<%-- Page Title--%> This Much I Know <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 127 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 17, 2003

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I Bring You Glad Tidings


I have stopped reading the newspaper while eating lunch as doing both activities simultaneously needs the nerves of a Robocop or the non-existent nerves of Mr. Spock, the long-eared alien in Star Trek, a Vulcan who has no feelings. The mention of Mr. Spock brings back mournful memories. I had a tremendous crush on him as a teen-ager and had debated on whether or not to write him a soppy fan letter. But my friends had dissuaded me. What's the point, they had said, he won't write back, he has no feelings. So I hadn't, and I still get a certain sad sense of unfulfilment when I watch old episodes of Star Trek with Mr. Spock always remaining the ultimate doer of the right thing, unfeelingly.

As most people are polar opposites of Mr. Spock, it becomes impossible to eat and at the same time read about Mr. Bush saying it is the world's responsibility to protect the American soldiers in Iraq, the WTO talks collapsing because the rich want to get richer, the wrong umpiring decisions costing the Bangladesh Tigers their deserved victories, Madam wanting Madam to apologise and/or resign, suited booted lawyers trampling photographs of the Father of the Nation or kicking a young boy suspected of being a pickpocket, the latest bits of the Buriganga, Ashulia, Gulshan Lake being filled upů there is no end to bad news. The appetite is ruined. The depression index goes up.

It is therefore our collective national responsibility to find good news from whatever source and share it with as many people possible. I have some very good news and I am coming to it.

A friend of mine, newly hajj-performed, sported the hijab. After the requisite forty days she still had it on and then just smiled mysteriously when asked what exactly she was thinking of. What she is exactly thinking of has become clear recently, which is that she is not planning to take it off.

All of us have of course read our Jean-Paul Sartre, if not every word which it turns out even he wouldn't because he refused to re-read, the bit where - and this is 'existentialism' in a nutshell -- at any moment we are free to make of ourselves what we wish. We don't have to see ourselves as victims of circumstances or accept other people's stereotypes of ourselves. Decide what sort of person you want to be and be he or she or even, it, as long as you are not bothering others.

So my friend has decided to wear the hijab, which is her existentialist right to make of herself what she wishes without bothering others. But I am very bothered; just like another friend who was here from Singapore on a short visit and went back to find her previously mini-skirted daughter wearing the hijab. She got so bothered and embarrassed she put on the hijab herself because mothers, the older women, are supposed to be donning the hijab and not daughters, the younger women.

This is incorrect and that is the good news. We,as usual, have got it the wrong way round. It's when you are young, alluring and a source of temptation to the populace (male) around you, it's then that you should have the hijab on. And when you are older, your allure rating is low, you have no desire to get married (and more to the point, very few have the desire to marry you) you are allowed to throw away your hijab (and wear what you like, such as the short and tight kameezes of the sixties which should further discourage any man to want to marry you).

I'm not saying this off the top of my head which is the usual place I say things from but this is knowledge garnered from a scholarly treatise I borrowed from the said mini-skirted young woman, pursuing a career in journalism, married happily to a literature teacher of similar religious inclinations. She is still hijabed and carefully keeping her considerable allure under wraps.

So I had a terrific argument/ discussion with my friend, fresh in the hijab-wearing brigade. My friend has a PhD in Physics, wrote her doctoral thesis in German and defended it in Austria. She is somebody whose opinions I respect.

So what are you telling us, I asked her, what is exactly your message? 'I am alluring; I am a source of temptation; I have not lost my desire to get married' is that it? Does your husband know (or care)? She laughed loudly and said that it is not the woman's desire to get married which is the point of the argument. You cover yourself because by looking at you, someone may get the desire to marry you. And you being the cause of such a wish (death wish, if you like), you have the responsibility to cover yourself.

Now what sort of an argument is this? If looking at my car, somebody gets the desire to hijack it, is that my responsibility? Also with the chador round my head, my face remains uncovered and my face is what should lead a man to propose marriage (slightly optimistic hypothesis here) and so why am I allowed to keep my face uncovered? And what should I do about it?

How about a big frown or an angry expression to ward off potential suitors, my friend suggested, humorously.

At this point the waiter came in with the dessert menu and so we had more important things to think about; the argument was abandoned, to be resumed at a later date.

The important point in this article, which I have been trying to make to a particular section of people but keep getting interrupted, is that there is yet some good news during these bad times. The glad tidings that I bring, never mind my friend with the PhD, is that after a certain age you can abandon the hijab. Or if you have never worn it and while approaching your sojourn in the twilight zone you are feeling guilty, then unlike James Bond who said Never say Never, you can say Never! and never wear it.

But please to keep in mind you are also saying, 'I am of a certain age, I am no longer alluring, I have no more desire to get married.' Saying the last part is not so difficult but saying the rest of it is not always easy. Unless you are Ms Spock and have no feelings.



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