lyngy?” (How much sugar would you like with your tea?)