– a Maratha Empire story –
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
1. Becoming Punyanagaris
“Where is the meeting point for the guided tour ‘Punyanagari unveiled’ which my friend and I have signed up for?” Marieke asks the receptionist at Le Royale Residency in English.
“Join the woman over there in the turquoise dupatta please,” the male receptionist answers.
Crossing the hall her friend Anke says in Dutch “Have we made a mistake by attending a tour about the veiling customs of Punyanagari with our heads uncovered?”
Marieke says “I hope not. We are wearing the same knee long dresses with elbow long sleeves as while we have been sightseeing the past three days, and we haven’t been harassed in any way for being unveiled or rather bare headed. Also the tour description says that what we need to experience the customs ourselves and fall in where we visit is included for borrowing.”
The woman in the turquoise dupatta is definitely European, and after the three women have observed each other for a little while she asks in English “Punyanagari unveiled?”
Marieke and Anke both nod for her to reach her hand out to Anke while saying to them both “Emma Brown from Manchester. Since learning that Britney Spears has married over here and now veils I have wanted to visit Bombay and try dressing like she does now, but it was only because no one at my husband’s department at work were eager for the long trip and spend a week here for learning the new corporate strategy that I succeeded. Despite the wives being invited with off-days paid I was the only one responding positively, and I only did so because I read the hotel has this tour. I know Punyanagari isn’t Bombay, but I think the veiling is the same, and even if I passed Britney Spears in the street I wouldn’t recognise her as she is now veiled.”
Marieke answers this long speech by simply saying “Marieke Schaken.”
Anke then says “Anke van Ginkel. We’re friends from Utrecht, The Netherlands.”
Meanwhile four more women have joined them but they more look at the covered local women coming and leaving than trying to get acquainted with their tour companions. Especially a young woman in the middle of the hall holding the handle of a large suitcase on wheels attracts them all. She is totally covered in white, including her eyes, but her clothing is tight enough to show a large bosom and with much of her outer layers being sheer she is alluring despite being very modestly covered. After looking at the clock, which is now three minutes past ten where the tour should have started, she walks to the reception desk and just a nod from the receptionist later she turns to walk towards the tour group.
With her appearance they all look when she in front of the group tilts her suitcase vertical to reveal a sign attached to its bottom reading ‘Punyanagari unveiled.’
“Are you our guide?” Emma asks.
The veiled woman nods and gestures them to follow her. They walk down a long corridor to the right of the reception and almost at the end the guide produces a keycard to open a door. They enter a small meeting room with twelve seats and a small podium with a desk. The guide lets the suitcase go when it is at the centre of the floor in front of the podium and then returns to the door to lock it. Then she steps up on the podium while gesturing the participants to take a seat.
While they all sit impatiently waiting for her to start, she suddenly lifts her gloved hands to the back of her neck to quickly untie and unwind the scarves covering her head. After a whirlwind of hand movements she has her entire head and neck uncovered and holds a scarf bundle in her hands. She faces down to look at it and then spits a black ball out of her mouth that drops into the scarves, which she then places on the desk. Then she directly faces the participants as if facing each of them while shaking her head to let her long jet black hair unfold halfway down her back, and as she stops shaking her head she says “Welcome to the ‘Punyanagari unveiled’ tour, I’m your guide Amrita Chawla.”
They all applaud while Amrita produces a phone from a pocket to soon lift her head from operating it and say “Emma Brown, England?”
Emma says quickly while raising her hand “It’s me.” It looks as if she would continue speaking but just her opening her mouth has made Amrita glance at her phone again to say “Christi Kumalu and Vanessa Mbuli, South Africa?”
A white and a black woman sitting next to each other both make a clear nod, then Amrita says “Anke Van Ginkel and Marieke Schaken, The Netherlands.”
Amrita and Anke raise a hand for Amrita to say “Mette Arvesen, Norway?”
No one responds for Amrita to go on “Miranda Hawkins, Australia?”
A woman with speckles and short red hair nods to make Amrita say “And finally Habiba Hayat, England?”
The last one to lift her hand could just as well be one of the locals with brown skin and black hair in a ponytail down her back. At this moment the door is knocked and Amrita says “Would one of you answer the door and if it is Mette Arvesen let her in?”
Christi, who is sitting closest to the door, gets up while Amrita pulls a scarf from the bundle on the desk and holds it across her face while looking towards the floor with her back to the door.
Despite wearing a dupatta covering all of her hair the woman outside is pale and blue eyed to be typical Scandinavian and when she starts saying in a timid voice “My name is Mette Arves..” Christi takes a firm grip on her wrist, pulls her inside and closes the door. This makes Mette’s dupatta slip back some inches to confirm her hair is fully blond. With them all looking at her she says “I’m very sorry. I forgot the tour was this early last night and I slept until waking by myself since coming here.”
Amrita says “Take a seat Mette. You have just missed my fabulous unveiling and with that we were about to conclude the tour.”
Confused Mette looks around to see several of the participants nodding, but then Amrita goes on “Just kidding Mette. I think you needed a small shock for us to be sure you are fully awake. In fact I have only called out the names and with you everybody having signed up is present. As the others have seen I present myself fully veiled in public, and with that I see myself as a typical Punyanagari female student not only appearing modest and preserving my own privacy, but also preparing for a possible future job in the government administration where a hundred percent covering with thick eye veiling, tight gagging and all enveloping shawls is part of the uniform for all females except at the lowest positions.”
After looking around Amrita continues “None of you knew that I can see which tells me you are typical participants of this tour not having stayed in India for more than a week. Am I right? Has anyone been here for more than a week?”
They all look around to see no one responding to make Amrita go on saying “Fine, then you are all at the same level and we can get into action.”
She steps down from the podium to open the suitcase while continuing “As the tour description says ‘Punyanagari unveiled’ means that you get an insight into the lifestyle of Punyanagari women but it’s done by meeting them on their own terms and not by me lecturing in here. You are going to be dressed as Punyanagari women. I see all of you but the two Dutch women are wearing a dupatta. Would one of you explain why? Perhaps Emma?”
Emma says “The hair is to Oriental women what the breasts are to Western women, and not even the most liberal Western women would walk anywhere in public, not even at beaches anymore, without covering their breasts.”
Amrita says “With most Punyanagari women covering everything I can’t say you are wrong, but it’s a custom from the religions of the Book, The Bible, Christians, Jews and most observed by the Muslims. If just having one scarf the first thing a Punyanagari woman would cover, like I did when the door had to be opened for Mette, is her lower face. Second to most women is wearing gloves. Although it looks a little odd at first I think you shall start with these two items as well. Veiling the face because it’s something I assume none of you have ever done before and so you’ll get some minutes getting used to it before we go out in the streets where you should appear as if you have veiled since puberty to blend in. Donning the gloves first also get you used to having the hands covered but also to get used to doing everything else with gloved hands because they will probably stay on for the entire tour. Get up here and take a pair of gloves to right away learn to tie the scarf with gloved hands. They are all white elbow length cotton which is the dominating length. Some wear opera length to the armpits but only wrist long gloves are rare. The pile of material I have placed on the right hand corner of the desk are the veils of white opaque cotton as well. I’ll put my own scarf on very slowly for you to copy when you are all gloved.”
Following Amrita Marieke has no problems tying the scarf with her now gloved hands, and then she stares at an already almost unrecognisable Anke if just looking at the face. Likewise Anke stares at her and the other women who know each other looks at their friend as well.
Amrita then says, now with a muffled voice “It’s a little warm now, both at the hands and face, but I feel more myself with you, the various participants of this tour, being the only strange women to whom I’ve shown my face in recent years. Let’s get on. Because of most of you are of a different skin colour from the typical Punyanagari woman I want you to be completely covered, so it’s off with the footwear to put on socks and salwar. Salwar is, if you don’t know, wide trousers, and these are wide enough to go on top of jeans, although the combination would be quite warm, and only knee long skirts or dresses like you all wear but to get the right feeling I will recommend you remove your skirts or dresses. The clothing I will be supplying is completely opaque, and behind the curtain at the back is a kitchenette but today we’ll use this partition as a changing room. I’ll keep on talking while you dress. Young Punyanagari women, below thirty I would say, wear as you might have noticed just about anything, jeans, dresses, saris, t-shirts and shirts of any style, but first this is a tour to experience the more traditional life and second I would like you all to look alike for both me and you easy to recognise any participant when out among the crowds. So it’s white salwar for all, and then it’s the same kameez, a long shirt, but in different colours because we also want to be able to identify each of you after you get completely covered. With the kameez I would like to pair you up with someone you don’t know to perhaps to start a new friendship and also for each of you to have a slightly different experience to share afterwards if you came here with others. The four pairs will wear red, green, blue and yellow respectively and within each pair there is a dark and a light version of the kameez. I have already decided to pair Emma with Mette to wear red. Vanessa and Habiba, both being dark-skinned will be in the most radiant colour of yellow. Then the other South African, Christi, with Marieke will be in the green. The remaining two, Anke and Miranda will be the blue pair.”
Handshaking, quick embraces and exchange of excited looks to compensate for hidden facial expressions follow Amrita’s announcement.
Christi says to Marieke “It’s so exciting to see the capital of our empire with such a rich and old culture. Besides it’s important to Vanessa and me to learn about the life of veiled women and experiencing it ourselves because, as you might know, veiling is to become compulsory in South Africa after New Year.”
Marieke says “No, I didn’t know. But it isn’t even compulsory here.”
Christi says “It has nothing to do with that we have become a part of the Maratha Empire. It’s because a large majority, I think it’s about eighty per cent, are now Muslims. I have tried to wear the niqab but if we are going to end up like Amrita was I think this is going to be very different, more like when at school trying to wear full hazmat suit and gas mask for an emergency exercise. But I hope Vanessa and I are going to feel a new self as Amrita, because when having to veil we would like to look different from the Muslims and the colourful clothing worn here would be a great choice. We already look wonderful, don’t we? Not just the two of us but the entire tour group.”
Marieke says “Yes we look wonderful. I feel wonderful. We’ll blend with the locals until we have to speak, but with the customs here we might not have to and perhaps won’t be able to. Anke and I have come here because the Maratha Empire is the United States of our time and Punyanagari is the New York, the city of the entire World with the most bustling life, where all the new trends are found and with a multitude of sights and things to experience even without visiting the official tourist sites. At home I often have my face covered during winter, especially for skating, with a balaclava or a cap and a scarf, but these are made of wool and the purpose is mainly to keep warm, although playing with the anonymity is a widespread winter entertainment.”
Conversations continue while they line up to change behind the curtain and return to the tables again until Amrita interrupts the individual conversations by saying loudly so all can hear
“New Punyanagaris! From your noses to your toes you can now step out into the streets without being noticed as a woman wearing normal neat attire. But if you go out as you are dressed now you’ll be stared down and everybody passing will turn shaking their heads. I’m not referring to your uncovered hair, but to your gloves. Long gloves are always worn to show almost in full. If wearing long sleeves the gloves go over the top. Please remove your gloves and pull them on top of the sleeves of the kameez. Or rather have your partner pull your gloves on, that is much easier.”
While Marieke works to put Christi’s second glove on with her own gloved hands Amrita starts speaking again “Now you are almost there. I said that veiling the face and gloves were the most important but to get the right Punyanagari look and in reality no one wears it without being covered otherwise, you have to wear a scarf covering your hair. Pick up what I have placed in front of you and follow me; perhaps those with longer hair should tie it up first, and some pull the face scarf a little down at the back; don’t mind if you unveil your face, we are not in public. Hold the scarf to your forehead, take the hands behind your head and tie a knot. That is it.”
After a couple of minutes Amrita, while slowly pulling off the scarf around her shoulders, speaks again “Very good everybody, we could go out now, especially if putting on a pair of sunglasses. But first I would like all of your skin to be covered to hide the fact that you are not locals and the neck opening of your kameez and the face veil only barely meet at the back. Fortunately just for looking chic most women wear a scarf over the shoulders that can easily be fitted to both cover the skin and look smart. Please copy me.”
Amrita unfolds her scarf, folds it again more neatly than it was and then puts it around her shoulders to look even better than before with the scarf fitted more smoothly. With them all now only showing eyes she says “Especially women at our age often use sunglasses to cover the last part of the face, both to be fashionable but just as much because it allows you to drive a scooty. We won’t drive ourselves on this tour and more important you are here to try the more conservative and traditional clothing so if you are in for it, it’s voluntary – you may wear sunglasses, take a sheer white scarf to become fully covered.”
A few moments later Miranda says “This is too small Amrita. There isn’t enough fabric to tie the corners.”
Amrita says “It’s the right size Miranda, it’s not meant to be tied. You do it like this.”
She quickly removes both her lower face scarf and her forehead scarf and then places the sheer scarf loosely over her head to finally reapply the scarves removed within a time frame that to the participants look like a movie played at double speed. While they start untying their scarves Amrita says “I keep letting you put on and remove your scarves not only to get used to them but also to learn to apply them faster or this alone would make you fall through as the tourists you don’t want to appear like at least today. Place the sheer scarf for its front edge to be at your chin, then when pulling your face scarf down for eating the face is still covered sufficiently for nothing to show at a distance above five meters or so.”
When Marieke is about ready to tie her face scarf again, her concentration on this is disturbed by taking in her new sight with everything a little darker but most prominently a strong white blur. Amrita’s voice sounds again “Very good Habiba, it only looks like you have just got some new gloves in a fabric that you aren’t used to.”
Habiba says “Thank you. I’m not used to gloves but my family have descended from the Muslim province of Balochistan and I’m used to wearing a hijab in various forms as part of our traditional clothing, but my family is not religious and I’m married to a cultural Christian.”
Amrita says “You know I don’t speak in public, so now is the time for me to tell what is going to happen until lunch. Basically we are going to the Municipal Corporation for you to see for yourselves how female public employees are covered and work. If anyone has questions for me to answer you’d better ask them now.”
They all look around at the others, but the participants can only think of the white blurred world they haven’t experienced before, and after some ten seconds Amrita says “Then there is just the question of how many want to follow me and protect themselves from sounding their voice in public. You have just chosen to change your sight noticeably, but I have to warn you that the gags I have are very annoying for at least the first half hour; you probably won’t get even close to them feeling as natural as I do even if you choose to wear them when I do for the rest of the tour.”
In a low voice Mette says “I want to try a ball please. I assume I can at any point cover my face on the chest of one of you to remove it if I can’t take it.”
Amrita points to a box in the open suitcase while looking around for others to follow her. Then Emma asks “Do you think Britney Spears now is gagged in public Amrita?”
Amrita answers with a question “Britney Spears married a Chenoy, didn’t she?”
Emma nods for Amrita to go on saying “Then I’m quite certain she is gagged in public.”
This makes Emma take the box from Mette, who meanwhile has pulled her face scarf down, folded her sheer scarf to uncover her lips, spread her jaws as wide as possible to slowly push the large white silicone ball into her mouth. After Mette has reapplied her face scarf it is at close range clear that the distance from the tip of her nose to the tip of her chin is unnatural for closed lips, and the trained eyes of the Punyanagari people can probably spot a ball gagged mouth under a scarf veil before greeting a person. Mette produces a low unintelligible sound trying to speak to make Amrita say “It is just a reminder, and as such it’s actually good if it annoys you, but it’s not a perfect gag. Should I put the box in the suitcase for us to leave?”
Anke pats Marieke on her shoulder to say “Punyanagari won’t be fully unveiled to us unless we try this as well.” With this she reaches for a ball and moments later Marieke takes one as well.
A minute later her jaws start to ache. When clenching the ball they are no longer fully open but still it’s very far from their natural closed position. At least natural to her, perhaps a wide open mouth is natural to Amrita and Punyanagari women in general. The scarf covering the mouth removes much of the open feeling but still Marieke, as Amrita said, can’t imagine she is going to get used to this ball today.
They have all chosen to be gagged in the end, and while they have put the ball in and fitted the face scarf again Amrita has closed the suitcase. Now she holds up her handbag while saying “Take your handbags and we can leave. With all of you accepting the balls and the eye veiling I’m sure this is a group who wants to fully experience being a traditional Punyanagari woman and so I won’t hand out notepads or use my phone to write messages. We’ll make do with gesturing and body language as was most common in public until mobile phones became widespread, but if others write to us don’t hesitate to respond.” Amrita pulls her scarf down, gags herself and refits her scarf in seconds while holding her handbag and taking the steps to the door.
Out in the street in the sun the white blur of the eye scarf is less noticeable, but it’s more the white that is reduced than the blur. Marieke understands one can’t drive with this sight. Also it starts getting quite hot with no direct airflow anywhere to remove the perspiration. They won’t get sunburned but it’s worse in the sun than for people in shorts and t-shirt. Breathing is somewhat obstructed as well, and warm, but the pollution is felt less through the scarves. Amrita has addressed two motor rickshaws and now waves the tour participants to her gesturing the red and yellow to enter the second rickshaw. There is room for three on the seat which means the fourth has to kneel between their feet. Marieke gets seated in the first rickshaw but has to cling to its roof pole not to slide sideways off the seat, and in this rickshaw Amrita is one of two who has to kneel.
Marieke now notices that about three quarters of the women riding rickshaws or on the back of scooty’s have their eyes veiled. Some, who appear to be teenagers, on the back of scooty’s, even seems to be wearing both eye covering and sunglasses. Her observation is confirmed at a traffic light where she sees a scooty stopped at the curb and the passenger gets off and removes her sunglasses to clearly show covered eyes.
2. The Municipal Corporation
After riding for about fifteen minutes the rickshaw stops just after having passed a building that could be the Municipal Corporation. Amrita leads them across a wide pavement to a gateway close to the left side of the building which is too small for cars. She hands a note to the female gatekeeper who is veiled much like themselves but with a shawl hiding everything but her face and hands. The gatekeeper answers by writing on her computer and turning the monitor for Amrita to read. Next to the hatch of the gatekeeper is a door with a sign in both Hindi and English for them to read ‘Punyanagari Municipal Corporation female staff entrance’. Scootys enter the gate as well to apparently have guarded parking on the other side of the gateway. The women entering the gateway look like the average women in the street, all veiled and wearing anything from jeans to saris. About half of the women on scootys show a pollution mask as their outer face covering. After watching about ten women enter it seems to Marieke as if the gatekeeper asks the entering women, by showing her monitor, if they would like to give the tour participants a presentation because the women give them a short glance and then shake their heads. She assumes Amrita expects one to accept within a reasonable time so she just enjoys watching the colourful women in their varied clothing while trying to guess their age and beauty. The woman now leaving the parking area could be anything below forty from her upper body, but wearing very tight light grey jeans that emphasise long slim sexy legs show her to be younger than Anke and herself, which puts her in her early twenties. Her body is covered in a black kameez with white patterns on it and around her shoulders she wears a curry shawl with white dots and her elbow long gloves have exactly the same grey hue as her jeans. Her lower face is covered by a black pollution mask that matches her kameez although the white pattern is different, and the rest of her head is covered by a helmet, being curry to match her shawl, with attached dark visor that covers the rest of her face. Inside this fashion display there has to be a beauty, Marieke tells herself. And perhaps she is going to find out. The helmeted head nods to the gatekeeper and then turns to gesture them to follow her through the door.
Just about to walk away from the door their Municipal Corporation guide hesitates and turns to for several seconds, to be sure she has been seen by them all, holds a finger across where her lips are hidden, showing she isn’t sure they all are gagged. Just inside the door they turn left to enter a long narrow room with lockers along the right wall and changing cubicles along the left. The guide produces a key from her handbag to about halfway through the room stop at a locker where the key matches. First she removes her helmet and mask to show she is still veiled like a fashion ad with a scarf covering her hair and forehead made of the same curry fabric as the shawl, and her lower face covered by a scarf also black with a white pattern to still match her kameez. Both scarves are placed so close up to her eyes that one only notices the long eyelashes that blink between the two edges of fabric. Marieke has good time to take this in because next she has produced a phone and is writing a message. After a little while she hands the phone to Amrita waiting to receive it and the phone is handed on for them all to read
‘My name is Tisha Tiwari. I am secretary in the tax department. I am to change into a uniform making me an example of female modesty. All female employees are gagged, and as guests of an employee you have to remain silent as well.’
When Tisha gets her phone back she writes again for them to soon read
‘After I have changed into what I consider acceptable for showing to you I’ll draw back the curtain for you to watch the rest of my dressing.’
Tisha takes a large empty plastic bottle from the locker and holds it out until Amrita takes it. Then she takes a pile of clothes and turns around to head for a free cubicle at the opposite side of the room. More than half the cubicles are occupied Marieke notices, and it being before noon almost everyone that enters is wearing street clothes and leaves in uniform. The uniforms aren’t identical but appear quite similar consisting of a plain salwar kameez, a large shawl over the head and covering most of the upper body and a fully covered face, but they vary in colour seemingly to reflect status and departments. They also seem to be much more restrictive than street clothing with the uniformed women slowly mincing out of the room. Thus a woman in uniform coming in attracts their attention. Even further so when she clearly approaches a curtained cubicle. It now has a sign with a green background colour clipped to the edge of the curtain which Marieke is sure wasn’t there two minutes ago. The woman entering pulls the curtain aside just enough to look inside and then enters for a moment, showing that there is another uniformed woman inside. In just ten seconds the curtain is drawn fully back and the woman last entering guides the other woman out with them both moving much slower than the other uniformed women. The woman is being guided because she wears her shawl over her head with the front edges starting down on the chest and held fully closed from the inside to no doubt make her blind, whereas the other women only wears her shawl to cover the upper half of the face only preventing a straight forward view. The shawl of the blind woman is also longer than the other uniformed women reaching her knees and below she shows a sari and not salwar, but the sari is coloured the same blue hue as the salwar of the woman guiding her, and their shawls are the same light brown hue to indicate they work in the same department.
A minute later Tisha draws her curtain back. They all gasp at her beauty. Her head is only covered by a plain white cotton snood for her hair not to be seen and her lips are parted to their limit by a white ball much larger than those in the tour party wear. Below she wears a plain cotton salwar kameez without decorations in royal blue with khaki yellow slippers and socks. Marieke has seen another woman leaving coloured identically with the shawl being khaki yellow as well. Tisha’s kameez has long sleeves almost reaching the wrists but she is not wearing gloves. Her eyes smile and blink to show she appreciates their gasping, and then she points down at her legs while spreading them to show that the very wide legs of her salwar are sewn together all the way down to just about half a dozen centimetres from the lower edge where they narrow to be tight around the ankles. Then she pulls at a leg just above the ankle to pull it tight to her own leg at the front to show she still wears her jeans underneath with the legs folded up at the bottom, and she repeats with her left arm to show she wears the uniform kameez on top of her own as well.
Tisha turns to a mirror above a small table top out from the wall of the cubicle to soon make the eyes of all the tour participants widen. She fixes her long eyelashes, and with them her eyelids, to the skin above her eyes with small pieces of tape. Then she covers this with a white cotton scarf with a single royal blue edge, which is the one she places across her forehead when tying the scarf to cover the top of her head and the white snood. Not a hint of the taped eyelids show as the scarf edge is placed incredibly low at level with the top of her pupils.
Next she takes a long transparent plastic tube where she puts one end through a tube through her ball gag, makes the ball turn in her mouth for the tube to enter at its right corner and lifts the other end of the tube over her right shoulder to hang down her back. Again she turns to the table top to take a roll of white gauze which shows to be adhesive as she unwinds it. She holds the end to her cheek below her left ear and at the same time fixes the tube under it and pulls the gauze across her gagged wide open lips to cover most of her chin, but keeping her nose free, to end with the roll below her right ear. Then she reaches around the back of her head with her left hand to grab the roll and pull the gauze around her head. By the time she cuts the gauze her mouth is covered by three layers.
Then the lower face is completely covered with a scarf similar to, but larger than the forehead scarf with a single royal blue edge. She again places the blue edge level with her pupils, but now their bottom. The neck is also completely covered by the scarf which Tisha pushes into the kameez neck opening all way round.
Moments later the last of the beautiful face, the beautiful eyes, disappear as Tisha covers them with a ribbon of sheer royal blue fabric with a width from mid forehead to the tip of the nose that slightly overlaps the blue edges of the scarves beneath. At least Marieke assumes the ribbon is sheer, but neither eye movement nor the edges of the scarves beneath are to be seen when Tisha lets her and a couple of other tour participants look at her face close up. Then she points to our eye scarves while shaking her head.
The head covering goes on with a large white cotton scarf wound around head and neck Muslim style while leaving the face free. Then comes a third scarf tied across the forehead, this time just above the hidden eyebrows, and a second lower face scarf, both opaque white cotton as well, to make Tisha’s head look typical Punyanagari, in fact much like the tour participants, as it can’t be seen that she wears much more than the one layer of scarves they wear, and although she has just a narrow slit the width of her pupils to see through it appears as if all of the uncovered area of her sheer ribbon is available for seeing through.
Tisha now uses her phone to write another message. Soon after she hands it over to Amrita while at the same time showing the participants one of her long white cotton gloves by placing it on the table top and tapping its fingers for them to learn that they contain a thin rigid casing preventing the fingers from bending, increasing the tip area, and in all seem to restrict hand movement considerably. Her message reads
‘Once I am wearing these gloves I can’t operate the small keys of my phone. If you have any questions please ask them now. I hope to be able to give you a short tour of my department but I can’t guarantee anything.’
They all look at each other for a little while until Miranda finally reaches for the phone. About a minute later Tisha hands it to her again for her to be the first to read Tisha’s answer, and then the phone is handed round for them all to read
‘Thank you for taking your time to show us, but why you when so many didn’t want to?’
‘First I came almost an hour before my boss is expected. Second my two older brothers were well received everywhere during a month long trip to many European countries and I want to reciprocate.’
One by one, just after handing the phone on, they all embrace Tisha.
Slightly surprising she doesn’t continue by putting her gloves on, but instead takes a wide white belt of cotton that seems to be reinforced and buckles the large bottle that Amrita filled for her to it. Then she buckles it around her lower chest with the bottle on her back. While Tisha reaches over her shoulder to blindly connect the tube hanging down her back to the top of the bottle Marieke observes the belt has pockets on the front.
Then it is time for the gloves to reach just above her elbows. They are followed by cuffs of the same material as the belt placed around the middle of each forearm. They now all notice that there are clips at each side of the belt to be connected with rings on the cuffs. But first Tisha unfolds the last piece of her pile of clothing, a khaki yellow shawl as Marieke had anticipated, and places it on her head to cover the blue eye ribbon and thus restricting her vision to downwards. There are no problems in making the clip at her right side engage with the ring on her right cuff, but then her right hand can’t reach much further left than just past the middle of her stomach. From below the table top Tisha produces a pair of special pliers to extent her hand and with skilled movements she soon has fixed her left forearm to her side as well.
Tisha now has to compensate for her restricted arms by moving her feet and turning to be able to pick up her own clothing and her handbag before mincing across the room to the locker. Her phone and her purse are placed in the pockets of the belt, and after locking the locker the key as well. Then she takes hold of the shawl to hold it close around her body and minces towards the door which can be pushed open.
They take a lift to the third floor and very slowly due to Tisha’s restricted gait walk down two long corridors before reaching the tax department. The first room is a large waiting room with about two thirds of the seats occupied. Tisha gestures to one of each colour of the participants to take a number and then all to go to the women only waiting room. Once there she bows and disappears through one of three doors.
The women only waiting room is only a quarter the size of the general waiting room but despite that only a third filled. There are more women in the large waiting room than here. Marieke guesses they are accompanied by husbands or other male family members and stay with them. Above the door is a display showing four numbers at a time. The number closest to theirs is more than forty lower and after they have waited for about five minutes only one number has changed. Marieke stares at the woman opposite her. It isn’t rude because it’s quite clear she can’t see anything but her own lap. She is dressed in a fine silk or satin basically orange sari with groups of roses embroidered along the hem. Her upper body is covered in a large dark red shawl with flower patterns draped over her head for her only to be able to look down. The fingers of a white silk gloved hand stick out from the shawl in her lap holding her number visible. Christi pats Marieke, points to the woman in the orange sari and then shows her that somebody has written on the back of their number label ‘ghunghat = veil.’ While Marieke with gestures tells Christi that she would love to wear such a sari the door is pushed open for a female employee to stand in the doorway holding a sheet of paper showing the lowest of their numbers. Anke and Miranda in blue immediately leave with the employee and then Marieke looks up to see their number has replaced one of the others. When the door opens again after about three minutes they all expect Anke and Miranda to come back but its two Muslim women who exit. They are a great contrast to the woman in the sari, being dressed in nothing but black from their floor sweeping dress to the waist long veil covering the eyes and both, like Tisha carry a black handbag. A minute later Christi pats Marieke and points above the door. Their number is displayed.
When the door opens Anke and Miranda, the female employee is holding up their number. Christi shows her their label to make the employee turn with a gesture that they should follow her. Through the middle door of the large waiting room they enter a long corridor with equally spaced doors along the left wall. Outside three of them stands a woman like their new guide with them all having a blue colour clearly lighter than Tisha. Their guide gestures from the door they came through to the three doors with employees outside to say here clients are dealt with at the moment. Then, while walking forward, she points to herself and her three colleagues and then mimics carrying papers and files between the rooms on both sides. While doing this another woman wearing an even lighter blue comes from back right where there is a wider opening in the wall to pass them and enter a door on the right they have just passed. Marieke understands the women dressed in the lighter blue are the lowest ranking employees, messengers, something that is confirmed by them being able to walk faster due to their salwar having the legs separated from just below the knees.
Their guide knocks a door on the left with no one outside. A buzzer sounds telling their guide to push the door open and she gestures for them to stop just inside. At the other end of the room is a large desk with two chairs on the side closest to them for clients and two more of the same chairs up against each wall. Nearer to them, up against the right wall, is a large cupboard. To the left is a small desk out from the wall with the chair on this side for its occupant to face the one behind the large desk. A female employee in darker blue than Tisha is seated in the chair and who, after they have been in the room for about ten seconds, turns with her swivel chair to face them. Her shawl is somehow closed around her body with her white gloved hands coming out of a slit at waist level. They have with their first look in her direction noticed the chain from a rail above her head along the length of the room that now shows to end by being attached to a short chain of just above ten centimetres that connects a pair of handcuffs she wears. She points from the empty chair to the keyhole of her left handcuff to indicate that her boss, who isn’t in yet, has the key. Then she takes her hands inside the shawl to lift it at the front revealing she is fixed to the chair with a waist belt. She points to the desk of her boss and puts her finger down on her own desk to mimic pressing a button, then she turns towards the door where their guide now pushes a real button for a light on the belt buckle to flash and the secretary to unbuckle it, only to buckle it again a few seconds later. Then she makes a faint nod and turns to her desk again. Their guide gestures it is time for them to leave.
They move to the end of the corridor where the guide points to the sign next to the door at the end which is both in Hindi and English for Marieke and Christi to read ‘Permanent Under-Secretary of Taxes.’ She gestures for them to move as silently as possible, just lean through the doorway and look left; and then slowly and silently she opens the door. The office inside is about scaled up by two compared to what they have just seen in about every way. Two metres from both the back wall where they stand in the doorway and the desk for the secretary stands a swivel chair facing the desk and the secretary is seated in it but she doesn’t work both due to the distance to the desk and due to her being thoroughly bound, held in a position with her body bend forward and her face in her lap. Her salwar is navy blue. After Marieke and Christa have been looking for ten seconds the guide closes the door and then starts mimicking first that the secretary always arrives close to an hour before her boss is expected to be seated like that until he arrives. She has about half an hour left today. Then she starts going through all her bonds. The chain from the ceiling and the handcuffs are the same but while waiting for her boss a second chain from the pole of the chair to the handcuff chain holds her hands down. The waist belt is the same. Her ankles are permanently chained so as they can only be parted by five centimetres and while waiting her feet are placed on either side of a wheel and the chain between her ankles strapped to its bar. Finally a strap around her neck and thighs holds her face to her lap and her body bend forward. Does it hurt or start aching? Do parts of her body get numb or is it tiring? Marieke would like to ask if able to better communicate with the guide, but most likely she has never tried and perhaps not even knows on second or third hand how it feels. With them carrying drinking bottles there might not be any breaks for non-professional communication and the systems seemingly strictly hierarchical so it is also very possible that a top secretary and a messenger never exchange a personal ‘word’. At least the top personal secretary isn’t sleeping as Marieke notices both the chair and its occupant move slightly.
While Marieke’s imagination works the guide takes them into the space behind the opening in the wall. Here are ten cubicles made with divider walls so low that an upright person can look inside. At the moment eight cubicles are occupied by women in royal blue. One of them has to be Tisha but they all look identical sitting almost unmoving facing a monitor and typing with their rigid gloves. The guide takes them to the second last cubicle on the right for them to observe the secretary in there closely through the entry opening and points to the nameplate in Hindi at the corner of the desk followed by gesturing to say this is Tisha. She sits on an ordinary chair which has a bar between its front legs to which her ankles are strapped. There is also a strap around the back of the chair going around her waist. The guide gestures these secretaries stay seated all their working hours. Christa gestures to the guide to enquire if they can ‘just say hello to Tisha’. The guide holds her hands to her head mimicking blinds to point out all the secretaries have their shawl fitted as a deep hood in front of the face that restricts their field of view to the monitor, and even when Tisha turns her head to look at a sheet in a box on their side of her desk Marieke doesn’t get the slightest glimpse of Tisha’s white face covering. But then the messenger places the sheet with their number in the box where Tisha has just looked. A few seconds later Tisha turns her head to read the sheet which immediately makes her turn further only just being able to face them with her hands not being moved from the keyboard. Marieke and Christa nod as the best they can come up with for greeting when unable to speak and with Tisha not presenting her hands. The guide makes her forehead touch that of Marieke and gesture towards Tisha. Marieke steps towards Tisha and bends down to bury her face in the deep face opening of Tisha’s shawl until their foreheads meet. In her mind she sees Tisha’s extraordinary beautiful face. Then she senses Tisha pulls her head a little back and pulls back herself. After Christa has greeted Tisha likewise the guide bends down to her to reshape the shawl into the deep hood partly spoiled by Marieke and Christa squeezing it. As the guide straightens up Tisha turns away to face her monitor again.
The guide leads them out. Reaching the corridor Marieke stops for a moment and turns to take a last look at the cubicle room. Her eyes see eight khaki yellow shawls tightly framing anonymous white fabric covered faces with a royal blue band and the tips of white gloves, but in her mind she sees the unveiled Tisha and seven other young Indian beauties with an expression as if their husband or lover was on the monitor they keep facing. Perhaps their minds see the same; with their faces thoroughly covered they can think freely without worrying about what expressions it produces on their face. Just before they reach the waiting room Christa stops their guide and makes her forehead touch hers. Marieke copies Christa for the guide to grab at her shawl and hold it across her face for a few seconds. Marieke takes it as she is overwhelmed or embarrassed to be greeted like this with her status being much below theirs. She turns into a small open room next to the door to push a button and change the sheet to the next number before opening the door to the waiting room. In the female only waiting room Emma and Mette are standing ready to follow the guide.
Marieke and Christa drop down on adjacent chairs and lean against each other. So much in six minutes. After a minute Christa turns to Anke and Miranda and momentarily puts her face in her lap. They nod several times; they have seen the same. She turns to Amrita who nods and points several times in different directions to say the leading personal secretary of all departments start their day like that. Miranda holds her hands over her eyes and takes a few steps to then point down and finally put her face in her lap for a moment. Amrita shakes her head and holds a hand to Miranda’s eyes and from there draws a chain in the air between her wrists to end letting her drawing hand reach towards the ceiling, which Marieke reads as all secretaries with a status to be chained to their office have their shawls wrapped to be blind, and thus having to be guided when outside the office.
This visit to the Municipal Corporation has made a deep impact on Marieke. Leaving school she had aspirations of becoming secretary at a lawyer’s office, but being a material girl she immediately started working as a sales assistant and she never got much further although she is now in reality managing a flower shop. Is it possible to concentrate on the cases to be processed, the forms to be filled or just typing without errors when being this strictly covered and confined? Perhaps the answer is that she herself is covered like never before and unpleasantly gagged, but since starting following Tisha’s transformation from an unveiled beauty to a heavily covered and bound secretary she hadn’t thought of her own veiling so considering the human ability to adapt the female employees of the Municipal Corporation probably work just as well as in any office anywhere, and when their mind leaves the work it’s to think of their husband, lover or children like women anywhere in the world.
While Marieke has been contemplating Emma and Mette have returned and Vanessa and Habiba have left for their tour. Marieke reflects that the woman in the orange sari has left even before Christa and herself returned. The two Muslim women in black only are still here. Five new women are now waiting. Within two minutes Vanessa and Habiba return with the guide. Emma gets up about to encourage the others to get up as well to thank her, but Amrita quickly makes her sit, gestures one minute and leaves with the guide. When she appears in the door again she gestures them to follow her. While they walk down the first long corridor she suddenly stops and makes them all stand up against the wall which all in the corridor do except the two men approaching them. The older one is wearing an expensive suit while the other is carrying an expensive bag not matching his ordinary shirt and trousers. When they have passed Amrita points towards the older man and then bows to put her face in her lap. They all just managed to see the offices of the ‘Permanent Under-Secretary of Taxes’ and the personal secretary waiting in there before the big man himself arrived.
They leave the Municipal Corporation as if they were clients, coming out of the main entrance at the top of an impressive staircase leading to the street. Halfway down Amrita sits down on the stairs and from her handbag produces a tourist pamphlet. ‘A selection of ethnic restaurants in Punyanagari,’ Marieke reads. Amrita holds it up for someone to have a say and immediately the hand of Habiba comes forward to, after a few seconds when no one else reaches for it, take the pamphlet. She apparently looks for something particular which she soon finds and shows to Amrita. Amrita nods approvingly and at the same time takes her two pointed fingers from the top of her head down on each side following the contours of her body to show they both have good food and interesting ethnic clothing. They are all shown Habiba’s choice and Marieke reads ‘Bamiyan – traditional Gandhari food,’ to just nod not minding trying new food and with good confidence in Amrita after the visit to the Municipal Corporation. They all seem to feel like Marieke to continue down the stairs in the direction where rickshaws wait.
While Amrita tries to get a discount for two rickshaws a woman selling pollution masks tries to make the group interested by pointing to the black gasses coming from the rickshaw’s exhaust and pinching her nose. Then she holds forward a mask to try and Marieke takes it and holds it to her already covered nose and mouth. It clearly makes her breathing forced but it doesn’t add much to her already warm face and despite that the scarves have reduced the bad smells and taste of the air she now only smells clean fabric. Marieke hands it back with a polite nod. Anke faces Marieke to ask if she should try and Marieke nods for the saleswoman, after handing the mask to Anke, shows Marieke a price which she roughly converts to 6€. Meanwhile Amrita is back with the group. Marieke points to the pollution masks and then to Amrita, who answers by nodding and opening her handbag to show she carries one herself. She points to the price tag and shakes her head. Meanwhile three more have tried the mask handing it on with a nod. Amrita looks around pointing at the masks and then holds her hand halfway between the price tag and the ground. Marieke and several others nod for Amrita and the saleswoman to start haggling with gestures for Marieke only to understand that the eight fingers Amrita shows several times is her main argument to get the price down. Finally Amrita opens her handbag again and produces a pen to cross out the price on the tag and write a new one that Marieke converts to 2.5€. They all nod and Amrita produces her purse to pay for all of them. While the saleswoman hands out masks with eyes showing selling eight masks with a fair profit is better than selling one or two at twice the price Amrita takes up her own mask before closing her handbag. Now nine absolutely mute women are ready to ride through the city with their health intact.
After riding for some minutes Marieke reflects that this mask isn’t nearly as bad as it looks. She will probably feel a moment of relief just after removing it but she estimates it will be all right to wear it for more than an hour. She would stick out if wearing it at home, even for scooter or motor bike riding, but there certainly are days where it would feel better. She doesn’t get a prolonged testing of the mask on this ride; after about ten minutes they stop.
The front of the restaurant has a door but no windows. Instead the name of the restaurant in Hindi fills most of the wall with two more lines below, the last in English saying ‘traditional Gandhari food’ as in the pamphlet. Inside are only men, the room being almost filled with more than thirty men distributed at small tables set for four. Most of them look ethnically different from most Punyanagaris. A woman, veiled in what appears as one long garment in thick dark olive cotton with only two separate mesh covered openings for the eyes, approaches them. Seeing her Marieke recalls that Gandhara is a region of north India with a very large majority of Muslims. Without taking her hand out of the garment the woman gestures for them to follow her through the door where she came from straight across the room. While they cross the room Amrita removes her pollution mask and the others copy her. They enter a room two thirds the size of the first room with seating for about twenty. At one table sit four women covered like the first one in various dark colours; and an amazed Marieke notices they are actually eating by lifting the garment and lifting food up under it. At the opposite end of the room sit three women at the same table. Two of them are wearing coloured but undecorated salwar kameez and matching headscarves but wear black gloves and a black veil covering the lower face, and black coats are hanging over the back of their chairs. The third has her black coat on and wears a full black head covering, but her coat is unbuttoned to show a salwar kameez like the others.
The woman in olive addresses the tour group in a muffled voice in Hindi. In one movement Amrita pulls her face scarf out, spits out her ball gag and makes the scarf sit quite tight again to answer. The woman in olive points through her garment towards the end with the women dressed like herself, Amrita nods and then the woman goes to address the four women. This makes them pull back from the table for the woman in olive to show two black gloved hands and take the two plates on one side and carry them towards the other end of the room. Immediately following Amrita takes the two other plates, then Habiba and Vanessa each take two sets of cutlery and the glasses and Mette takes the water bottle for the four women to get up and while exchanging nods with the tour group go to the other end of the room without showing anything but their outer garment. While the four women get settled at the new table Marieke overhears Amrita say something she interprets as ‘coffee on me’. The woman in olive, who after showing her hands has to be the waitress, gestures for help to put the table left by the four women together with another table and soon they have a combined table with nine chairs around it. The waitress starts suggesting a menu which Amrita translates from today’s lunch menu consisting of dolma and lamb kebab. They all take that and juice made from Bamiyan apples for drinking. The waitress then looks around to be sure she has got the right number of orders and at this moment Habiba, apparently having pulled her ball gag out from under her scarf, says to her in English “I am Hazara. My family originates from Quetta.” The waitress lets the hand with her notepad drop and moves along the table for her meshes to directly face Habiba, who looks like the seven other tour participants, to say with her voice still muffled but louder “Hazara? Hazara? Quetta? Farsi?” Habiba nods three times and then says “No, regrettably I neither speak Farsi, Pashto or Hindi; only English.” The waitress turns to look at Amrita who translates to Hindi and then the waitress says something Amrita translates as “I’ll get my daughter, she speaks English.”
In less than two minutes the waitress is back with another woman in a garment of the same type but black and with the eye meshes only about half as large. At her first words they all keep completely still because her voice is even more muffled than that of her mother and her voice is only just perceivable to all around the table when she is standing at the middle opposite Habiba
“I welcome guests from Europe to the Bamiyan restaurant of Punyanagari. This place is owned and run by the Behzad family. My mother’s name is Shaima. My name is Fariba. Do you need to borrow veils?”
Amrita quickly says “In many Muslim, and especially Gandharan places, it is disrespectful for women not to be veiled in a semi-public places like this. With the typical Punyanagari veiling style the face veil often isn’t large enough for hanging down to cover the chin and neck sufficiently. We wear long eye scarves Mrs. and Miss Behzad. Would you remove your face scarf to show Habiba please?”
After a nod from Shaima, Fariba says “Your eye scarves are sufficiently opaque, thank you, and with the shoulder scarf covering up on the chin you’ll stay respectable while eating. It’s a busy time of the day. If you will please excuse both of us then my mother will return to the kitchen and serving at the tables and I would like to get acquainted with the woman of our people to learn about names and places that probably won’t interest the rest of you.”
Fariba gestures Habiba to move to the corner table and soon they have all removed their gags, to like Habiba, have all of their face only covered by the sheer eye scarf. Emma starts the conversation by saying what most of them feel “I can’t get that personal secretary of the Permanent Under-Secretary out of my mind. Why is she forced to sit bend down and tightly bound like that for long periods when I assume a messenger enters with her boss to untie her sufficiently for her work while he gets seated?”
Amrita answers “Because it’s a privilege of her position for which she gets paid. Also she honours her family if the boss brings someone or his first client sees her like that. But most important if she is a normal Punyanagari woman she loves it. Extreme modesty is a passion for Punyanagari women and the more helpless and dependent on others the more modest you feel and appear. Then no one minds it hurts or aches a little or you risk fainting from getting insufficient air. I hope my exams will be good enough to qualify me to work as a personal secretary, but just the top five women of all of Maratha each year have a reasonable chance.”
These words make the table silent for half a minute. Then Amrita adds “When lunch is over we’ll go and visit the family of my older sister to learn one example of how the women of a well-off traditional family express a modest lifestyle. But right now, if it doesn’t show the tribes of Habiba and the Behzads are hostile to each other, I think you, and even I, can learn much more about Gandhari women than I had anticipated. Let me start with what I know. Their outer garment is called a burqa or chadri and comes in many forms and qualities, but they all cover both the head and the upper body as a sack with no other openings than for the eyes, and the eye opening or openings are always covered with a mesh. Actually versions with one mesh covering both eyes are much more common I believe, but I have no personal experience as burqas are a rare sight in Punyanagari, whereas I think they are mandatory in some regions of Gandhari. Besides many here, like Fariba, wear them in black so as to often make you think the woman wears some other Muslim form of veiling.”
Saima starts serving the dolma. When she brings the last plates Fariba and Habiba get up and Habiba takes her seat to eat while Fariba follows her mother out back. After they have enjoyed the delicious dish for some minutes Vanessa sitting next to Habiba asks her the question they all like to be answered
“Are you and The Behzads family Habiba?”
Habiba answers “No we are not, but very likely our families are acquainted. I told her the names of some of my male ancestors, and one or two of the names rang a bell with Fariba. Fariba has an uncle in Quetta who she has visited once, and when I described some of the landmarks of Quetta she had seen a couple, but my knowledge comes only from looking at photos. I’ve never been outside Britain before coming here. She was sorry to hear I’m married to a Christian, which I of course knows is wrong for a Muslim woman, but me being Hazara overrules this and she has invited my husband and me for dinner tonight. I think they’ll try to persuade him to convert to Islam.”
After some moments where they all reflect what Habiba has said. Anke says “Yes, they want both of you to live as Hazara’s by knowing someone in Bamiyan who can offer him a better job than he has now no matter his profession, and then you move there for you to wear a burqa all waking hours like Shaima, Fariba and the four women who sat here.”
Habiba says “I’m sure some things are better in Bamiyan compared to Manchester but our families and friends are there so it will be hard to move. I think the Gandhari women only wear the chadri, or burqa as it is called here, because this room is not considered private even if it’s women only. The traditional clothing of my family is a simple non-decorated salwar kameez like we wear now but in subdued colours like their burqas. I chose this place hoping to get some traditional food closer to the real thing you get in Balochistan, which has the same kitchen as Gandhara, than the Balochi restaurants I’ve visited in Britain, and I think this dolma has something my grandmother misses in Britain. I think this is so close because it’s more important it’s Hazari than if it comes from Bamiyan or Quetta. Your comment Anke makes me want to try a burqa like theirs. I’ve only worn a single mesh burqa once for a few minutes.”
A few minutes later Shaima and Fariba are back at their table to see if they have finished the first course. Two have a few bites left so Habiba uses the opportunity to say “I have just said that this is just how my grandmother has told me dolma should taste. It’s very delicious. Although I’m Balochi it’s the first time I’ve seen someone wearing a chadri in daily life. My mother has one from her mother but it has only been shown in private for the women present to try on for a few minutes, and I’ve never seen the two mesh style for real before. Is it possible I can try one for just a minute to feel how it is to be a Hazara woman of Bamiyan?”
Fariba nods while translating to Farsi for Shaima who then speaks to Fariba who finally says in English
“My mother suggests you have the rest of your lunch in a burqa like the wives of merchant Keshtmand. Apart from being too bright your salwar kameez could be worn in Bamiyan, but Bamiyan women wear a Muslim style head covering and a few other things different from the typical Punyanagari outfit. My mother thinks you should be dressed as a Bamiyan woman under the chadri as well to be a proper Hazara, no matter from Bamiyan, Quetta or anywhere else. Please come with us to get dressed.”
Amrita immediately says “Just a minute Fariba and Mrs. Behzad. This group is a guided tour for female foreigners to learn about the traditional clothing and modesty of women of the different ethnic groups to be found in Punyanagari. They have started with dressing like typical young Punyanagari women, as Fariba has just pointed out, then, before coming here we have been to the Municipal Corporation to see a female employee change from street clothes to her secretary uniform. We are all interested in learning how a Bamiyan woman looks without burqa and as we have already seen Habiba unveiled so we can do this without any of you showing to us non-Muslims.”
Fariba translates and then translates her mother’s short reply “Okay, she’ll go ahead to let the women in the kitchen have the choice of turning their back or covering.”
As they pass the kitchen a woman in an all brown salwar kameez and head covering stands facing the far wall, a second woman holds a black burqa up in front of her to show nothing else but the black gloved hands holding the garment, while the last woman holds up a beige burqa but with a fold to be able to see with one eye hidden in a light grey head covering. Marieke is a little sorry that they disappoint her by showing as nine typical Punyanagari women if she had expected to see some exotic strange Europeans. The living room they are shown into is an exotic experience in itself for Europeans with Oriental carpets, small low tables and cushions for sitting on. Only Amrita and Habiba with natural movements get seated with legs crossed, but the others have time to get their legs folded right because Fariba and Shaima have left to get the clothes for Habiba.
When they return some minutes later, Shaima carrying a folded chestnut brown burqa and Fariba the other clothes, Habiba gets up again. As Fariba puts her pile of clothes down on a table she says
“With the group to see how a Bamiyan woman looks I have brought a salwar kameez to match the head covering and your bright yellow would give a complete wrong impression of a Muslim woman anyway; then you have to accept not feeling quite right when wearing an extra layer.”
Shaima and Fariba exchange a few words in Farsi for Fariba to ask Habiba in English “Are you wearing typical Western underwear to only wear bra and panties beneath you salwar kameez, if I may ask?”
Habiba nods for Fariba to go on “Then, as my mother pointed out, wearing two salwar kameez won’t make you that different from typical Bamiyan women as we wear underwear covering almost as much of the body as a salwar kameez. We also wear gloves in private under the kameez, so that won’t be that different either. I suggest you keep your long gloves on, although ours are only one third up the forearms. I was about to choose another set in midnight blue, my favourite colour, as I wear now myself, but my mother rightly argued that would be wrong making your white gloves stick out inappropriately, so as you can see we ended choosing tan.”
Meanwhile Mette has, without words, asked Shaima to take a look at the burqa which shows to have small eye meshes like Fariba’s. When Habiba starts putting on the salwar Mette inquiringly takes hold of the burqa for putting it on and gets a nod from Shaima. Before she has got it fitted totally right it shows it was good for Habiba’s public appearance in a burqa that she is changing to the correct head wear underneath because Mette looks odd with white showing behind the meshes.
Immediately after having fitted the kameez Habiba removes her head covering to make Farsi pour from Shaima’s mouth. When she stops Fariba says
“My mother says there is no doubt you are Hazara. Young Hazara women are more beautiful than other women. It’s still her who says that with your looks she would be able to find you a rich Hazara husband of a highly respectable Hazara family if you should become, Allah forbid, a widow within a few years, even if you have been married to a Christian European.”
Habiba faces Shaima and says “Your flattering is a bit exaggerated, but it’s good to know I won’t drop into poverty if the worst for me should happen.”
When Fariba has translated Shaima nods to say she is serious about her promise. Then Fariba hands Habiba a piece of fabric of the same colour as the salwar kameez. It’s a veil, but to be tied around the forehead with two circular cut-outs for the eyes and a strip of black chiffon attached over the eyes on the back side. The chiffon appears to be denser than the veils covering their own eyes and as Habiba takes her hands down after tying it Anke says
“Are your eyes covered like that in private? It appears to restrict the vision considerably. How can you read, watch television or do any work where good vision is indispensable?”
Fariba answers “Habiba reach up under the veil to take hold of the ring hanging down at the left side and pull.”
Amazed they see the chiffon slide down to reveal Habiba’s eyes expressing what the others can’t show. Fariba says
“For longer periods of clear vision the ring can be attached to a hook under the chin of the khimar that comes next, moreover I think her sight with the eyes covered is perhaps better than yours because black is the best colour for covering the eyes giving the least blur.”
Habiba lets the ring go for her eyes to be covered again with a flick as she takes the piece of cloth Fariba hands her. The khimar is held in place with a strap to be tied around the forehead just above the eyebrows so it overlaps the veil, and also closed under the chin with a short zipper after the veil has been pulled out of its face opening. It also covers the shoulders down to just above the elbows to be a little longer than the veil.
“Come and have a look at yourself in the bathroom mirror,” Fariba says.
Meanwhile Mette has seated herself on a cushion and lifted the front of the burqa with her left hand while with her right hand reaching out over the low table and then taking the hand up under the burqa mimicking she is eating. She should have the chance to eat for real, Marieke says to herself, when seeing she seemingly has found out to lift at the burqa with the elbow and forearm to have the hand free to lift at the sheer veil covering her mouth. When Fariba and Habiba return Mette gets up beginning to lift the burqa off but Shaima stops her. After some words in Farsi with Fariba the latter says In English
“My mother thinks you should have the chance to try to eat for real if you like. Don’t worry about the burqa getting stained. They are used outdoors and just sweeping the ground they get dirty quickly so we wash the burqas often – – and, it just occurred to me, have many to change with, if others would like to try a burqa and perhaps eat wearing it?”
Shaima says something to make Fariba continue “It will only be Habiba to be dressed like she is now, but mother insists you all put our black gloves on as well as this is the only acceptable items to show wearing our burqa, and besides then you won’t stain your own gloves.”
Marieke says “It’s very kind of you. I would very much like to try a burqa. I have to ask for another favour though if going to eat in it – I would like to pay for the washing if possible – because I think there is a great risk my kameez gets stained as well, and as we are both going to show in public in it and further are going to visit the family of Amrita I would like it to be covered, so if you are willing to lend me an apron, a large napkin or a kitchen towel I would very much like to try this for me once in a lifetime experience.”
Shaima nods several times and says something to Fariba after which they both leave. Shaima returns first with a pile of aprons which she hands out with Habiba last but putting it down on the table while shaking her head when she reaches out for it to put it on like the others. Then Fariba returns with burqas, gloves, and surprisingly a pair of boots. After putting everything down she says
“Being our Bamiyan display model it’s right Habiba hasn’t put the apron on. Except we mostly wear black private gloves Habiba now looks exactly like my mother, me, the women in the kitchen, the wives of merchant Keshtmand I assume, or most Bamiyan women when in private and with only other women or mahram, that is closely related, men. If she is to venture out in public, to stay in a not fully private room, as we consider the female only room of a public restaurant, or if to be in room with strange men no matter where, she can get ready in a minute only having to dress as Habiba is now going to show you. Please …”
Christi interrupts to ask “But now we are in your private living room and if it is so easy putting the burqa on and removing it why haven’t you done so?”
Habiba answers “Yes. And why did the women in the kitchen cover when you entered? In addition, to some women only places not considered fully private many Gandhari or Balochi women won’t uncover to women where they don’t know about the family to usually ask their husband if he considers them respectable. Please put the boots on Habiba. There is no need to remove the slippers we wear in private but I don’t know if there is room for your sandals although the soft leather can expand. These are called Persian boots and have been used since the Middle Ages. As you can see they reach to mid calf and their purpose is not only to have footwear suitable for outdoors but just as much to show black if the burqa is lifted or the tip of a foot is pushed out under the burqa. The gloves please Habiba. With full length gloves you don’t need to worry about how far your arms get out of the burqa. Like the boots they are made of naturally black soft leather. Try putting it to your cheek to feel it, and smell it. I think for a modest Muslim woman they are far superior to silk gloves being guaranteed opaque for one thing.”
Habiba’s enthusiasm makes them all take a pair of gloves, and as soon as having the first on they take the hand up under the veil to smell. Marieke finds them flexible and easy slide on top of her kameez sleeves and long white cotton gloves and when released they contract to fit firmly all way up her arm, and they also have a good grip making it no problem to put on the second glove as well. Fariba says
“We are all ready to see you disappear under the chadri Habiba.”
And so she does, but she has been given another one slightly darker for Mette not to uncover. The eye openings of her tan veil inside are just a little larger than the meshes of the burqa for nothing but black to show in the openings. Marieke turns her head to stare at Shaima who has larger meshes but they appear black as well. It could either be because she wears a veil with larger openings to match her burqa or because her veil is in a colour so dark that she can tell the difference through her own sheer veil, Shaima’s meshes and with indoor lighting. Except for Mette the others have waited before putting on a burqa expecting it to deteriorate their sight and wanting to see the last step of Habiba’s transformation with unhindered views although she of course, except for the colour, now looks identical to Fariba. With less elegance than Fariba, who after all has worn a burqa before, seven more burqa women emerge from the room to contain only burqas, and eleven of them. That is a special sight of its own, even to Amrita. Marieke feels she has been transported to Bamiyan, and if foreign women have to veil like this as well it will never attract at least female tourists, because her vision has become even darker and blurred to an extent where she is sure she won’t be able to enjoy neither the scenery nor street life, not even if a black veil underneath the burqa is better than her white. She also has to turn her head a lot more than she usually would to scan the room because the meshes reduce her field of view considerably. In addition she knows in a Muslim garb you are also supposed to keep as still as possible and look down, which all is bad for sightseeing. She is able to orientate though seeing Shaima leave the room. Soon they all show they have taken in the first sensations of being in a burqa by facing Fariba who says
“Gandhara girls have played in a burqa of their mother or older sister many times before starting to wear it themselves at puberty to be used to it from the beginning, but I’ve heard that Muslim women from India, used to the black veiling common here, if marrying a Gandhari and moving there, adjust somewhat to the combination of mesh and chiffon to in about a month see better than I expect you to do now. You’ll never be able to read anything but posters or signs made for women or follow the ball in a match on television, but if wearing a burqa you are most likely not in a situation where you should do such things. It was a long break between courses but with my mother leaving a little while ago your lamb kebab will be served in a few minutes, and with you being invited in here you’ll have tea on the house afterwards. As Europeans perhaps you don’t know that you’ll insult the hosts if not accepting tea when invited into a private home both here, in Gandhara, in Persia and in Balochistan and perhaps other neighbouring countries I don’t know about. I’ll lead you as the house now might look different, and I’ll set a slow pace for you only to think about not tripping.”
Marieke has had to increase her attention to perceive Fariba, because the burqa also attenuates her hearing and Fariba’s voice is low and muffled. She is also too warm, like being in a shopping centre in winter in clothes for outdoors. But now her attention has to move to her feet which with her arms relaxed are hidden by the burqa spilling a few centimetres out on the floor to say she is that much taller than Fariba. They get back to their table without anyone tripping. Immediately, while waiting for the kebab, they start to say to each other how they feel about being fully enclosed in just one garment, and the conservation after a few words is aimed only at their partner, because now they all have their voices modified like Fariba having to use their full voice if to be heard by the entire table.
When the first plates are carried in Fariba is stopped from returning to the kitchen by several pointing at their mouth for Fariba to say
“The burqa is a garment of modesty and just the thickness of a Bamiyan burqa makes men’s foul speech or even worse sexual suggestions have less impact on you, and also the voice is modestly muffled and attenuated by the thick fabric, but the fabric alone makes the voice sound like my mother’s; all burqas for younger women have extra padding over the mouth to increase the effect with our more attractive voices and more impulsive minds. Still the muting required for when in public places requires additional gagging. With no sauce, kebab is really easy to eat veiled so it’s good for beginners like you, but Marieke was right about asking for aprons; excluding Amrita I’m willing to give the course for free to those eating everything without getting stains on their clothing. Enjoy the meal.”
They each get three sticks of alternating pieces of lamb and a piece of various vegetables so it’s just emptying a stick on the plate and start eating piece by piece. Marieke soon finds out that with their short veil only reaching just below the chin there is an alternative to having to control both the front of the burqa and the veil beneath with the left hand and arm to have free access to the mouth from below; she can take the fork up under the burqa first making room for it by tilting the right hand for it and not the fork to hold the burqa out, and then just take her left hand under the front of the burqa to hold her sheer veil up while entering the piece. It works fine, but some of the pieces of lamb are dripping with oil and she cannot, as she would normally have done, just lean over the plate to let the drops fall there if dripping on the way to her mouth, so the apron gets stained. Further, now and then she doesn’t get a good grip with the fork at one of the very irregular pieces of vegetable for it to fall off on the way to the mouth and the apron gets more stained. At one point two new guests enter and taking a look at them makes Marieke forgets to lift at her sheer veil to press a piece of lamb directly against it. Fortunately it’s only its eye area showing when she after the meal has fitted the lower face scarf again. With the concentration needed to eat no one speaks, Marieke just notices that her plate empties at about the same rate as the others, except Amrita is faster.
When not serving the other guests Fariba and Shaima are observing the tour group. They probably have great fun seeing how the burqas bulge and are lifted to figure out who gets better during the course and who just manages to get the food inside. Some no doubt get an extra stain when Amrita, a few minutes after having emptied her own plate and waiting for the rest to finish, suddenly speaks saying
“I notice the four other women wearing burqas, the wives of merchant Keshtmand I think you called them, haven’t left, as I would have expected from how far they were with the main course when we left to see Habiba getting dressed, and further they haven’t even started having the tea with baklava I offered them to move for us in the middle of their meal, but seeing us coming back like this it’s no surprise they have all been watching us intensively ever since, although if their sight is like ours for us to appear like I see them we are just nine blurred burqas moving a little. If they haven’t decided to drop the tea perhaps they would join us even though communication would be a little slow having to go through you Fariba if they can only speak Farsi. We could move the table in the corner to the end of the two we have and four of us move to the new table for them to be seated in between us for more closeness.”
Fariba says “The wives of merchant Keshtmand haven’t started having tea because they pass the meal very slowly having to spend the rest of the day, and the part before coming here as well, in their hotel room fully dressed in their burqas. It has to be exceptionally hot or other extraordinary conditions for Gandhari women to remove their burqas while travelling at any time before reaching their destination. And in this case their starting point and destination is the same, their own home, because they have to accompany their husband, merchant Keshtmand, on his longer business trips as he has no close family in Bamiyan to guard them, and also want to spend the nights as at home I presume. He travels to Punyanagari about every six weeks arriving in the evening, doing business all the following day to travel back the third day, and he always stays at the same hotel close to here, and his wives stay in the room all the time except for coming here for lunch on the full day. I know all this from my father because merchant Keshtmand is our main supplier of Bamiyan food. All Gandhari women remain silent while travelling to be gagged the large majority of the time, even if riding alone with their husband in a vehicle for hours, and refraining from speaking while eating in women only rooms like here as well. Gandharis more or less believe all phones are tapped and thus can’t be used by women even for texting, and writing notes outside of completely private environments isn’t acceptable either. Thus despite there have been coming here regularly for several years they have never used anything but body language and gesturing to me or my mother. I think they’ll like joining you though; you just have to do with posing Yes/No questions. I’ll ask them as soon as you all have finished eating.”
The wives of merchant Keshtmand show how much they appreciate the invitation by all four repeatedly bowing while walking to the tour group table and then split in two to one after the other bows down to touch cheek to cheek with each of the group, the two pairs moving either way around the table. Amrita gestures a welcome while in English asking Fariba to tell the wives of merchant Keshtmand who the group is and why they are wearing Bamiyan burqas. When Habiba recognises her name she momentarily stands up and bows. Meanwhile Shaima brings a tray with thirteen glasses and soon after a very large pot of mint tea; not chai as normally served in India.
Having got the attention Habiba says to Fariba “With them showing their hands you can perhaps ask them each to show with the fingers how old she is.”
Fariba’s words in Farsi makes the wife in the most bright burqa, an extra dark cyan, first hold up one finger and then point to herself, then she holds up two fingers and points directly across the table, three fingers diagonally across the table and four fingers to her left. Then she flashes all ten fingers three times and then four fingers and points to herself. The second wife is ten years younger at twenty four, the third twenty four as well and the fourth twenty three.
Anke asks “Can you confirm you wear burqa on a journey like this from leaving home to coming home again?”
Fariba first speaks English to say “In Gandhara it is common that if there are more wives only the highest ranking wife communicates with women outside family, and she is sort of liberal as many Gandhari women wouldn’t have communicated with non-Muslim women present at all.”
Anke’s question is then answered with three nods to make Fariba inquire further with more nods for her finally to say
“They wear the burqa at home as well whenever not doing anything where it’s too impractical.”
They are served baklava for a break where Marieke thinks of a question she can ask to be answered without words. With Fariba not having a seat and thus neither drinking nor eating and the wives of merchant Keshtmand just having taken one or two bites to prolong their stay a question won’t disturb, so after considering what she has learned about the wives of merchant Keshtmand she asks
“Eating here in burqa means doing this isn’t too impractical to you. Does this mean you are also wearing burqa while hosting visitors for tea like now at home? A second question: Even if without burqa I assume you are completely veiled in private like the Behzads here. To whom and when do you show your face? I don’t know if you can formulate this to get some Yes/No answers Fariba, or we can just learn what your family does.”
Fariba speaks Farsi to get a nod from the first wife followed by her hand pointing at her baklava while both nodding and shaking her head for Fariba to say
“For tea breaks like now they always wear burqa. Meals can be with or without. My own family is more liberal rarely having female visitors requiring wearing burqa in private, but many families have complicated rules for when the visitors are sufficiently acquainted with them to show without burqa.”
Fariba asks the first wife again for her to point at the three other wives and make some gestures ending with showing twelve fingers, which makes Fariba say a line in Farsi to which the first wife simply nods. Fariba then says
“In this they are no different from my family, I think only the stricter Gandhari families don’t follow what I now say. Co-wives may show to each other at any time but usually don’t do it during the day. Other female family you live with or who stay for a longer period see each other while having tea to uncover the head for about half an hour usually on Thursday afternoons. Other family may see each other the same way once a month. Other women, like neighbours or workmates, are treated like family after twelve months if meeting at least once a week on average.”
None of the tour group has touched their baklava to be sure not to miss a word of these answers, having only a bite or two left anyway. About finished Amrita speaks
“It has been a most interesting lunch with me learning a lot I didn’t know about the Gandharis as well, but it has also been a lunch longer than normal for these tours which means we unfortunately have to break up from the good company and leave this wonderful place and its splendid hosts. Already when being invited into the private part of the house I decided on future tours to drop the participants selecting the restaurant to simply take them here with good quality food and an interesting clientele of guests in addition to the genuine ethnic hosts. There is no obligation to have them wear a burqa or show your private clothing though. Please translate as much of this as you can remember to your mother and the wives of merchant Keshtmand Fariba.”
Fariba says “Thank you Amrita, I’ll also repeat your kind words to my father who’ll be most pleased. But first my mother will ask the women in the kitchen to leave temporarily for you to go there and remove what you have borrowed.”
Fariba says to Shaima what she probably has understood to make her leave. While waiting to be allowed to go to the kitchen Marieke notices that the first wife gestures her co-wives to finish their baklava; for some reason she must have changed her mind about when to return to their hotel room.
In the kitchen they are simply gestured to drop everything on the floor. They all look at Amrita’s apron to see that even it has two stains for her to say
“A piece of green pepper split when I put my fork in it, and the other means I didn’t notice a piece of lamb was able to drip and apparently doing so under the burqa I didn’t react. I’m used to eating veiled but unused not to seeing what I do. Please gag and put on your pollution masks while I settle the bill. You’ll pay at my sister’s house.”
When coming back to the dining room the wives of merchant Keshtmand are standing lined up to greet them goodbye but before they start Fariba says
“The first wife of merchant Keshtmand suggests you follow them to the hotel along with my mother who always fetches them and takes them back. She is very insistent although I don’t really know why, but of course it’s a rare sight to see five burqas shuffling along, and besides it’s only five minutes away and you can flag rickshaws from their hotel just as easily. Shaima then says something at Amrita’s ear for her to answer her likewise to make Shaima say a line in Farsi that makes all four wives bow for Marieke to understand that Amrita has decided they go with the wives even before Amrita says
“Shaima won’t tell me exactly what is going to happen, but says what the first wife has offered to let us see is their way to thank us for being invited for tea, and although it’s quite common in Gandhara it’s also so private that many women of families not observing this custom haven’t seen it, including Fariba. Despite us going with them we say our goodbyes here, line up behind me please.”
Amrita embraces the first wife, although it isn’t reciprocated, and brushes both her cheeks before going on to repeat with the three remaining wives. Amrieke, being at the back of the line, while waiting for her turn notices that Fariba three times tries to convince her mother to be allowed to go with them to the hotel, but without neither being able to understand nor hear the words there is no doubt Fariba’ plead is firmly rejected.
When they all have greeted the wives like Amrita the wives surprise them by each showing a hand outside the burqa which holds a gag they show around. It’s a short rod made of wood with a thick wide leather strap with a buckle attached. Marieke finds the rod is at least as thick as the diameter of the balls of their own gags. The strap is made of thicker and stronger leather than that used for the boots and gloves Habiba demonstrated and then it is formed to cover the open lips and curved to have its edges press against the skin to be much more effective than their ball it appears; and added to this comes the considerable muting of the burqa. Fariba comments
“These are traditional Gandhari gags made of natural materials and the design is centuries old.”
The wives gag themselves to then surprise those of the tour party by showing their hands again holding another leather strap of the same kind of leather. This has two circular pads attached each placed and with a size to cover the ears and dome shaped to maximise the sealing effect. The centre of the strap covers the eyes but with two pinholes it is not blinding. This time the wives hold them towards the eyes of a tour participant of each colour for a try. Marieke gets a strap from Christi to just hold it around her head with both hands at the back of her head without buckling it like the others. She isn’t totally deaf but with the entire tour group gagged and Fariba and Shaima muted by their burqas and not speaking at the moment there isn’t any distinctive sound to judge the attenuation accurately. With the sight she can judge: her field of view is reduced from being able to see half the group at once to seeing less than the full face of one person, and there is a blurring added to that of her sheer veil to which the wives further add the blur of their burqa meshes.
After all the wives have reduced their sight and hearing the first wife gestures Shaima to come to her. The first wife lifts at the lower part of her burqa to reveal her boots and then makes Shaima hold the burqa while she bends down to grab a chain hanging from the top of the right boot down to the ankle and connect its clip at the end to a ring on the right boot for them now not to be separated by more than ten centimetres. While the group have been watching the first wife the three other wives have chained their boots as well.
Then the first wife shows that her right glove has a small clip attached at the wrist and points to a matching ring on her left glove. With mincing steps she moves in front of the fourth wife, who turns her side to her and reaches inside the front of her burqa behind her back where the fourth wife has moved her hands for them to be locked at the back. When the first wife is back with Shaima for her to lock the hands of her Fariba says
“Except for the most conservative women being totally blind and deaf and having their burqa prevented from lifting and closed with locks this is how most Gandhari women are equipped for being in public places if going further than their own immediate neighbourhood. The wives of merchant Keshtmand are ready to leave, you are ready to leave, but I have not been allowed to join you so it’s goodbye. To me this hour has been just as special as the wives of merchant Keshtmand indicate by showing you something private. I wish Amrita hadn’t insisted on paying and with a generous tip as well, but at least she has promised to come back for me to perhaps at some point do her a favour. And Habiba as well. Of course I think Bamiyan is more wonderful than Punyanagari, and Gandhari the most wonderful country of the entire Maratha Empire, but female tourism is never going to be a hit there, so please enjoy the rest of your stay here.”
Instead of lining up they all try to get to hug Fariba at the same time. After a while they have all succeeded, and when seeing this Shaima turns towards the kitchen door to be followed by the four wives and then the tour group, now in a line.
They walk out into a backyard with a garden with a dozen citrus trees and apricots which the tour group has plenty of time to take in with the pace possible by the four wives. A door at the back leads to an alley. The wives indicate they are now in full public by moving a little closer to the one in front and bowing for the forehead to touch the back of the one in front rendering themselves virtually blind. Like this they reach a side street and turn the opposite way of the road at the front of the restaurant. Then there is less than a hundred metres to the next larger road and just after turning right into it there is a hotel on their side of the road. Shaima walks to the reception desk with the wives still touching her and each other’s backs, which, with men now close around them, is more justified than ever. A few give the strange line of five burqas and nine identically white veiled Punyanagari women a glance while passing but no one stares, this is after all Punyanagari, Marieke thinks, the new New York where you can see something strange every five minutes. The lift can only hold five people so when Shaima shows Amrita she pushes the button for the first floor she leads her group up the stairs.
On entering the room Shaima guides them to stand up against the wall to face the bed. Then the four wives sit down on the foot end of the bed, which the bed just is wide enough to permit. They have seated themselves according to rank and starting with the first wife Shaima now squats to take her hands up under the burqa of each wife, unchain her boots and remove them. Then the wives get up and the first three wives go to the door and turn to form a line with the first wife with her back to the door and the third wife at the front facing down while the two fist wives touch the back of the one in front with their forehead. The fourth wife gets up onto the bed to sit with her knees high and her feet and knees as wide apart as the burqa permits. Her hands chained at her back support her upright position and she faces her lap. Shaima has followed the fourth wife along the side of the bed to open a bedside table drawer and produce a rod which she shows around for the tour group to see. It is similar to the gags of the wives but longer and without a strap attached but instead this end is formed as a handle. As she bows over the bed close to the foot end and takes her hand with the rod up under the burqa of the fourth wife and in between her legs several members of the tour group demonstrate that their gags are just a reminder which don’t mute them completely. While Shaima’s hand moves back and forth in between the legs of the wife she starts rocking her upper body up and down more and more. After less than two minutes all she can move moves, but despite she has to be highly excited she is so well gagged that no sound comes from her. They only hear the bed squeaking and now and then a tour participant unable to suppress her voice for a moment. The wildest movements only last about ten seconds, then the head of the wife tilts back and at the same time she collapses to fall back on the bed halfway rolling over on her side as her hands on her back prevent her from lying straight on her back. Shaima straightens to show that the hand she has worked with no longer holds the rod. She pulls and rolls the wife to get her to lie closer to the middle of the bed, moving her showing she is limp, having apparently fainted. Then she arranges her burqa to cover the feet as much as possible and turns to the drawer to take another rod. This she goes to show it in the downwards field of view of the third wife to make her get into the bed and position herself like the fourth wife.
Although the scene now repeats its fascination and ability to stimulate is just as strong, and already excited the tour group just gets hotter. They have all just tried a similar burqa and can imagine quite realistically how it must feel to be brought to climax confined like that, although they all combine it with memories of sex with their husbands having no experience with dildos. The number of involuntary eruptions of sound increases. The eyes of Marieke sees a dark olive burqa bent over a sitting rocking dark brown one, but in her mind she sees a twenty four year old Oriental beauty being taken by her prince-like husband from behind with her facial expression showing her mind left this world at his first entry. Marieke breathes heavily and like several others of the tour group she now more and more frequently has her right hand at her crotch. While Shaima arranges the position and the burqa of the third wife after she has collapsed a little faster than the fourth Marieke returns to reality to realise that although the remaining wives look down not to experience what they see they have to be at least as excited as the tour group and further filled with anticipation knowing exactly what they are in for. But when Shaima turns away from the drawer with a third dildo she is met by Amrita for Shaima to nod to her unseen gesturing and turn to the bedside table again. When the two again face the tour group they each hold a number of plastic zip ties. They are gestured to have their handbags hanging around the neck and then Amrita and Shaima each bind the wrists of four women together behind their back. Then Amrita hands Shaima a small piece of paper from her handbag and is tied like the others by Shaima.
No more personal extra arousal by fingering, but just watching the second and the first wife also being taken to a climax so strong they faint is still highly exciting. Just as Marieke’s gaze is fixed by the show of the first wife starting she notices out of the corner of her eyes that two of the group have dropped on their knees and she feels like letting go herself but has to watch until the last wife collapses. She gives a shorter but very powerful performance which clicks something in Marieke’s mind. She doesn’t faint but she doesn’t get back to be fully aware of her surroundings either. She faces the floor to be able to replay the full experience in her mind. At the back of her mind she is guided out of the room, out of the hotel and into a rickshaw.
First when there is a marked change of the soundscape due to the rickshaw motor being turned off and no street noise replaces it Marieke becomes fully aware again. They are in the yard of a larger villa and the driver of the other rickshaw is about to press the doorbell. Getting out of the rickshaw the first thing that happens is Christi putting her head to Amrieke’s shoulder and then shaking it for clearing her mind. Marieke nods several times to say she has had a mind-boggling experience as well. If the replays in her mind had been real merchant Keshtmand would have a harem of at least a dozen wives.
4. A Family very much at Peace
A woman in bright yellow answers the door. She wears an ankle length bright yellow skirt and a large bright yellow shawl goes over her head and is wrapped around her body to cover it completely, and finally her face is covered by a bright yellow niqab. Her arms are covered in long black gloves and she wears a sheer black scarf over her head beneath the shawl and niqab to show in the eye slit of the niqab and at the areas of the head and neck which the shawl doesn’t cover. Finally she shows bare feet in sandals to indicate to Marieke she probably is a maid. Amrita has approached the door and also having her hands locked behind her she tilts her body towards the rickshaw drivers to say she wants the maid to pay them. The maid quickly produces a purse from just inside the door to settle with the drivers. They are gestured to enter a large hall where Amrita immediately turns her back to the maid and shakes her locked hands. The maid again opens a small cupboard where she has just put the purse to produce a cutter and soon they all have their hands free. While the maid has cut the tour participants free Amrita has removed her gag and says
“Please stay gagged but you can remove the pollution mask. I expect the mother-in-law of my sister to be at home and with our age we do as she says and only speak if permitted by her. Before we go to meet the family of my sister I would like you to settle what you each owe me for the lunch and the mask.”
Then she says something in Hindi to the maid to make her leave. After they have all paid Amrita produces the piece of paper with the address here and says
“Shaima has written an end to our unique experience in the hotel – which I can’t read with my veil down. Just a moment.”
Amrita pulls her face scarf down to be able to lift the sheer scarf sufficiently to look down under it and then continues
“It’s remarkable that she is able to write this small in burqa with eye veiling beneath”. It says: ‘A Gandhari woman is unconscious for ten to fifteen minutes after being worked to a climax like this with the restricted breathing of her burqa. The rod stays inside her keeping her in a state of high arousal so enjoyable she just lies relaxed imagining being with her husband until shaken, in this case by the husband coming to the room at around eight. In the first years of my own marriage , about twice a week my mother-in-law treated the young married women of the house likewise to our great delight. Here in Punyanagari we never have time to just lie down but we ought to take it.’
In a few minutes you will all almost certainly be permitted to remove your gag. Please pull and lift as little as possible at the scarves and fit them again at once.”
Then Amrita shows how to gag and fit her scarves in ten seconds to gesture to the maid, who has meanwhile returned, to lead them to their hosts.
They are guided to a television room with a large sixty inch flat screen on one wall, six easy chairs up against the opposite wall, paired with a small low square table in front of each pair of chairs. In the right middle chair sits a woman in a fine sky blue silk sari with a large likewise sky blue ghunghat covering her head and reaching the middle of her chest. The ghunghat looks opaque but has to be sheer for her to see the television. Her arms, resting on the armrests, are white gloved and under her right hand is the remote control.
The two chairs closest to the side walls are occupied as well by women appearing identically dressed except for the colours and decoration of their silk salwar kameez. One first notices that they sit with their arms crossed and that the white gloves reaching their elbows are almost completely covered by white gauze binding the arms together. Next the head covering is unusual, consisting of just a white spandex hood with only two eye holes showing white chiffon in the openings. The one on the right wears a bright pink salwar kameez while the other wears dark green.
The entire tour group immediately notice that none of the three women react to them entering, but when the maid steps in front of the screen the woman in the middle in the sari moves her hand for the television to turn off and then, still without moving, she says
“Welcome to my home foreign guests. I am Kavya Dhami. With me are my daughters-in-law Rati, in pink and sister to Amrita, and Shweta, in green if I remember rightly. Our family is much more conservative than that of Amrita, and with a status allowing us to have servants for everything we are, as you can see, fully covered at home and, as you cannot see but may have guessed from our lack of reaction, observing immobile modesty as well. As there are not seats for you in here we’ll move to the veranda as Meera gestured you would like a cool place. Release the hips of the girls Meera and bring the sack truck for me.”
The maid Meera produces a screwdriver from under her shawl and goes to Rati to put it in on her right side at the top of the slit of the kameez at the top of the hip where it has to go through a slit in the salwar to reach a bolt somewhere inside. She turns only twice and then reaches over to repeat at the top of the left hip. Then she moves directly in front of Rati where she bows down to find another slit in the salwar at the side of Rati’s right knee to turn twice again, and this is also repeated at the left knee. She then moves to the side of Rati to support her to stand up. Finally she moves in front of her again to reach for the bolt at the right knee again to this time tighten it, and when she leans over to tighten the left knee Amrita steps up to the side of her sister to support her and quickly touch her cheek to cheek but receiving no reaction from Rati. With her arms bound crossed, unable to move her head or bend at the waist or knees Rati starts moving out of the room supported and guided by Amrita. Meera has moved over to treat Shweta likewise and when she gets to a standing position Meera gestures for Anke and Miranda, who are standing closest, to support Shweta. Meera moves on to Kavya but here she just loosens bolts on her right side and when she is standing, retightens both bolts again. Kavya stands with her arms as if they were still resting on the armrests with the forearms straight forward. Meera has quickly left the room and in ten seconds returns pushing a sack barrow. Kavya apparently hasn’t any restrictions on her feet and ankles and is, with Meera’s support, able to turn around and step backwards up on the plate of the sack barrow herself. Then the sack barrow is tilted to its moving position to leave Kavya looking at the ceiling with her back more horizontal than vertical, but although lying stiff she shows she is still capable of speaking by saying
“I want Rati and Amrita on the small sofa facing each other and Amrita bound as usual.”
Meera leans forward to get her head into Kavya’s field of view and nods.
The small sofa shows to be at one end of a large coffee table on the covered veranda facing a large beautiful garden. There is a four seat sofa on each side of the table closest to the end with the small sofa and then there is a pair of easy chairs after each sofa on each side and a pair at the end for a total of sixteen seats. Meera, pushing the sack barrow passes Rati, Shweta and their supporters while crossing the indoor living room for Kavya to be rolled to the right of the easy chairs at the end of the table. Here her bolts at the right knee and right hip are again loosened but she takes time to find the right comfortable position before, by momentarily lifting her right knee, signalling she is ready for the joints to be made rigid. The tour participants follow all this closely and Marieke notices that the armrests of Kavya’s chair are padded for her arms again to rest comfortably without having been moved from when seated in the television room. Meera has left with the sack barrow and Amrita has guided Rati to the small sofa. At the same time Kavya says
“Would those supporting Shweta please take her up to the chair next to mine, and then as you are eight foreigners I suggest you distribute yourself on the two large sofas.”
When all of them except for Anke and Miranda who are still with Shweta, are seated, Kavya speaks again
“In conservative families like ours it is customary that you don’t speak if someone of an older generation is present, and if you are to be with the older generation for a long time without eating then to be gagged. With you being foreign guests this places you above this custom so please remove your gags, but please wait before asking questions until chai has been served and I find it is time. Having hosted a number of Amrita’s previous tours I’ll make a sort of introduction that very likely answers many of your questions.”
Meanwhile Meera has returned to make Shweta sit immobilised in the chair next to Kavya. She then walks to the other end of the table where she starts applying some items she has brought with her to Amrita. First she has to cross her arms and hold them a little out from the body for gauze to be wound around both arms from one side to the other twice and then fixed with a safety pin on the underside to be bound like Rati and Shweta. Then Meera removes her shoulder scarf to place a neck corset on Amrita that in addition to immobilising her neck unusually fixes it so she has to look straight left. The shoulder scarf is reapplied to cover the neck corset and then, to follow Kavya’s orders, Amrita is gestured to take the right of the sofa seats. With Amrita seated Meera reaches behind the back of the sofa at the middle to pull up a seat belt which is fitted in a buckle hidden between the side and the seat cushion, and then pulled a little too tight to be comfortable. The same goes for the remaining restriction of Amrita: a wide white leather belt around her knees and ankles. Rati is quickly seated immobile on the other half of the sofa and then Meera walks behind her to loosen a bolt at the back of her neck. Now she is able to turn her head which she turns right to face Amrita. Meera tightens the bolt again and then goes up to bow as much in front of Kavya as the table allows her to say she has accomplished the order of moving out here. Kavya responds by saying with a volume that reaches them all
“I suppose chai can be served shortly. Let Maleka bring it along with you. Foreign guests, young women are sometimes allowed to whisper with the one beside them. You are allowed to do so from when I stop talking now until I speak again within each coloured pair, but if you forget yourself and if any sound is perceived by me you’ll be punished just as a young Punyanagari woman, but not as hard though.”
Christi puts her mouth to Marieke’s ear and whispers very low “Before coming to Punyanagari I have read about the voice modesty being widespread and arm modesty quite common among well-off women but total immobilisation is a surprise – and weird.”
They both turn their heads for Marieke to answer, whispering just as low “Yes, if you just look for a moment you just see normal fully covered Punyanagari women at first watching television and now, especially Amrita and Rati, seemingly chatting on the veranda, but watching for more than ten seconds the scene becomes weirder and weirder. A photograph taken here at any time would just be a souvenir of us being guests of the Dhami family, but a video recording would appear failed only showing the initial picture. For how long do you think they are immobilised, I don’t count short periods with some mobility as for moving out here as being mobile? And how would you feel about having to summon a maid for anything but changing channel? And what do the young women, Rati and Shweta, do, not being permitted to speak?”
Christi whispers “I assume they all exercise for at least an hour a day or it would endanger their health, but apart from that, just as with your other questions, this is something to ask about if not answered by Kavya on her own. However we now know that the females who work for the Municipal Corporation endure their restrictions for the full working day. Having a maid to do anything for me immediately sounds like a dream, but this way of getting things done is not for those with an impulsive nature. I have to say though that for me getting the hands tied behind the back created sensations just as strong as touching my crotch. We have to keep chatting or else I’ll get deep into imagining I’m Amrita and then I’ll make sounds perceivable to Kavya.”
Marieke whispers “We don’t have the same preferences. If I had not had my arms bound I would have collapsed like the wives of merchant Keshtmand, but I think it would excite me if having their pinhole view combined with my head being fixed to hear all that goes on around me but only being able to see a small part or glimpses of it. ”
Meera and the other servant Kavya called Maleka arrive with the chai and they all stop whispering to their partner although Kavya had allowed it until speaking herself. So it is silent while the cups are poured and distributed with straws for Rati and Shweta. When having served everybody Meera and Maleka go to Kavya and Amrita respectively, and Meera takes Kavya’s cup with one hand and lifts at her ghunghat with the other to take the cup under it and apparently find the lips without looking. When Meera takes the cup down onto the table again Kavya says
“Please drink everyone.”
This makes Maleka pull at Amrita’s face scarf without revealing anything and to get her ball gag, which Amrita spits out, and then take the cup to her lips. The tour participants all take a sip of chai, and when looking around again Kavya is helped to drink again. Again she speaks after her cup has been put down
“Meera and Maleka, change between those you are to serve as you see right. Dear foreign guests, I know you are eager to learn about the modesty measures of our family, but as Amrita, not being a foreigner, has to stay silent I’ll try also to answer other questions about veiling and other modesty customs that might come up starting with Meera and Maleka. They are both from Calcutta where the face veiling has been influenced by the by Muslims for them to wear niqab but modified by the Hindu tradition of wearing colourful clothing as you can see. Meera is Hindu and Maleka Muslim, the latter showing, although her clothing is more reserved than ours, not all Muslims wear plain dark or full black.”
While being described Meera and Maleka are about to make Rati and Shweta drink respectively. It is much easier than serving Kavya or Amrita as Rati and Shweta have a slit in their hoods to just have to enter the straw and hold the cup up for the straw to go down in the cup. Kavya continues
“The way Rati, Shweta and I are restricted doesn’t hurt in any way contrary to armbinders or tape applied directly to the skin. We can also wear fabric that itches or is unpleasant in other ways because innermost we are completely covered by a layer of soft thick strong pleasant black leather. This leather suit has long narrow pockets down the sides of the body, the legs and the arms and other places to hold a skeleton of metal rods with lockable hinges which can control our mobility from neck to ankles and wrists. The rods running horizontally connecting the two sides are flat and placed so that they do not interfere with sitting or lying on the back for the suit in principle to be worn 24/7, but of course it’s changed to a fresh identical one while bathing each morning. The weight of these rods is no problem, and with all bolts loosened you can exercise all muscles, which I do for half an hour before bathing in the morning with the suit just getting moist from sweat before I replace it. With this I have indirectly said that I wear the suit around the clock except when bathing. The exception is the hood which my husband often removes while we are together in the bedroom. With my head completely uncovered and access to my crotch fortunately he doesn’t need to see anymore, and it’s fair he can see the most important of me when I can see him, but for many years I haven’t felt quite myself when not completely covered in leather. At home I’m always immobile, also during the night, but quite often I have my posture changed for each body part not to stay in the same position for more than a few hours. Rati and Shweta are also immobile at home when I’m in charge. My sons allow them a little more freedom and they exercise in the bathroom naked, but men like having fun in bed with a helplessly bound or immobilised woman, and with this suit they can play with fixing their wife in various poses and repeating the favourites as often as they like almost exactly by noting which holes each bolt is tightened in. In one aspect their suits differ from mine: theirs have normal individual legs whereas mine covers both in the same space and is quite narrow from the ankles down. This means they can wear salwar or jeans whereas I have to stay with saris, long dresses or skirts; and they can walk, in principle close to normal, but most often with rigid knees, as you have seen, whereas I can only take tiny steps by twisting the bottom of the leather suit. I’m only gagged in public or if staying in a room with men other than my husband and sons, whereas Rati and Shweta are also gagged in my presence, which is most of the day, to only have liquid food for lunch and often for dinner as well. If I want an answer from them or they tap the hand to request to speak their gag is removed and they whisper to Meera who writes it down for me to read. I only hear the voices of visiting women. Let me hear what more you would like to know about?”
After some seconds where they all wait to learn if others have a question Vanessa asks
“Why do Rati and Shweta show in a white hood instead of the leather hood they apparently wear underneath?”
Kavya tells her guests “Punyanagari women, in addition to liking extreme forms of modesty, also are extremely conscious about their appearance and the leather suit and especially the mask, is not beautiful, feminine or colourful although wonderful to wear. Black is not for Hindus and leather is not a soft feminine fabric. Furthermore, if showing the leather hood they would also show their gagged mouth and no one does that. A majority of the women in the street are gagged but the mouth is always covered with scarves. Most modesty measures are not on display but are only discovered by interacting with a person or observing the way she moves, or rather can’t move. Next question please.”
Miranda asks “I have observed you closely and I can’t see even the outline of your head through your head covering, ghunghat I think you call it. With your head fixed and turned away from the garden there is not much need to see here as we all show as nothing but a standard Punyanagari outfit provided by Amrita, but when we came it appeared as if you were watching television. Does this mean you are able to see after all?”
Kavya answers “Yes, being middle-aged, at home and in charge of this house it’s acceptable for me now to have a good sight for also enjoying television visually. My sight compares to your own thin ‘beginners’ eye veiling, only a little darker due to the fabric of my ghunghat not being white. The ‘secret’ is an optical illusion – Meera please fold a corner of my ghunghat – as you can see my ghunghat has a thin completely opaque black lining and it has rather large circular cut-outs at my eyes, but these cut-outs can’t be seen because behind them is the black leather of the hood, and the hood has no distinct eye openings to visibly break the black. Rati and Shweta on the other hand have a rather poor sight having to wear layers of white chiffon for the black of the hood not to shine through too much. The off-white of their hoods helps to obscure that the eye openings are a little dark though.”
Anke says “You said that Rati, Shweta and you are only without a hood while bathing in the morning and when with your husband in the bedroom at night. Assuming you bathe alone I get from this that the woman’s husband is the only one to see her. You don’t even see each other. Is that really true?”
Kavya answers “No, we do see each other, but my description is right as well. When we have relatives of some sort visiting, which on average happens several times a month, they always stay overnight at least once and then in the morning we have bathroom gatherings for the women, which means when one has bathed she dresses without covering her head and instead ‘pretties herself up’ and then she lets all the women in, some dressed for the day and some still in their nightdress but fully covered, to see her and chat about her looks and her life in general for up to about fifteen minutes. If our relatives only stay for one night and we all want to see each other there has to be five to ten bathroom sessions the same morning to in all last for several hours, which is counteracted by us women getting up especially early and having breakfast in the bathroom while chatting. The only way for other women to see us is to be invited for breakfast at such a session, and if we have invited others our relatives have the first sessions to end with the usually only one where friends are to see one of us.”
Emma says “I fully accept and respect that none of you will show to one-time visitors, and even foreigners, like us. It has been clear from the beginning that the name of this tour ‘Punyanagari unveiled’ only means that we get an insight into the life of some women having a veiled lifestyle and not that they actually unveil to us. But from what you have told us that won’t happen either if you remove your ghunghat or one of your daughters-in-law remove the hood because you are all fully covered in leather and that leather suit really intrigues me. I would be grateful if I could see it, or just the hood, even if it is ugly or frightening.”
Before Kavya can comment Marieke follows up by saying “I would very much like to see this suit as also and there is no need for any of you to show more than you already do. We have just been to a Gandhari restaurant and had the private dress of Gandhari women demonstrated to us by one of us being dressed up. I am willing to put a leather suit on, either on top of what I wear now or change in private to wear it like you do.”
Kavya says “It’s good the two of you took the subject to the final demonstration that always ends these visits that Amrita arranges because it’s time for them now. With you coming late I’m sorry we didn’t get around to as many questions as usual, but our immobility is the most important thing, other aspects of veiling and modesty we share with the majority of Punyanagari women for you to learn more about at many other places. One of you is going to try a hood for all of you to see I promise you. But first I have to say that you have been invited here just as much to help us with a delicate problem and not only because we like to give foreigners an insight into the lifestyle we think is right or just an exotic experience for you or to help support Amrita while she studies. We, especially me and my oldest son Bhagwhat, have some unusual sexual dependencies which the conservative circles that we associate with find distasteful, and probably they are right but none of us can help it. On the other hand people from Europe are often more open-minded and with a liberal view on subjects like alternative lifestyles, fetishes and sex and be willing to fulfil our desires. Am I right?”
After a few seconds where no one seems to want to answer Anke says “I would say so. Just the concepts of veiling and voluntarily being restricted are very alternative to us but anyone signing up for this tour is interested in learning about it and politely taking in what is presented no matter a few might speak badly about it on getting home. Regarding sex everyone, including Amrita, had a really good experience I’m sure when we were shown how Gandhari women are treated to await their husband.”
They all lean over the table to better be seen by Kavya when nodding repeatedly to the words of Anke, and Kavya speaking first when they have stopped nodding confirms she has seen them when she says
“Amrita, send me a description of what the Gandhari women showed you when this tour is over please. It seems to me you foreigners won’t mind helping Bhagwhat live out his fetish. I have told him and Shweta that I’ll report them if they ever do what they would really like to do, but fortunately it seems the arrangement with you and other foreigners is satisfactory. I don’t know what we’ll do when Amrita stops her tours, but it’s no good looking ahead for trouble. It’s all about our husbands having to be satisfied when coming from work, and although totally different I think, we await them like Gandhari women. We are late but we can gain some time by you foreigners carrying Rati, Shweta and me. Meera get Rati ready, then you all come back here for me and finally you help Meera with Shweta and wait for Bhagwhat to come.”
Maleka had left a while ago and Meera goes to Rati and first makes her head face straight forward, next she loosens the bolts to allow her to stand but then, contrary to in the television room, all the bolts of her legs are tightened again. Meera gestures the four guests on the sofa next to Rati and her to get up and for two to take hold of Rati, at one of her shoulders and the two others to lift at her calves. With her metal skeleton they can now easily carry her like a large plank of wood, not to say a coffin. Meera gestures them all to follow her and leads the way to a large room of more than forty square metres that is just as much a one room flat as a bedroom with a table with four chairs and a kitchenette in addition to a double bed and a wall of cupboards. They are gestured to put Rati down on her back on the bed with her knees just hanging off of the end of the bed. Her knees and hips are again loosened, this time along with a bolt just above her crotch that allows her to spread her legs. Rati then is able to position herself in an enticing and inviting posture on the edge of the bed with her legs spread as far as possible. Meanwhile Meera has opened a cupboard door to produce a large sheet of paper with about a dozen lines in large print in Hindi which she shows in front of Rati while letting a finger slowly run down the paper until Rati taps her foot. Meera points at the line again for Rati to tap her foot again to reassure her selection. Meera puts the sheet on the bed and tightens all the loosened bolts. It’s probably highly exciting to sit waiting totally open for her husband, unable to do anything no matter how he approaches her or no matter how his mood is, Marieke thinks, and with her back and neck rigid just a hand on her chest would make her tilt back for a classical way to enjoy her. Before Marieke and the others can think any further of the options for Rati, Meera returns from the cupboard with what at first looks like a photo of a female face, but turns out to be a cardboard mask. Emma says “It’s a Bollywood star often mentioned as the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Meera points out that the eye holes of the mask are covered by pieces of black tape on the inside before holding it to Rati’s face and pulling its elastic strap behind the back of her head. The visual change is great with Rati being transformed from a pretty pink salwar kameez with just a featureless white knob on top to depicting a woman who is so surreally beautiful that her face could be artificial. And it isn’t unrealistic that a Bollywood star would pose with her arms crossed and her legs wide open to be reserved and accommodating at the same time, Marieke thinks, while they all slowly back towards the door while still observing Bollywood Rati, who is no longer completely still but her crossed arms have started slowly moving a little up and down following her chest to indicate perhaps just showing to the tour group she is excited. Very likely she is also aroused from only having her hearing to tell her when her husband arrives and how he is going to enjoy her.
Back on the veranda of course the three remaining women sit exactly as when they left. Especially it looks odd that Amrita is facing left with no one next to her on the sofa. Meera quickly makes Kavya rigid in a standing position, also momentarily loosening her elbow joints for her to have her arms straight down. The four not carrying before now try to carry a stiff living woman, which for the two at the feet are a little more difficult with no individual legs to take hold of. The bedroom of Kavya is a little larger than that of Rati but just a normal bedroom with a large double bed and more cupboards than in Rati’s room. Meera gestures for Kavya to be placed standing at the end of the bed, and the moment her feet touch the floor she says
“Do we have a real blond among us?”
They all look at Mette who says
“My name is Mette Arvesen from Norway, Scandinavia, a true descendant of the Vikings I think and a true blond for sure.”
Kavya says “Would you be so kind as to unveil and model for your tour mates by trying on a leather hood?”
Mette says “If it includes being gagged like Rati and Shweta. I’m a little shy to have enjoyed being partially gagged so far, and I don’t want anyone to hear if the hood makes me frightened or excited which I’m sure the larger gags of Rati and Shweta ensure.”
Kavya says “Of course you have to be gagged or your lips would be showing to spoil the illusion you are a member of the Dhami family and the fact you are a young woman in the company of an elder.”
Mette says “With Viking blood in my veins I shouldn’t be frightened, and besides you love your hood so I’ll do it.”
As Mette reaches for her face scarf, Kavya immediately says
“Please wait. First I would like you to stand facing me about two metres away and the rest of you to form a half circle out from me. Then I’d like to say goodbye to you all and hope you have found this visit interesting, because I like to be gagged before seeing you Mette. Just you describing yourself as a blond Viking has already made me hot. I have some bisexuality in me and pale blond North European women excite me. Meera, gag me please.”
Meera reaches up under Kavya’s ghunghat at the back of her head to apparently partly open the hood before being able to enter the gag. The gag has to be hanging around Kavya’s neck, at least it is there when Meera takes her hands to the front of Kavya’s face and they all confirm she is already aroused at anticipating seeing Mette by hearing her voice a last time sounding a moan which midway is stifled by the gag. Meera again takes her hands behind Kavya’s head, now to close the hood, and then gestures Mette to start uncovering while she goes to a cupboard.
Having seen Mette unveiled they look at Kavya to see how she reacts. Her breathing is visible, contrary to on the veranda, but not as strong as that of Rati, perhaps because she hasn’t got her arms on her chest. But when Mette removes her last scarf and directly faces Kavya and shakes her shoulder long blond hair with a shy smile Kavya’s chest makes a very visible movement and it seems like a loud moan is muted by gag. Meera comes to stand next to Mette holding a hood with the open back forward for them all to see a large black ball attached to the hood with poppers. Mette’s face shows a mix of fear and anticipation just before being hidden by Meera holding the hood to her head. The ball won’t slide into her mouth just by Meera pulling the hood backwards over her face. She has to take her own hand up to touch the front of the ball appearing in the mouth opening of the hood before it enters with an audible pop. In addition to the oval mouth opening defined by a metal ring and completely filled by the ball there is a metal ring for airflow at each nostril and a pepper pot pattern of pinholes over each eye for vision. Marieke has to agree with Kavya that the hood presents a more intimidating rough look than the typical Punyanagari female face covered in fabrics, like they show themselves, although the human features are obscured about the same.
Miranda asks “Kavya said her vision is about the same as with our eye veils, do you agree Mette?”
Mette nods and then lifts her hands to point at her ears while shaking her head.
Miranda continues “Yes, it’s really thick leather. It’s not surprising it attenuates the hearing.
Emma asks “It is of course confining, but is it in a good way for you, like Kavya, wanting to wear it continuously?”
Mette touches her gag and nods several times, then she holds her hands up to signal she means the entire hood when first shaking her head once and then nodding several times which Marieke takes as ‘perhaps’ or ‘why not’, but makes Emma say
“You love to be gagged and this gag really suits you, so if you have to wear the hood to wear the gag the hood can be worn for an indefinite period. I have an exact copy of a Britney Spears concert leather outfit and with her now veiling I’m sure she has added a hood to the outfit. With both Kavya and you enjoying you in the hood I won’t complain, especially if I can get the name of the company making the hoods?”
Emma has turned to face Meera who responds by tapping her left wrist for Kavya to see and then mimicking lifting her. Kavya taps her right foot on the floor once to make Meera gesture for four women to lift her and soon after she lies stiff and flat on her back facing the ceiling. Meera, by making them aware of, without opening it, a slit in Kavya’s sari clearly tells that this is not only how she is going to await her husband but also that they can have sex without her moving and hardly without her clothing being touched. Marieke also notices that Kavya, despite not being blind, awaits her husband like Rati only able to guess the action he might take until the moment he is on top of her. The tour participants taking in the sight of their hostess and trying to imagine how she feels is disturbed by Meera coming to Emma and putting a hand over her mouth while leading her to a cupboard where she is handed a hood identical to Mette’s. This makes Emma try to hug Meera but she rejects her and instead leads Emma out of the room taking Mette with her and gesturing the rest to follow. When they come to a staircase they have passed before Meera gestures Emma and Mette to go up and put their scarves on again on top of the hood.
The others of course are taken back to the veranda where it is now Shweta’s turn. Like the two before her she is made to stand and carried away. At the staircase Meera gestures the two not carrying to assist so she can go up first and open the door at the top. They come out onto a flat rooftop, which highly surprising contains a piece of pavement, the rest is covered with asphalt and there are several scooty’s and even a motor rickshaw distributed in the area. While they follow Meera’s directions to carry Shweta to a scooty standing at the far end of the pavement, Marieke notices that Emma and Mette are standing at the side of the staircase room with Emma not having finished covering her hood yet. Apparently Meera doesn’t want them to be seen by Shweta with their darker eye slits showing they are wearing something black underneath. Meera turns a white helmet placed next to the scooter to pull out a green pollution mask matching Shweta’s salwar kameez and puts it on her. Next she picks up the helmet, showing the guests that its dark visor has black tape on the inside making it completely opaque, before fitting it on Shweta. Then the bolts of Shweta’s knees, hips and above her crotch are loosened to allow her to lie back on the seat of the scooty with her now helmeted head resting on the handlebar and her feet spread on either side of it to prevent her from tilting off. Marieke has many times seen men taking a nap like this but never any women and Shweta, wearing salwar, clearly shows why: it is an obscene position for a woman directly inviting sex.
With Shweta staged to be ready for her husband like her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law Meera turns to direct the walk-ons, the tour participants. First she gestures Emma and Mette to be seated in the rickshaw then the three remaining coloured pairs are gestured to mount a scooty each. There are no helmets for them but Anke produces her pollution mask from her handbag and shows it to Meera. She looks around to be sure they are all watching her and then gestures them all first to gag and then put on the mask after refitting their scarves. Then she leaves. While starting to uncover the mouth Marieke see her disappearing in the staircase room and seconds later the roof is filled with noise. What appears to be lamps at the four corners of the wall around the roof maybe are lamps but they are also loudspeakers sending out street noise to make the ‘street’ up here without moving vehicles at least sound quite realistic. Just before gagging herself Christa, sitting in front of Marieke, leans back and shouts into her ear
“While getting seated here before Meera wanted us to be gagged I was about to form my view on this play we are part of, but now gagging doesn’t matter as I can neither think nor carry out a conversation having to shout like this. I just want to ask you if you and your husband are free tonight and would like to have dinner with my husband and me?”
Marieka, having waited before placing the ball gag in her mouth, shouts back “I would very much like to. I promise you’ll get an answer from my husband before we part at the hotel.”
They both gag, fit their face scarf again and put on their pollution mask. The mask might improve the visual illusion of being in a street, but first of all they are in a quiet part of the city with little traffic in the surrounding streets to directly pollute, second they are well above street level where the air feels clear and last they are sitting directly in the sun without any cooling wind from motion for the mask to feel much hotter and stuffy than previously. Marieke wonders if it this that made Meera place Emma and Mette in the rickshaw having a small roof to bring some shade for their heads inside the thick leather hood in addition to wearing scarves and pollution masks like the others.
After somewhere around ten minutes Meera returns and stands in the doorway of the staircase room again. During this time about the only thing that has happened is that Shweta’s breathing, showing clearly by the movement of her crossed and bound arms, has slowly increased. Meera just looks as if checking that everything is in order and then steps forward and to the side for a man, Bhagwhat, to appear. Like some men in the streets he wears a scarf covering his lower face, but also wearing sunglasses this might be more to hide his face than to improve the play. But he acts by pretending that he after some seconds spots the scooty that Shweta is laying on in the ‘crowded’ ‘street’ by waving towards her, although she is both blind and fixed in a position facing up, for Marieke to conclude he is acting for them. After waving he quickly moves up the ‘sidewalk’ to lean down over the scooty from the side away from the ‘street’ for them all to see both Shweta’s chest with the bound arms on top and her feet jerk as Bhagwhat kisses her masked mouth just seconds before she is aware of his presence. Then he moves behind the scooty to straddle it for all the tour participants to realise why the scooty with Shweta is at a front corner of the roof with all the other vehicles behind: Bhagwhat’s body now prevents them from seeing the flesh that is no doubt shown and directly see the parts of him and Shweta which touch while his body moves rhythmically synchronous with Shweta’s feet tapping. Within a minute it is over and when he gets of the scooty both his trousers and Shweta’s salwar look like before, but Shweta clearly breathes very heavily as he repeats the kiss on her masked mouth before this time slowly walking back along the ‘sidewalk’ to disappear. Meera immediately takes a few steps forward and gestures them all to come to her.
While they leave the roof Marieke says to herself that this was a very extraordinary and weird experience indeed but the most sexually exciting was to sit straddled with Christa and holding her tight. Her own feelings surprised her. Why is she hot? It’s not Christa as a person or being in close contact with another woman. It’s being veiled and being with another veiled woman. Their outfits and the wives of merchant Keshtmand have started an as yet vague fantasy about having co-wives in her mind; something about having more hands to help Arjen get satisfied, shopping for clothes in identical clothing to buy four of everything and being part of Arjen’s wives speed skating team.
Amrita awaits them in the entrance hall. Seeing they are all wearing pollution masks and as such ready to leave makes her nod to Meera with a gesture for them all to greet her likewise and then she opens the door. This makes Emma and Mette rush to her, point at their dark eye area and take hold of their scarves to say they would like to uncover, but Amrita points into the house and draws a circle with an arrow pointing northeast in the air to turn and walk through the doorway. Meera steps up close to Emma and Mette while nodding and guides them out of the door. They both turn and make a deep bow to her, clearly an inappropriate way of greeting a maid, and while crossing the yard they rub cheeks to tell the partner and the rest of the group that to them more time hooded is more time in heaven.
5. A souvenir for life?
Emma and Mette let Amrita ride on the seat of the rickshaw along with Christa and Marieke for themselves to kneel back to back between their feet. During the ride Marieke looks for groups of three or four identically dressed woman, who in her mind could be co-wives, and she sees several groups of black dressed Muslim women that with the short glimpse she gets look as if more copies of the same outfit have been bought, but on the other hand with everything being black they could be quite differently dressed if a closer look was possible. Her outlook is a couple of times interrupted by Christa pointing out men napping lying on a scooty, but with their dull often worn out clothes they in no way present a sight like that of Shweta.
Back at the Le Royale Residency Hotel Amrita leads them to the same room as in the morning. Long before the tour participants have seated themselves she has removed her pollution mask and loosened her face scarf to remove her gag and then reapplied the scarf again. From the podium she looks down at the group, who all have done nothing but sit down, as they all suddenly feel very tired from the multitude of new, strange and extraordinary impressions they have experienced, and in addition being hot and sweaty from unaccustomedly being completely covered for hours. Despite this no one starts to remove anything, not even their pollution masks. Amrita begins to speak
“Just relax and listen to me. My tours always end like this. Punyanagari has been unveiled to you, not to see faces but almost to see what is even more intimate, and today even more so for me to have a great tour as well. You have seen and learned a lot about customs here in Punyanagari, but you have also learned something about yourselves. Being veiled, fully covered, having your limbs and senses restricted is much more pleasant than you would ever have imagined. Something has excited you all sexually, although it’s different what turns the individual on. You sit still completely covered, not so much because you are exhausted as because you want the pleasant sensations of veiling to continue for as long as possible. Relax even more and enjoy what you feel for as long as you want. I won’t stop you. For a very reasonable price you can keep all that you wear now and remain dressed as you are now for the rest of your stay here in Punyanagari, or for the rest of your lives if you wish to. Even if you want to change soon or later today this outfit is a great souvenir both to recall the events of this tour and as something to show at home, wearing it or not, to tell family and friends this is how the women of Punyanagari look. Emma and Mette have borrowed a hood that is outside my offer. I haven’t made any agreement of this with Kavya, because it hasn’t happened before and I’m not even sure she knows about it, but with these hoods being used I’ll offer the two of you to keep the hood you wear at half the new price or you can return it to me if you perhaps want to buy new ones instead. I have some business cards from the shop; you can of course all have a card or copy the details if they run out. A new hood is pretty expensive, about 75€, which means I’ll let you buy your used borrowed hood for 35€. The full outfit all of you wear is just 15€. Even a local can’t go out and haggle for the individual items in the shops or stalls around here to get this total price; I get a discount for both buying everything at one place and for being related to the owner. If you want to buy your outfits just keep relaxing and enjoy being veiled, we know all now we can settle this simple matter without words. For the benefit of Emma or Mette, if either of them have decided not to buy the hood, I’ll start with the clothing you all wear to let her or them wear the hood for a few more minutes. Please raise your hand if you . . .- Everyone. It’s quite common, but to be honest I was sure of this outcome for this group when having to ask Shaima for zip ties for everyone.”
Over the next couple of minutes Amrita moves along the tables to at most places get the equivalent of 20€. Mette also taps her head and pays for her hood. They all indicate for a business card for the hood shop but when Amrita only has six Vanessa passes Miranda hers and Anke gestures she will share with Marieke. Back on the podium Amrita says
“Well, this is it, the tour is over. You may leave now if you wish but you are also welcome to ask questions, or just to listen – and today I hope Emma will let us end with an unveiling scene on the podium instead of leaving last or changing behind the curtain.”
Emma nods and Amrita is handed a note to say
“Anke would like to know what I am studying and how far I am. In answer to that question I am studying social sciences, to be more specific, ethnography. I’m preparing for my final thesis titled ‘How globalisation affects the specifics of the major ethnic groups to be found in Punyanagari .’ Increased tourism is of course part of globalisation. I’m very grateful to Habiba for selecting the Bamiyan restaurant. From what I learned today and perhaps a few more visits the chapter about the Gandharis is going to be one of the best I think.”
Amrita leaves the podium to embrace Habiba. Back on the podium she looks around for a little while to finally say
“It’s understandable that you now want to meet your husbands and perhaps let them experience your own version of the Punyanagari way of mating after a long day. I’ll leave the podium for the best ending possible: Britney Spears!”
While changing chairs with Emma, who steps up on the podium and starts doing a typical pop star dance routine for about twenty seconds, Amrita gags herself. Emma meanwhile quickly removes her face scarf, takes two dance steps and holds her arms out to figuratively embrace her audience. Then the forehead scarf goes and the steps and the embrace are exactly repeated. Next goes the neck scarf followed by steps and embrace. Then the sheer scarf covering the eyes is removed and again steps and an embrace for her head to be covered by the hood only. She emphasises this by doing another but different twenty seconds dance routine where she continuously spins around to show the hood from all angles. This dance ends with her facing the tour group and again holding her arms out. Then she reaches for the back of her neck to pull the zipper of the hood open, takes a firm grip at the parted edges and twists the mask forward until the ball in her mouth suddenly pops out. A head glistering with sweat appears but the face also has an expression of one who has just gone through one of the happiest periods of her life with her sexual desires fulfilled. After a few deep breaths Emma says
“I felt I was Britney Spears wearing that hood. Not so much the old Britney singing and dancing, but the new Britney walking the streets of an Indian city like a local woman completely hidden from the gazing eyes of the infamously sexually charged Maratha men while browsing for new clothes and accessories to satisfy the only man for me, my husband. I have to have such a hood at once, but a brand new one. Britney wears at least one new outfit in each show and discards all her stage outfits at the end of the tour and does much the same in private the magazines say. Thank you to Amrita. Thank you to all the rest of you. Have a nice evening and enjoy the rest of your holidays. There are two more seats in the rickshaw I’m going to flag now to go the leather store. Would anyone like to join me?”
Emma puts the ball gag of Amrita’s outfit in her mouth and starts reapplying the scarves. Mette and Miranda get up to join her on the podium. Marieke turns to Christa and points at Miranda and Anke for the two of them to get up and go and squat in front of them. Marieke produces a notepad and writes
‘Christa and I would like to have dinner together including our husbands of course. With the two of you and your husband’s joining us it’s still like the previous days, also for Christa and Miranda I assume, dining with your friends from home not to break old friendships but only to start new ones.’
Anke and Miranda nod approvingly and then Miranda takes the pen to write
‘I would like it if we could find a simple local place where we can go as we are now.’
Marieke answers ‘I intend to stay a veiled Punyanagari woman as well, perhaps for the rest of our stay. Let’s ask Amrita for advice.’
Marieke takes the notepad and stands up to turn and see they have to line up for saying goodbye to Amrita who is now standing just inside the open door. Marieke leads the four and on reaching Amrita hands her the notepad. After reading the message Amrita nods and writes a couple of names and addresses on the back of the sheet to drop it in the handbag Marieke holds open to her, and then they hug tightly like those that have already left.
It went as expected, Marieke says to herself, looking at her three veiled friends while walking down the long corridor to the reception. Still veiled at dinner the men will find it logical that we eat at two separate tables sex segregated, and perhaps even with a curtain between us, and then I sit with three similarly dressed women to all through the meal imagine my Arjen now has four wives. I’ll wait until the last opportunity before we separate for the night before asking if Anke, Christa and Miranda have the same fantasy.
Copyright © 2014, Bo_Emp ; moc.oohay@pmE_oB
Thanks to Nye North for proof reading