AASHA MEHREEN AMIN
Ever since the existence of humankind socialising has become an essential part of living. Even the first few cavemen and cavewomen must have exchanged a few grunts and growls over some rabbit barbecue or shared their first joke when a fellow caveperson fell into the quicksand. At that time, of course, painful inventions like 'dress codes' did not apply. It was either a few leaves gathered together at sensitive places or an animal thong – or, nothing at all. Interaction was kept to a bare minimum: offer your rabbit foot to the guy next to you or thump him on his head with your club.
Travel down to a few thousand years and realise the impossible permutations and combinations of social interaction.
Just take Dhaka in winter. If you are a veteran social butterfly things could not be merrier. You have pencilled in all the dates in the calendar, made appointments with the parlour or saloon for whitening-brightening treatments, pedicures, waxing, hair grafting, face-lifting, liposuction… You will have also shopped and planned each outfit (Lord forbid, it gets repeated) for each occasion. For the female socialite, winter is the most exciting season, though a tad uncomfortable because of the pneumonia one is likely to contract after a series of weddings, barbecues, open-air musical soirees and poolside farewell parties, wearing low-backed sleeveless blouses and feathery chiffons. Male socialites have it easier as they don't need to show skin to look glamorous and can always sneak in a cashmere sweater and thermal underclothes under their suave suits. Plus they get to wear warm socks and shoes while their female counterparts have to wear skimpy stilettos that leave their feet as frozen as the chicken wings in the freezer. But hey, says the social butterfly, no pain, no gain.
For the not-so social person, winter in Dhaka can be a royal pain. Being invited to weddings and open-air musical soirees or even indoor events where auditoriums are as cold as the morgue creates a lot of misery. The agony is amplified manifolds when the functions fall on the busiest workday of the week. Hence you must dress for both office and say, a wedding and expect to be taken seriously. For those who fear the cold more than making the worst fashion faux pas it is indeed a dilemma. You maybe wearing the thickest silk sari but somehow the long-sleeved turtleneck sweater just doesn't exude the sultry look you were hoping for. Nor does the hooded jacket with the fancy zipper worn under the fairly decent shawl you have managed to match with the sari. You just end up looking like a female version of the Hunchback of Notredame. As mentioned before, men have it a lot easy in these situations.
Once the attire has been worn, whether appropriate or not, there is the other task of actually interacting with other humans. Again, this is a piece of cake for the avid socialites who get into the groove with gusto flitting from one person to the other, giving hugs, kisses and salaams appropriately, throwing compliments, flirting and fawning beautifully and effectively, making sure to get the entire crowd's attention, dress code perfectly maintained. For the shy, reluctant 'socialiser', who has been told that he/she must come otherwise hell will break lose, things are quite different. At a wedding for instance, you will realise you are the only woman wearing an unflattering, thick cardigan, with your benarasi and people seem to be mesmerised by your feet comfortably cushioned in woollen man-socks worn with slightly heeled slip-ons. You will also realise that you cannot find a single familiar face in sight and the host who insisted that the party totally depended on your presence, is being accosted by dozens of professional socialites.
In these situations the options are limited. If you are not dying to have the biryani with total strangers the best thing is to execute Plan B. This involves scanning the venue and spotting the key people. At a wedding this would be the bride, groom and the parents who have invited you. Just go up to them, make your presence known, get introduced to the new member of the family and then cleverly slither your way towards the exit to make your escape. The whole thing may not take more than twelve minutes. In prehistoric times even this would have been unnecessary. You would have just stayed back in your cave with your rabbit dinner.
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