We have come a long way, us Pakistanis, and what a tragic travel it has been. These thoughts were ignited, and a happily benighted soul was shaken into action to rail against the extreme positions our society takes, after a long period of blissful apathy, by a facebook post of a colleague, who, mind you, is not your routine bloke passing belittling and snide remarks just for thrills. I had the bad fortune of having a sensible colleague – someone we would call a representative model of, at the very least, 60 percent of city dwelling Pakistani young men and women – delve into the past and bring back up with him a black and white picture of good-looking women in three rows, with the leading lady of the middle row holding aloft the Pakistani flag. It is a pretty picture. Our representative model was in ruptures over how “not a single woman has her head covered” as if covered or uncovered heads signify anything of import. Regrettably, these words distracted me from taking in, and appreciating the beauty of the women of our “glorious” past. Only those with an acute aesthetic sense, and those who simultaneously carry with them many sensitivities, trivial even, would understand my pain. I cringed inwardly and asked the question which most certainly many of us ask ourselves every day as we go about our lives, witnessing the real life miseries on the broken and barely breathing streets of our beloved country: how did things come to such a pitiable pass?
Do not get me wrong, my fellow citizens, I do not hold a favorable or unfavorable opinion on head covering, but I do nurture with relish strong feelings against talking in extremes when battling an extreme. I do take an exception to the ultra conservatives and the neo liberals we find ourselves surrounded by, as some of us search in vain for the golden mean. I often wonder why are different styles of dressing even up for debate, and my wonderment makes me wish for a world that does not have opinions on things that do not matter, and should not matter. To say that not covering one’s head signifies independence and empowerment is as incomprehensible and ludicrous as it is to say that the women who do not cover their heads would be fuel of the hell fire.
Pray close the debate on different dressing styles because it distracts us from the real issues like corruption, public service delivery failures, the leakages in our political system, and the list never ends, or should I relate the mythological Cretan tale of Daedalus and Icarus to drive my point home? The story goes that Daedalus built feathered wings for himself and his son to escape the evil clutches of King Minos, with a warning to his son to “fly the middle course”, between the sea spray and the sun’s heat. Icarus, very much like Pakistanis, did not heed his father; flew up and up until the sun melted the wax off his wings, and lost the beauty which the middle way would have brought.
Alas, for Icarus it ended tragically, but it does not have to be the same for us. All we need to do is change the debate, and make it about human empowerment. Let’s make it about things that matter, rather than getting confused by a debate which would only have losers in the long run. Substance over form, please?