A Future In Purdah
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
1. The announcement
It had been a lovely family dinner as usual. Now they were all having tea, as usual sitting on large cushions. Against one wall Omar Khan and his wife Fatima are seated on separate cushions. Against the opposite wall his four adult children each are sharing a cushion with their spouse. The women are all resting their head on their husband’s chest and cuddling discretely with him while they drink. Omar Khan’s three daughters are all extremely beautiful and their beauty is intensified by exquisite makeup and high quality colourful Pakistani clothing only hiding what liberal decency requires. Of course his daughter-in-law is to outsiders and the son himself just as beautiful, but to Omar Khan his own daughters are something special. His daughter-in-law, although wearing similar colourful clothing, dresses a little more modestly, covering herself from neck to wrists and ankles with no see-through fabric.
Omar Khan says “Everyday Fatima and I say to one other that we are very lucky being in good health and, more importantly, have four healthy children, our daughters happily married to handsome men, who can support a family and our son capable of continuing the family. Both our daughters and our daughter-in-law have been educated beyond high school and have their own income. But lately Fatima and I have been talking about that without the right spiritual direction high income, good education and beauty is worthless, because after a short, perhaps even successful life, in this world you end in hell for eternity. But we both find, and have consulted a mullah who agrees, that if from now on you start living modestly, following our religious teachings and traditions, we’ll reunite in Paradise after each of us has had the time prescribed. While you young women were helping Fatima prepare dinner and clearing the kitchen, we men have talked something over. Your husband’s have agreed to drop Western suits and t-shirts and dress in our traditional clothing as I do. They will also drop late night outings with their friends and spend more time with their family, which hopefully soon will be including children. For you women, part of a proper life is covering up, much like the purdah of earlier times. For some of you it means replacing your work life with the life of a housewife, for others work and modest dress-code may be compatible. But I know that each of you can sustain your current status with the income of your husband alone.”
As soon as the daughters had perceived that their father is talking seriously tonight they had all straightened to lean shoulder to shoulder with their husband and just holding hands with him. But the word ‘purdah’ makes them all gasp and look like as if they had been told of the death of someone close. Their father continues “I can see that having to dress traditionally is something that scares you and I agree it’s very different from how you’re dressed right now. When your mother was young she dressed the traditional way and she thinks a transitional period will make the change less of a shock. Her plan is that in the coming week you dress to only show feet, hands and face, which is actually the minimum covering requirement of our religion. You cover this way both at home and in public. Furthermore makeup is not permitted in public. The following week you will add stockings, gloves and cover your lower face, both at home and in public. A pak-chadar fulfills the face covering and covers the upper arms as well. In public the legs must be hidden by the wearing of an ankle length skirt or dress. Finally in the third week the skirt is worn at home as well and you add eye cover. This is, along with a gag, which is only to be removed while eating, to be worn at all times. While outdoors, a full-face black veil, an overhead abaya and a full length peek-hole burqa is to be worn.” During the description of this road towards confinement, anonymity and submission, the daughters have moved out onto the floor and now sit openly crying, tears running down their faces. Aysha, the daughter-in-law, just looks stunned.
Fatima gets up and gestures the women to follow her. In the kitchen she says “I know you need some time to accept this change. Just keep remembering, a life a little less glamorous than anticipated will bring eternal reward in the end. Although I’m too old to need to cover that much, I’ll be supportive by dressing in the same manner as you will be required to do. Being from another generation I’ve never uncovered as far as you do. But you don’t consider me a restricted purdah woman. Even so I’m just a small step from fulfilling the requirements of the first week. And Aysha is too if she simply removes her makeup. Come Aysha you can borrow a large scarf to cover both hair and neck to start in the right direction right now.”
The three sisters, now alone, are still sobbing. Bibi, the second daughter, says in a hoarse voice “Mum and dad are right, but I’ve always figured a more modest pious life could wait until I had to stay at home anyway to nurse my children. Right now I love working at the publishing company. I’m working with men all the time. Will my colleagues accept me being completely veiled? Will dad and my husband allow the eye veil and gag not to be used during work hours? And will they allow me to work anyway when dealing with men most of the time?”
The oldest, Amina, says in a low voice “Mostly dealing with men I think you have to accept you will have to quit your job and become a full-time housewife, or find a women only work place. As gynaecologist I only treat women and only meet men when they accompany their wife to hear about what the examination has shown and what needs to be done. I often wear a surgical mask and have veiled patients. If I can be allowed to work without burqa and abaya, but instead in medical scrubs with skirt, and of course without gag and eye veil then many women are helped and my education not wasted. Fortunately the dress requirements of the first two weeks are acceptable at work. We already have a nurse veiling her lower face. If I promise my husband to minimize male contact by not shaking hands or not looking directly at male faces I hope he will let me keep working.”
Then the youngest, Farah, says with nearly no trace of crying “It’s a big lawyer’s office. Many do not have contact with clients only writing letters or preparing cases by searching books for the right paragraphs or finding similar previous cases. In the conservative provinces there are even female lawyers working in pak-chadar. If my husband allows me to work in only pak-chadar and perhaps gloves, my boss accepts I’m veiled like that and I can have only tasks without client contact then I can keep working.” Amina says “I think you’re chance is as good as mine. I’ll go and remove my makeup, it’s ruined anyway.”
Fatima and Aysha come back. Bibi and Farah look at Aysha. A large, plain light blue scarf dominates her upper body. Besides not showing a strand of hair, it partly covers the eye brows and comes up to just below the tip of her chin. In addition the neck is covered and a large part of the shoulders and chest are covered as well. The face, without makeup, is just a small unnoticeable circle at the center of the blue cloth. Bibi says to Aysha “We’ve been talking about if we can keep working. What will you do?” Aysha says “Having to live a traditional life I think it can’t be done properly as anything but a housewife. But I’ll work with my husband on getting pregnant right away.”
Amina comes back with a faint smile on her lips. The others stare as they haven’t seen her without makeup for years, and perhaps Aysha never has. Amina says “This is how my face will look until the veils hides it again.” Bibi says “I’d better go and get a new face as well.” But Fatima says “Wait a moment. Why don’t you three borrow a large scarf as well?” After a little consideration they all shake their heads. Farah says “I need until tomorrow before I start changing the way I dress. Besides, such a large modest but strict scarf doesn’t match thin clothes and uncovered arms and legs.” Amina and Bibi both nod.
Ten minutes later Omar knocks the kitchen door saying the husband’s all wish to go home. The four young women all hug Fatima tightly and go to their respective husband. Here the daughters give their father a kiss and say ‘Goodnight.’ Aysha, who normally does the same, just bows deeply in front of him saying nothing. Omar says in a cheerful voice “I’m happy my daughters still kiss me like they always have despite my announcement earlier on. Goodnight to all of you and I’ll see you again next week.”
2. The required minimum and surprisingly more
A week later the four couples arrive at the house of Omar Khan within minutes of each other. Omar receives them outside the house talking to the young men, now all in galabiya, while the women form a group some meters away from the men. None of the women talk, but they, and all the men but one, stare or take glances at the burqa resembling a ghost standing among the women. From seeing who she arrived with or by identifying the other women they all soon know its Bibi. The only thing that can be seen is a plain light brown garment covering everything from head to ground. It’s a completely raw fabric without any print or embroidery. At a hasty look there are no front back or sides, just fabric hanging down from a cap marked by simple stitching around the top of the head. The shape gets wider from the cap down one third of the total height, and from there more or less goes directly down. Anyone looking for at least a few seconds from the right angle can tell the front is defined by two small circular black spots seven to eight centimeters apart and a little less than that below the stitching. Omar doesn’t talk about the burqa, but as they have all arrived, he invites the men to follow him inside and the women walk in some ten seconds later.
Fatima receives the women and leads them to the kitchen. Here five cushions have been placed around a low table. Women and men are segregated from now on. All except Bibi kiss Fatima and each other. While they greet Fatima is positively surprised in how far the others have gone to comply with their plan. They’re all dressed essentially as Fatima and Aysha ended up doing a week ago. Their dress is shalwar kameez, comprising of loose trousers which are tight at the ankles and on top a thigh long shirt with long sleeves, again tight at the wrists and finally a large scarf tight around the face. All are wearing unusually modest subdued fabrics. No see-through parts, sparkling colours or sexy cuts. It’s completely opposite last week’s appearance.
Fatima speaks to the burqa clad woman “Is it you Bibi? Have you chosen purdah so quickly?” The top part of the brown garment bows a little, making the black spots turn down. The wearer then lifts the garment from the inside and gradually more and more black fabric appears. Farah lends a helping hand and pulls the burqa off, but still not a spot of skin can be seen. The form is a little more human, showing extremely loose sleeves ending in hands covered in thick black gloves, and an opening at the top front of the black garment which could contain a face, but is covered in see-through black fabric, revealing only faint contours of the face behind. What they are looking at is a black overhead abaya with a black veil that completely covers the face opening. Bibi still doesn’t speak but one of her black gloved hands is first lifted to her chin to pull down the zipper that holds the abaya face opening closed and then it’s moved to the other wrist to unbutton the wrist of the abaya. Finally the second wrist is unbuttoned and the hands disappear inside the sleeves and starts lifting the abaya from the inside. Again Bibi gets a helping hand and now a plain light gray dress appears. In fact everything showing, except the black gloves previously coming out of the abaya sleeves, is made from the same light gray fabric, which now shows the gloves to be of elbow length and worn over top of the dress sleeves. The black veil covering the abaya face opening is a large square piece of cloth resting loosely on top of the head and hanging down over the shoulders. Bibi immediately lifts the veil off and starts pulling the gloves off. As she does this the others can see that her head, upper arms, chest and down the back is covered by a pak-chadar in the same colour and made from the same fabric as the dress. In the eye slit her eyes show she’s the center of attention. The thick gloves off reveals the entire dress sleeves and another thin pair of black gloves going inside the sleeves.
Bibi finally speaks “As usual thank you for inviting me to dinner mom. As you can hear and see my purdah dressing is not complete yet. I’m not gagged and I wear no eye cover with my pak-chadar.” Her mother says “Your sudden change to purdah surprises me Bibi. But of course the sooner the better, however tonight covering of the face is not required. Won’t you remove your veil?” Bibi says “No, I’ve been dressed like this for some days. I only unveil for eating and that shouldn’t be changed just because I’m not at home.” Fatima says “I understand. Purdah rules are not something you should follow when convenient and break now and then when in company of non-followers. Once chosen the rules should always be obeyed. Let’s get the dinner ready while we continue talking.”
After working for some minutes in silence, Bibi, seemingly skilled at working in gloves without staining them, Amina asks the question they all have on their lips “Bibi why did you drop mom and dad’s plan and change completely so fast?” Bibi replies saying “Getting home after the last evening here I felt sick and cried continuously. I reported sick to work and kept crying for two days. Then my mind accepted my life had to start in a new direction. I quit my job and found a shop selling modest purdah clothing. At home I dressed like this and started doing all the household chores I had neglected while crying. The next morning I gave my husband a shopping list and told him from now on he has to buy everything and accompany me when I need to go shopping or elsewhere where I might have to face men. I then put on the abaya and burqa and took a long slow walk in the neighbourhood to get accustomed to these garments. With only the abaya veil sight is only a little darker, like wearing strong sunglasses and slightly blurred, but the small burqa peek-holes make it very different. Where you can normally see a wide angle out from your face the peek-holes only give two small separate circular images. If I wore the burqa now I would have to move my head to see the entire face of one of you. I took a similar walk the following day and met another peek-hole burqa. We greeted each other cheek to cheek and then she walked away gesturing me to follow by turning her head. At her home she undressed to a pak-chadar like I wear now, but her eyes were covered beneath the chadar and she was gagged as well. We had coffee and she told me about herself in writing. Her name is Nasrin. I told her about the evening last week and that I was happy meeting another purdah woman and would soon be eye veiled and mute like her. Now we know we’re not alone in what we will be doing and can have new friends living a purdah life to replace our work colleagues and friends that follow a Western lifestyle.”
They work again in silence. The food is nearly ready when Bibi says “Mom, may I suggest I serve the food to the men as I’m more covered and thus will tempt them less?” Fatima says “It’s true you would be the right to serve, if there were only young women. But I’m here and due to my age will not tempt men. Besides it works the other way around as well. Young women should have as little contact with any men except their husband and father as possible. It will be me serving.”
Some minutes later they sit just waiting while the men eat. Aysha says “Bibi may I try your outer garments?” Bibi answers “Yes of course. Be my guest. If it’s just to find out how much you can see only the veil and the burqa is needed. Be careful, the veil consists of a half with little transparency and one with more. When having eyes covered beneath the pak-chadar then the inner veil combined with the higher transparency half of the outer veil gives a sight only slightly poorer than the low transparency half of the outer veil alone. Only wearing the outer veil of course the low transparency half must cover your face. And later when wearing both veils, and if accompanied by your husband, most women choose to cover the face with the low transparency half, making you nearly blind and requiring you to be guided.”
Aysha chooses to put on everything: Gloves, veil, the overhead-abaya and the burqa. Once completely dressed, at first only the head moves, then she turns around and walks out of the kitchen with steps so small it looks like she is sliding across the floor. The other women hear the front door open and close. Five minutes later they hear the door again and moments later Aysha enters the kitchen. Seeing the others are still waiting for the men she just sits down on her cushion. Farah asks “Do you actually like this purdah dress?” Aysha’s head and body moves a little as if she is considering her answer, then she clearly nods. Farah continues “Then will you keep this dress on until Bibi needs it?” Aysha shakes her head and puts her forehead to the table.
Minutes later Fatima comes with half empty dishes from where the men are. Aysha starts removing the burqa and abaya and Bibi unpins the veil part of her pak-chadar, only to pin it at her left cheek from where it extends as an integral part of the entire pak-chadar. They eat only saying a few words praising the food. At one point Farah asks “Mom, why do we have to wear the overhead abaya? It’s put on and taken off along with the burqa and the burqa covers it completely.” Fatima replies by telling her “One layer for going out in public among men is considered inadequate. If the burqa lifts or tears you could show clothing which only women are supposed to see. Also you’re isolated better from indecent men squeezing against women in crowded places, but a reduction in hearing is the most important advantage.”
The meal is nearly over and no one speaks until it is time to wash the dishes, at which time Amina asks “Aysha. Bibi has sort of accepted what she has to wear and found out she can manage both in pak-chadar when doing household chores and in burqa walking safely and seeing passably. Can you explain what it was like to you though it was only for fifteen minutes?” Aysha says “From Bibi’s words I got the impression the garments are tolerable but restricting and annoying. Because of that I expected to feel caged in cloth, just barely able to move around and observe the world outside, but the clothing was more like being wrapped in comfortable warm blankets on a cold evening. Aiming to only move slowly like a demure woman should, walking was no problem. Also the much reduced field of vision removes any possible indecent distractions and makes you focus on what’s just in front of you to avoid stumbling and bumping into something. I walked around outside in the yard and could find my way everywhere in the light of the lamps, but of course in the future there will be one more eye covering layer.”
Amina says “You make purdah clothing sound like a necessity of life like oxygen and food. Bibi may I try?” Bibi, veiled again since the meal has ended, gestures Amina to take the clothes. Amina puts it all on and, like Aysha, looks around in the kitchen before slowly moving out the door. Farah, who also wants the experience, steps outside the door to see where Amina walks. She only slowly walks down the corridor and back to the kitchen. She immediately undresses and hands the items to Farah saying “I didn’t feel uncomfortable, claustrophobic and that sort of thing. And orientation, even in the weaker lighting of the corridor was possible, but for now I’ll stay with mom and dad’s plan.”
Farah dons the burqa and walks up and down the corridor like Amina. She undresses and they all sit down because tea has now been served. Bibi has got herself a straw and holds the glass up on her chest and under the pak-chadar to let the straw make the connection to her mouth, because a glass would lift the veil improperly. Farah tells the others “I’ve never been covered that much before. It was totally different from wearing the kind of clothes I’m used to. Perhaps I’ll buy the outfit soon and wear it for increasingly longer periods at home before using it in public. As Amina said, I could walk and orientate, but I didn’t feel at ease. I’ll stay to the plan as well.”
A quarter of an hour later there is a knock at the kitchen door. Omar shouts to be heard without opening the door “It’s time to go home. When you’re ready to leave will all of you please come to the main room.” They all hug and kiss each other, but of course with Bibi they only hug. Then they only have to wait for Bibi to dress before, headed by Fatima, they walk in line to the main room.
The cushions are placed in almost the same positions as a week ago, but now the young men sit a little further apart. Fatima sits down next to Omar and each wife takes a standing position, head submissively facing the floor, next to her sitting husband. As they are sitting along the same wall they won’t see each other while looking at Omar, who says “I’m very pleased my daughters and daughter-in-law have complied with our plan leading to a life in purdah. With your modest choice of dress you have all surpassed my expectations, but I have to give special mention to Bibi for being, from what I can see, in complete purdah, totally ignoring the plan I laid out. Boys! Come and say goodnight. If you start and continue to the front door then our beautiful pearls won’t be seen by the wrong eyes.” Omar and Fatima get four kisses on their hand and four ‘Goodnights.’ Then Aysha comes to Omar bows deeply and without looking at his face with a low voice says “Goodnight.” Amina follows kissing Omar on the cheek and saying “Goodnight” head bowed. Bibi leans down and lets her covered cheek touch her father’s cheek. Her father grabs at both her shoulders and gives her a squeeze. Finally Farah repeats Amina’s goodbye.
3. At most eyes showing and one having entered the road to Paradise
Two weeks after the announcement of a future in purdah the yard of Omar Khan’s house contains only veiled women. The one first arriving has chosen to stand demurely facing a wall head down, waiting for the others following within minutes take their place next to her. They all just wait without really listening, and a minute after the men have gone inside, Fatima has to come out to bring them in. Fatima is only a little surprised when she sees two almost identical light brown burqas, which have to be Bibi and Aysha, but has to wait to see who is who. Standing next to each other the hues and fabrics are a little different, but which is the one worn by Bibi a week ago Fatima can’t determine. Amina and Farah, like Fatima herself, are both wearing pak-chadar and ankle long dress made from the same fabric, thin black gloves and have black covered feet, leaving only their now lowered eyes showing. Fatima is completely dressed in black. The other two wear a beige and dark grey dress and pak-chadar respectively, but Fatima not used to see only their eyes, and even without makeup, can’t see who is who. Again they go to the kitchen.
This time there’s no kissing. Fatima, Amina and Farah hug and Amina and Farah say thank you for the invitation. Although slightly muffled by the veils, Fatima recognizes their voices and is to identify Amina as wearing dark grey and Farah as wearing beige. Meanwhile the two wearing burqas have been undressing. With the overhead-abayas, black thick gloves and black veils only showing they look completely identical. Aysha must have asked Bibi where she had bought her garments. Soon two more pak-chadars and dresses appear. One is light brown, the one worn by Bibi last week, and after a round of hugging her voice reveals it’s her, which means it must be Aysha in maroon. After hugging the other wives she just bows deeply to Fatima and points to her mouth. She has gone directly to being completely purdah dressed, being gagged and eye veiled. Bibi has only taken her dressing one step further than last week and is eye veiled as well. They all look at Aysha although her visible clothes items are identical to Bibi’s. In maroon that is close to being black, she is just a dark featureless human outline resembling a dress form more than a woman, and knowing she is mute intensifies the inhuman impression. Fatima is actually completely in black, but with her eyes showing and moving, causes her to appear a human without ears, nose and mouth, in other words a normal veiled woman. Bibi is in between. Being featureless, the dress form comes into mind, but her light dress colour with contrasting black eye area and gloves makes her look like an ordinary veiled woman, where you just can’t see the eye details due to bad lightning conditions.
Working in gloves they start getting the dinner ready, Bibi and Aysha without letting their reduced sight affect them. For cleaning and other wet work Fatima hands out long rubber gloves. When most of the work has been done Farah tells them “My boss will let me work dressed like I am now until I can get a job at a female lawyer’s practice. He knows one who veils herself and only employs women and has recommended me to her. I had a meeting with her and she could offer me a position with no client contact in a month. In that position eye veiling is okay, but when meeting with her and colleagues, something like half an hour a day I must be able to talk. My husband has allowed this arrangement which means I’m only out of work for something like a month, because I have to wear eye covering from tomorrow. Working at all, and with veiled colleagues, makes the gag and the extra public covering much more acceptable. If I can live in purdah like this, the small annoying things are far out-weighted by knowing I’ll get eternal reward.”
Soon after this revelation Fatima serves the men. While they wait Amina speaks “My husband has allowed me to continue working as well. His conditions are that I’m dressed as I am now inside the clinic and may of course add scrubs for examinations and surgical procedures. When contact with men can’t be avoided, I may only say what is needed professionally and I have to look away from them. While with patients and colleagues I can only speak professionally except at lunch. Finally I reduce my work hours to part-time as soon as the clinic’s current work schedule expires. I know it’s not full purdah, but first I’ll try to lower my eyes when I’m not eye veiled and speak as little as possible when not gagged. Secondly, examining and treating women should only be done by women. In the perfect society, where all women keep purdah, some women have to break purdah a little to serve the rest of the women.” They all nod. No one wants to say anything right now as they all think of food.
Fatima waits ten minutes before she goes to the men to get the partly filled dishes. No one unpins their veils, afraid of looking away the moment Aysha will do it. Four heads are facing her as she lifts her hand. The pin comes out and with a swift movement of the other hand the veil is pulled across the opposite cheek and pinned again. Three sets of eyes open wide and some sighs are heard expressing their astonishment. Aysha’s mouth is forced wide open to a point where it seems unable to move by a large black ball making the lips seem like a thin circle drawn on a globe. A wide leather strap emerges from each side of the ball and takes a horizontal path around the head under the pak-chadar. The cheeks are pressed inwards where the strap passes and it looks very tight. From the center of the ball a transparent tube hangs down to a little below the chin. Aysha faces the others one by one. Her visible face is tightly framed by the eye cover and a large scarf worn under the pak-chadar. The gag has transformed her face into a large black ball with a small tip of nose above and a little more skin around them. Then Aysha lifts her hands to her cheeks and under the pak-chadar to behind her head. Moments later the straps loosens, but Aysha doesn’t spit the ball out. The jaws are locked and she has to pull the leather straps forward to make the ball pop out. After what seems like an eternity, but are in reality just a number of seconds her mouth closes, and seconds later she says “Thank you for the dinner invitation Fatima. Right now I need some water to drink and to clean my gag, but please start eating.” Still a little shaken they all eat in silence.
Finally Farah says “Aysha your gag doesn’t look very pleasant.” Aysha tells her “It’s horrible. It’s the worst part of this purdah outfit. It hurts at various places in and around the mouth, but they quickly get numb and you forget it. Having the mouth completely fixed makes me feel like a doll and with the mouth wide open I won’t say what kind of doll. Finally no matter if you sigh, scream, read a text aloud, sing or hit something that causes you to make an involuntary sound nothing comes out. Of course that’s the purpose of the gag, but being unable to speak makes me feel submissive, a servant, a maid. Even in my own house I can only obey not object.”
Amina says “Then everything is at it should be. What you describe is the perfect housewife. Isn’t that what you wanted to be?” After some moments of thought Aysha says “My vision was nursing children, chatting and discussing childcare and other common problems with neighbours and having long evenings in my husbands lap.” Amina says “Chatting looses it’s qualities in writing, but on the other hand it’s not a well-respected activity. Your everyday problems can, in most cases, be shown hands-on and if a neighbour has a solution, she can demonstrate it by visiting her. Cuddling requires no talking. Perhaps your husband even prefers you silent. Being housewife 24/7 isn’t for talkative extrovert personalities, which is why Farah and I must work.” Aysha says “I want to be a good housewife. I just hadn’t considered my personality is a little different from what is required. I must accept that. I have to change that aspect of myself as well.”
Fatima says “Aysha this gag of yours certainly looks extremely large to me.” She adds “I hope you can all eat a little more, because although I promised myself not to use or show any of my old purdah items ahead of the plan, I would like to have time to compare Aysha’s gag with my old one. While I go and get it perhaps Aysha will allow the rest of you to try it if you want to.” Aysha, placing the gag at the center of the table, tells the others “Go ahead, but please make sure you clean it properly afterwards.” Farah picks the gag up and puts the ball to her mouth, but she can’t get herself to open wide enough to push it in. Aysha gives her some advice “Take the straps behind your head and pull.” The pulling helps and the ball, having slid behind her teeth, now fills her mouth. Seeing and hearing Aysha, Farah tightens the straps so much they hurt. Her hands drop to her lap and she sits with her eyes nearly closed, but from time to time her eyes open wide for a while and she stares around by turning her head. It is as if her mouth, being locked open, prevents eye movements as well. She only stares directly forward or closes her eyes. This goes on for five minutes and Fatima, having returned, looks worriedly at Farah. Amina says in a loud voice “Farah are you okay? Even if I’m more and more discouraged I’d like to try the gag as well.” Farah jumps as being woken from a dream. She goes to the sink, unbuckles the gag, pulls it out and cleans it.
Sitting down again and handing the gag to Amina she says “You couldn’t hear I tried to use my voice could you?” A number of heads shake. Farah continues “It was like Aysha said, open mouth and unable to speak made me another being, a doll waiting for someone coming to play with me, or a robot waiting for the command to clean or cook. I’ll have to rehearse to maintain some of my current personality while I’m gagged. Of course the gagged being is a good purdah woman, but I think a little decision making on my own will make me more efficient and improve my housework.” Meanwhile Amina, with problems getting the ball in as well, has gagged herself. After a minute with her eyes closed she points to Bibi’s mouth and makes a question mark in the air. Bibi asks “Do you want me to ask you a question?” Amina nods. Bibi says “Does the gag hurt?” Amina nods and makes the question mark again while changing between nodding and shaking her head. After a few seconds Bibi asks her “You want to ask a question which can’t be answered by yes or no?” Amina nods. Bibi thinks for a while before saying “How did your colleagues react when you went to work veiled and wearing pak-chadar a week ago?” Amina points to some imaginary persons and then opens her eyes wide. Next she points to her mouth and from there to other imaginary persons. Then she pats herself on her shoulder and holds her arms forward as if hugging somebody. Bibi continues “Some were surprised and others you had told in advance. Many liked it or even congratulated you for having chosen the right path.” Amina nods eyes smiling and takes her hands behind her head to unbuckle the gag. She goes to the sink and returns, handing the gag to Aysha.
Fatima says “The meal is over and Aysha ought to be gagged again, but I’ll allow a five minutes delay for Bibi to try.” Bibi says “No thank you. I have one at home I’m trying to get used to.” Fatima says “Then you have to put it on in a minute when I’ve compared it to my mother’s here.” They all look as the two gags are placed next to each other. They are very similar. Fatima’s claim about Aysha’s gag being much larger doesn’t hold. The balls look exactly the same size. The material used is different and the old gag has no drinking tube, these are the differences. Handing Aysha her gag, Fatima says “Aysha, you may say one more line tonight. I can see I may have to give up wearing the same items as you, if my old jaw can’t open as wide as yours.” Meanwhile Aysha has just put her gag on and as the last of the young women veiled herself again. Fatima seeing this quickly veils, while three women, headed by Aysha, already have put on rubber gloves to wash the dishes.
Later at tea Farah says “Mom, I noticed the old gag has no drinking tube. What did they do then?” Fatima replies “At that time, starting at puberty, women were taught to keep silent almost always, gagged or not. A woman having good manners could easily drink tea for an hour without the need to be gagged. And remember, the pak-chadar is a new innovation with many advantages, but without opening the veil part it’s too tight to get your hands up under it and behind your head to unbuckle a gag. Back then the veil was always just a scarf tied over the mouth and nose, and a larger cloth hanging from the top of the head down over the shoulders where you could take the gag off and put it on without uncovering more.”
A little later Amina says “It made me happy Bibi understood my gesturing right. By gesturing and writing a few words some communication is still possible when gagged, which makes it more tolerable. Some colleagues at the clinic even said my veiling could make the clinic more attractive to women in purdah and other modest traditional women. What about you Bibi? It hurt you so much when learning you had to give up working. Have you just accepted being a full time housewife?” Bibi remarks “No not a full time housewife, but a life in full purdah. I think I can combine full purdah, eye veiled and gagged, with working. But I can’t really tell you about it until next week.” The rest is just small talk.
Omar knocks on the door saying loudly “It’s time to go home. I know you have all at least stayed with the plan which is good for your souls, but means no goodnight kisses to me. And as you shouting goodnight to me through a door without knowing who is outside would be highly inappropriate, just get dressed and go outside and wait by your husband’s car. Males and females are to have absolutely no contact from now on. Do not even look and if possible get out of hearing range. If a message to me or your husband is absolutely necessary, then tell Fatima, who will pass it on to me and I will tell your husband. Likewise your husband’s will have to go through me and Fatima to get a message to you. I will only stay in the same room and perhaps see you my daughters if we meet with at most your husband and Fatima in addition. Goodnight.” The women all hug each other and all except one says goodnight. Soon four women, heads down leave the kitchen. Bibi and Aysha close behind another woman, because they are accompanied by their husbands and then wear the low transparency side of their outer veils over the face. They only see lighter surfaces and moving shadows on a lit background. In the yard they are just able to recognize their own car by passing close along the row of cars. All the women stand waiting at the car back door, face on the roof. They have to wait nearly fifteen minutes because Omar had not started parting with the young men when he went to the kitchen door.
4. Purdah family dinner
A week later all women observe full purdah. Omar as usual receives his son and sons-in-law in the yard. For each couple arriving Omar points to the far corner of the yard where a beige burqa is standing. The husband then tells his wife where to go and turns her in the right direction. Amina, arriving last, like the others is nearly blind with two layers covering the eyes and the outer with low transparency. She starts walking forward with tiny steps and soon she can make out the blurry beige contour five meters away. The beige burqa stands next to a small wooden construction placed directly against a wall. It is box shaped, about four meters wide, one meter high and one meter deep. When Amina reaches the beige burqa, the beige burqa lifts a black piece of cloth covering the end of the box as an indication for Amina to enter. She observes the half towards the wall is open from the top of the box to the ground. The other half is open from the top and little more than halfway to the ground. The closed surface is the end of a seat. It’s a covered bench! Amina bows down to look inside but it’s completely dark even to uncovered eyes. Seat, back, top and opposite side are covered in a soft thick black material, probably stuffed fabric. Because the box is only one meter high Amina has to put her face in her lap to get in and remain sitting in that position. Inside the woman nearest the entrance sees the brightness as the cloth is lifted and is about to move out until she sees the opening filled by the new arrival and has to stay. It gets completely dark as the beige burqa drops the fabric covering the end. It is also deadly silent. The stuffed fabric absorbs any sounds, external or internal. Amina slowly pushes herself deeper inside not knowing she is last. Soon she is stopped by another body. Then she can only sit face turned towards the end waiting to see light from the outside. It feels much longer, but because Amina is last she only has to wait for something like ten minutes. When the cloth covering is again lifted and light fills the box she pushes herself outwards. The person sitting next to her seeing the neighbouring silhouette moving towards the light follows her, and soon four burqas follow the beige burqa inside the house.
In the kitchen they see there are two light brown burqas, one beige, one white and one off-white respectively. Of course the beige burqa receiving them is Fatima and assuming they haven’t changed since last week, the light brown burqas are Bibi and Aysha respectively. Burqas are taken off, abayas opened and lifted off, veils and gloves removed, but what appears is of course still just anonymous completely cloth covered beings. Last week Fatima was in black, now completely covered in black as her eyes are covered as well and the others all hug her before hugging each other. The pak-chadar and dress are worn all day and at high risk of getting dirty doing housework. Because of that they have to be changed everyday and a wardrobe has to contain many sets. Only Fatima’s collection is nearly all black sets. The others have most or all of a little selection of subdued colours that are found acceptable. In other words it’s impossible to identify the four young women. However Fatima and three of them immediately notice that the fourth wears a set made of an unusually high quality fabric and seems very well crafted, but the colour, although a bit shinier than normal is still light gray. There are two in beige and one in light brown respectively. Fatima takes a pen, a notepad and four clothes pins, gesturing them to write their name, tear the sheet off and pin it to the pak-chadar at the chest. In a minute it’s revealed that Bibi wears the high quality light gray set, Amina and Farah wear beige and Aysha light brown. Fatima then writes on a sheet which is passed on to everybody. They read ‘Every time you come here you go to the bench and wait.’ No one had expected anything else.
With them all being gagged, no real conversation is possible and they start preparing dinner. As more and more is ready to be served fewer hands are needed. One by one they sit down on the cushions doing nothing. Farah fills a jug with juice and places it on the table. Then they have something to do while waiting. Finally Fatima sits down while a pot is on the stove. Bibi gets up and goes to her burqa. Inside she has been hiding four packets in colourful gift wrapping paper and with name tags. She hands a packet to each of the others. They all unwrap to find a dress and pak-chadar set identically to what Bibi herself is wearing. They are all light gray like Bibi’s own except Fatima’s, who of course gets a black one. Faces completely covered the immediate reaction to this surprise can’t be seen, but they all get up to hug Bibi, who immediately gestures the last one hugging her to go to the bathroom to change. Fatima serves the dinner to the men while the others change. As this is done she can change herself.
Coming back from the bathroom she sees four completely identical subjects now without name tags. Assuming they haven’t changed cushions she still knows who is who. But they don’t sit doing nothing. They are leaning cheek to cheek to let the unusually thick, smooth soft fabric rub the only place where the skin is not covered beneath the dress and pak-chadar and they shake and caress their bodies to tell each other, and especially Bibi, how the fabric keeps them warm but doesn’t make them hot and sweaty. Those not sitting close to Bibi get up several times to hug her and let their cheeks meet hers. The time spent waiting for the men to eat passes quickly even if no one is able to make a sound. Fatima goes to get the leftovers.
As soon as there’s food on the table they all unveil to show the grotesque ball dominated doll-like lower face. They have all gotten used to this sight, which is only showing for a few moments before and after meals and for some perhaps during the night. It is the normal face of a purdah woman and tonight they all unbuckle fast, eager to ask Bibi about the presents. They all look to Fatima for the signal to start eating and talking and see she is still veiled. Fatima points to her mouth and then holds up one hand clenched into a fist to resemble the ball of the gag, and with the other formed like for grasping and resembling her mouth she shows she has great trouble getting the ball in and out. Amina asks “As it’s so difficult for you to get the ball in and out that you won’t take it out for eating why have you gagged?” Amina points to each of the others mouth and then to her own. Bibi says “Because you’ve promised to yourself to support us by wearing all we have to wear then you would neither eat nor drink tonight to keep your promise?” Fatima nods. Bibi continues “Mom, we all appreciate your support. Tonight you have fulfilled your promise by wearing exactly what we wear, but I think I speak for all of us when I say that you shouldn’t use this ball gag any more. You were brought up to be more modest and quiet than us. I’m sure you can remain silent for a long time without any gag. If you have doubts about yourself there are other kinds of gags. Why not just knot some scarves, tie them to a scarf folded to a strap and use this as gag. You can perhaps add something like a wide leather strap on top to make the gag more effective.” They all get up to hug Fatima and say ‘You must do as Bibi says.’ Fatima nods in the direction of each of them and then gestures them to eat. Bibi says “For now we’ll enjoy mom’s cooking. Afterwards I’ll tell you about the clothes.”
Close to twenty minutes later one by one they put down their cutlery and face Bibi. She stops eating herself and says “I’ve started a company with Nasrin. Remember I told you Nasrin is a purdah woman I met in my neighbourhood. We started visiting each other, but rarely talk as we normally meet in the afternoon. She showed me her closet with lots of fine home made clothing. In particular a couple of high quality sets like we wear now caught my interest. I gestured to her that I would like her to make some for me and of course pay for them. She gestured me others wanted the same and she could sell the next two dozen sets she makes. But others just get the patterns, buy the fabric and get instructions to make them themselves. I gestured if she personally knew some of those doing it themselves and if they were purdah women. She did and some were. I then suggested we made a small business together manufacturing hand made, high-quality purdah clothing. In the beginning only pak-chadar and dress sets, but later perhaps other items. We call our business ‘Elegant Purdah Wear’ and reside in a small building in Nasrin’s backyard. I take care of supplies, accounting and customers. Nasrin is in charge of production and selection of materials and, in addition to Nasrin, we have three women sewing. We only work afternoons and keep strict purdah. Everyone works veiled and gagged, but for delicate work and inspection we have a small room where one at a time we can go and remove the eye veil. We plan to meet early one day every second week to have lunch together, where we can all quickly have our say about business subjects, but more importantly can chat and learn about each others lives as colleagues and friends. All contact with suppliers is in writing; e-mail or ordinary mail. Likewise with customers, we meet person to person with at least me in purdah. For some time I think we get enough orders by more and more women seeing current customers wearing our products. So what you’re wearing now is not a present. It’s ‘Elegant Purdah Wear’ marketing. Please tell anyone who shows interest where to get it. Here are some business cards.”
The others have slowly kept eating while Bibi talked. Now Bibi eats much faster. After a minute of silence Farah says “Bibi you’re amazing. You switched from a crying, scantily covered fashion addict to purdah in a day. Now you’ve changed from housewife to CEO in a few days keeping purdah. I think Nasrin and you have found an unexplored market segment and can have a stable or increasing business for many years. As you saw when we waited for dinner, we all find this fabric extremely comfortable, lovely to look at and the craftsmanship excellent. I want to be a customer. How many styles do you have?” Bibi tells them “I’m happy you believe in our business and welcome you as customer. Currently we only produce this one design, but it’s available in the usual modest clothing colours, beige, light and dark grey, light and dark brown and black. As my sister I will give you a fifteen percent discount.” Farah says “I wear the light gray as your present and I would like one of each of the other colours, a total of five sets. But sister, fifteen percent? We have known each other all our lives, isn’t that worth twenty-five percent?” Laughing Bibi replies “Okay twenty percent then. But for that I expect you to actively tell about the dress to everyone who sees it, not only those that ask!” Farah says “It’s a deal. I’ll give five percent to let your business prosper.” Bibi says “Hand me the pen and paper then I’ll write the order in two copies.”
Aysha says “Write an identical order for me please.” Bibi says “Thank you Aysha. The dresses you all wear have been made to your measurements as I know them, but if you within a day or two find there’s something which needs to be changed, then please contact me to get it corrected and ensure the next five will be perfect.” Amina says “I’d like to congratulate you on your new job Bibi. I’m a little envious that you can have a job and still keep full purdah. I would like to as well, but although I can stitch a wound, my sewing skills are too poor to be employed in your company. Anyway there has to be women medical workers to treat women. Tell me can you really handle all this business with men in writing?” Bibi says “Especially when making new contacts a meeting or a visit at the supplier is often necessary. Then I go with my husband or Nasrin goes with hers and we basically have no interaction with the men, but accompanying our husbands we show it’s true we do business in purdah.”
Amina says “You’ve got solutions for everything. But keep writing. Of course I want the same as Farah and Aysha but I’d like to suggest a little change to the orders. None of us wear black. I suggest we all have the black set made to mom’s measurements and give it to her for nursing and cooking for us for many years.” Three heads nod approvingly and one shakes strongly. Bibi says “Yes, mom deserves something back for bringing us up and she can just tell others it’s for supporting us in becoming purdah women. Of course she’ll get a set from me as well. I saw you all nod to approve your orders being changed as suggested by Amina, and I didn’t hear any objections from mom. Then it’s settled, thank you for your orders. I think we can deliver in three to four weeks.” They all smile towards Fatima, who can do nothing but get up and hug them all. Sitting down again she offers them more food, but all shake their heads. Then she puts her fist to her mouth like it was the ball gag and puts her right hand to her left cheek and moves it across her nose to her right cheek like veiling herself. The young women comply and are soon mute cloth figures wearing rubber gloves and washing the dishes.
At tea Bibi turns to Aysha and starts gesturing. First she points to Amina and then mimics a medical exam on Aysha. Next she points to Farah showing writing and reading. Then she points to herself typing and holding at her dress. Finally she points from herself over Farah and Amina to Aysha and makes a question mark. Aysha shakes her head. Then Bibi points from Aysha to herself and gestures sewing. Aysha leans over to hug Bibi but still shakes her head. Then Aysha looks around and finds the pen and paper. Turning away from the others she writes a few words, tears the sheet of the block and folds it, text inside. She then writes on the outside and hands the paper to Fatima. Fatima takes a look at the outside and leaves the kitchen. In a minute she’s back.
Two minutes later Omar knocks at the door shouting “Fatima, open a bottle of our best cherry drink and bring it to me in a jug along with glasses and a dish with our best dates. Of course you in there can have some as well.” All except one wonder what has suddenly happened. Fatima quickly finds what is required and goes to serve the men. In a minute she’s back pouring cherry drink from a bottle to a jug and finds four glasses and straws. They all take a sip and then face Aysha. Aysha then writes on the block again and hands it to Fatima. Fatima jumps up letting the block fall to the floor and with arms wildly waving comes to Aysha to embrace her tightly. Amina picks up the block seeing the words ‘I’m pregnant.’
Copyright © 2010, Bo_Emp ; bo_emp ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com
Thanks to Nye North for proof reading.