In an alternate reality

“Son, once you get married, there’s no coming back. Once you’re married, you’re married. That’s your identity for life.”

“Being a man, it’s your full responsibility to make your wife happy. If you fail in making your wife happy, you have failed as a person.”

“Brother, you must know, you have to keep yourself well groomed for your wife. If you leave your stomach hanging out and your nose hair untrimmed, she’s going to look at other men.”

“It’s a guy thing. You have to know how to fix your own breakfast and make a cup of tea. What are you going to do when your wife is sick or out of the house? Hang around starving until she’s there to serve you? No. That’s just not how we men do things.”

“Keep your wife happy. That’s very important. No matter what happens, never talk back to her. Never argue with her.”

“You are going to disgrace me in front of your in-laws if you do that. You’ll never be successful as a husband.”

“Thank you for doing this task for me. May Allah bless you with a good wife and children.”

“You have to do this degree. There’s no way anyone will choose you for a husband otherwise.”

“I am so angry at you! You are going to remain a childless bachelor all your life!”

“Go help your little brother with his Maths homework right now. How will you teach your children once you’re a father?”

“That’s not how manly boys sit. Sit with your legs closed. And don’t take up enough space for two people.”


I had lots of fun writing this. Add your own “marriage advice/remarks from an alternate reality” in the comments!  


A burger bachi’s guide to eating out in Lahore

Those days when you can’t come up with a killer hashtag for your latest dine-out meal’s photo are the worst. The worst, I tell you. Everyone’s Instagram updates (puh-lease, Facebook check-ins are so yesterday) are overflowing with snazzy snaps of yummylicious food but the real foodies are those who tag their photos effectively. Of course, my Instagram is public. Want to show up in the “explore” pages of all the happening folks, yo.

Which brings me to the word “foodie”. Every Tahir, Danial and Harris calls himself a foodie nowadays. Huh. They think hanging around MM Alam, drinking designer coffee, and ordering customized cupcakes to go counts as foodie material. Time to wake up, dreamers. Real foodies only go out to the most exclusive restaurants, discovered ethnic cuisine before you even heard the word “Thai”, and only drink hipster chai tea. Yes, it’s “chai tea”. Not chai, not tea; chai tea. If the gora calls it chai tea the desi foodie shall call it chai tea also. Don’t worry if you can’t grasp it yet. You probably still drink Nescafe sachet coffee.

Frozen yogurt is for people who can’t afford Movenpick. Piling up toppings onto huge dollops of frozen yogurt like there’s no tomorrow, is not classy. Going to high-end restaurant and paying top dollar for a microscopic scoop of pure heaven is the real deal. Taking a cool photo with your DSLR macro lens makes it all worth it. What, you’re still using the “food” mode on your point-and-shoot? Gosh, I don’t even know why I waste my time with you.

Let me walk you through the basic dine-out, you poor uninformed thing. First, there’s the pre-dine-out meet-up at someone’s place, where we take selfies and group photos. This is a good point to upload a photo to Instagram and announce how much fun we’re having. Then, it’s time to pile up into the car and tell the driver where to go. On the way, it’s perfectly legit to touch up makeup, rearrange hair, or even do a full makeover on the guinea-pig tagalong of the group. (Don’t tell me you don’t know what that is. That’s the socially bankrupt, wannabe coolster classmate we let come along with us because we’re just that generous.) Then, upon arrival at the destination, we all make a graceful exit from the car and take a photo next to the name of the restaurant. We wait until we get inside and use the restaurant’s wifi to upload that photo. This is the critical time where hashtags must, must, must be up to the standard. We stake out the area – you must keep tabs on what the aunties at the next table are discussing, and which waiter seems overly pleased at the arrival of a group of dolled-up teenagers, and then we establish ourselves at the best table. It’s perfectly fine to refuse the table the maitre d’ picks for us. We can wangle our way to the table we choose. We take as much time giggling and fussing over the menu as we want. After placing the order, it’s time to hit the ladies’ room for—you guessed it—more selfies! Polishing off the meal is no issue. Taking the perfect shot of it is. This is the part where we upload the photographic masterpiece to Instagram. Rounding up the meal with a dainty dessert, it’s time to pile into the car again and go home for a good old fashioned gossip session. There you have it, your basic dine-out, “the matchless experience” that is the best entertainment Lahore has to offer.

Originally published in Us Magazine, The News (Pakistan):

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Parenting Facebook with Facebooking parents

Give someone a fish, and they will eat for a day. Teach someone to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime. You don’t want to be bothered by anyone ever again? Teach them how to use Facebook.

When our mother wanted to join this popular social networking site, her innocent offspring never dreamed that

–they would have a third contender for Internet time on the laptop

–drama serials would no longer vie for space with football matches on the TV

–their mother would learn to employ the phrase “two minutes” in the same flexible manner that youngsters use.

It’s not that she didn’t use the Internet before. In fact, she was the first one to start using it in the days when its chief social service was email, becoming electronically connected before her children did. It’s just that learning the ropes of social networking is a totally different ball game from email, especially when you’re the type of person who never, ever clicks without knowing beforehand what it will do. (I think that is the factor that distinguishes youngsters’ learning curves from their parents’. The former learn how to get around websites on their own but the latter are reluctant to venture into the unknown. And before net-savvy parents blast me into oblivion, let me add that this is not a universal rule.) Due to this reason, I made a habit to take something to do as I took up my post as chief advisor alongside my mother as she made her debut on Facebook. I must say, her excitement level was much higher than that of her been-there-done-that kids:

Brother (in a matter-of-fact tone): “I thinned out my friends list recently, and I still have 400 Facebook contacts.”

Me (dully): “I have around 250.”

Mama (her face glowing with enthusiasm): “I have three!”

Every person who has travelled with their parents along their Facebook learning curves has had one feature in particular which turns out to be tricky. With my friend, it was the “notifications” feature, where you get alerts whenever someone interacts with you. Her mother, an official personal assistant who uses the Internet every day, was disturbed by this:

“But why do they tell me about it? I didn’t ask them to tell me.”

Ammi, it’s so you know what they’re doing.”

“But I don’t want to know what they’re doing!”

My “tricky” bit came along one day when I saw my mother get up from the laptop and head towards the phone, instinct told me to ask what she was doing; usually nothing short of an earthquake  could interrupt a session of her favourite online game. My gut feeling turned out to be right:

Mama: “I’m calling our Internet service provider.”

Me: “Why?”

Mama: “The Internet isn’t working.”

Me: “What in the Internet isn’t working?”

Mama: “FarmVille.”

Notice that I knew what question to ask and did not take her assessment of the status of the Internet to be final (that’s chief advisor experience talking). I stopped her from making the call by explaining how a faulty Internet connection was different from a website being down and how a website was hosted on different servers from the third-party applications featured on it. Chief advisor Iqra saves the day! Or, well, one call centre employee’s day, anyway.

A usual day goes like this:

Me: “When the load shedding is over and the electricity comes back at 6pm, I’ll go write that on Facebook.”

Mama: “Sure you will, but at 6:10pm. My game crops are going to wither otherwise.”

Me: “All right.”

Mama (later): “Hmm, Anam’s crops are all withered and she’s been neglecting her other games, too. She usually keeps up with her games. I wonder what has happened. I’ll have to ask when I meet her tomorrow.” (Later, reading aloud): “Support us in the fight against…but why are they sending me this? How did this get into my inbox?”

Me (coming over): “See, over there, it says ‘sent to all members of…’. You’re a member of this group.”

Mama: “I never signed up for this group!”

Me (clicking over to the group): “See here? ‘Remove as member’. Why would it say that if you hadn’t already joined?”

Mama: “But I didn’t join this!” (Pointing at an affiliated group): “I meant to join that one!”

Me: “…”

I may have lost online time but I got a friendly Internet presence who gets genuinely excited over virtual roses sent to her by her daughter—a fair exchange any day. I like seeing her around. And the best thing is that she no longer wonders why on earth we spend so much time on Facebook because she clocks in regular hours herself!

Life Management

Dear Human,

This is to inform you that life as you know it has been binned. There were a lot of complaints regarding life as it had been, so it was decided that a new system be adopted, which will hopefully be pleasing to everyone. As of now, life is an RPG. There is no need to worry; this letter outlines everything you need to know.


First things first. You will not age! That does away with the whole search for everlasting youth thing. No need to bother scientists with genetic research and the like. Convenient, huh? Instead, you will gain experience points as you defeat monsters on the field, which will allow you to move up from level to level and become stronger. This will allow you to be able to kill stronger beasties and become even stronger, until you hit the roof, level 99, at which nothing will pose a challenge to you anymore. At this level, you can either choose to revisit old areas and watch adversaries shrivel up at your mere presence, or you can head towards one of the crazy-insane-ultra-mega-super challenge dungeons to pit yourself against crazy-insane-ultra-mega-super enemies to obtain useless special items and abilities, useless because there is nothing besides wimpy regular monsters to use them against. This new life will be heaven for obsessive-compulsives.


Ah, money! No need to worry about that anymore. No more sitting 9 to 5 at a desk working your bum off. Just go out there and kill some fiends who will hopefully drop some coins on their way to the afterlife. You’ll make a nice pretty bundle for yourself after killing a million of them, which you’ll have to spend on better equipment so you can kill a million more. Speaking of work, the word “boss” has a completely different meaning in this new world. It no longer means the red-faced guy who calls for you as you’re about to sit down to a cup of tea or the person who gives you days off from work as if they came from his personal bank account. It now means a usually large monstrosity of variable shape and appearance whose purpose of existence is to sit around filing its nails (or whatever equivalent it has) until you come along, whereupon it makes a dramatic entry and proceeds to unleash a barrage of sequenced attacks on you until you bite the dust or compel it to do the same. A good boss is that which knocks you down in two seconds flat whereas a poor boss is that which can be hack-slashed to oblivion without having to work out any strategy. Remember the system of exams you had in that old life? Well, here you have bosses. The only difference being that bosses can bite (or flash lightning or shake up an earthquake, as the case may be).


You will also be relieved of listening to Aunt Nono’s daily report on how her blood pressure is doing. You can only talk to certain people and that too when you approach them; they don’t initiate conversation. They will rattle off a few lines and will only change what they say after you pass a major milestone in your life. Talk about kicking MySpace, Facebook and the rest right in the teeth! And of course, that outdated device called the telephone, too.


No life is free from duty. Many responsibilities will fall on your shoulders. Not the old fetch-the-milk and take-out-the-garbage, however. All the residents of the communities you visit will entrust you with the solutions of their worries and mishaps. You will have to find lost pets, recover and deliver letters, parcels and keys, carry messages (we scrapped that annoyance called the Internet, remember), kill any beasties they want removed, and, in short, act as a messenger, exterminator, matchmaker and agony helpline all rolled into one. Lots of patience is required, as every single person will unload their sad life story to you. Saving the world from grave peril, tyrannical domination and global warming will all fall to your lot. Of course, not a single soul besides you will be capable, worthy or just plain unlucky to have the job handed to them.


What if the slings and arrows of fortune prove to be too much for you? Have no fear, just pocket some restorative items to use when you’re feeling run down. If you need more than a boost, just drag yourself to the nearest save crystal/ring/emblem/thingy—a whole new you! (Let the anti-wrinkle advertisements beat that!) We ditched illness; too much trouble. Afflictions with a cure just one potion-drink away is the way to go. Don’t worry about not being able to carry enough stuff; even if all you have is a utility belt, you can carry a caravan’s worth of things easily. Now that we touch upon the subject of clothing, it really must be mentioned that females aren’t allowed to wear more than 500cm2 of cloth. They can think of imaginative ways to make getups that give the appearance of being clothed, but on no account must they exceed the limit. It’s detrimental to the environment. We don’t want people getting bored, now, do we? Don’t worry, it’ll have absolutely no practical effect. You’ll be able to move around snow-capped peaks and bug-filled forests and go head-to-head with slime-spewing lizards and flame-breathing dragons just as easily as you could have done wearing the appropriate garb.


It is hoped that these guidelines will be useful. Wishing you a cyclic, explorative and successful life,

The Management


Dear Troubled,

It has come to our notice that you have not found the current mode of life suitable. To facilitate your desires, we have done away with the RPG system and have set up a new system in its place: the Platformer system. As before, we will discuss the implications of this change to make adjusting easier for you.


Life is now much more streamlined and linear. The walk of life is clearly set out before you in a continuous path with well-defined obstacles (canyons to jump across, levers to pull, high ground to jump up to, to name a few. Talk about problem-solving made simple!). You will no longer face the hassle of making choices. The challenges to be faced will be promptly sent your way for you to handle them one by one. No more strife for energy and wealth; both are laid out along your path for you to collect. You don’t have to juggle a caravan of items now, either. Just remember to keep an eye out for life tokens along the way; as failure to pass most obstacles results in instant death by falling on a wall of spikes, being crushed between two walls coming together, drowning in a swamp or other interesting methods. The use of a life token brings you right back on the field, though.  To break up the pattern there are mini-tasks where you assist the incapable inhabitants of the world with menial jobs. You can also get new abilities that will allow you to pass new obstacles and help more of the populace. Of course, you must vanquish evil in this world, too, by spending 95% of the time getting to the evil and 5% defeating it. Your life will not be devoid of purpose once you have done this, as the evil (or its twin brother) will crop up once more for you to handle.


Here’s to a repetitive, fulfilling and bouncy life,

The Management


Dear Discontent,

You have complained about the Platformer life, so we bring you a life without bosses, creepy-crawlies and limitless regeneration: The Sims! Here’s how this life is going to be like:


You get to choose what you’ll be like from a selection of custom-made options. You also get to choose who you’ll live with and what they’ll look like. Such flexibility and choice was unheard of in the past lives, including your original one. Your main aim is to make sure the meters meant to be high remain high and the meters meant to be low remain low, keeping your hunger, mood and energy etc in balance. You can also design where you’ll live however you want—once you get enough money for it, that is. To get money, you send yourself off to work and sit around waiting for yourself to come back so you can deal with the meters again. You have the choice between free will and no will. With free will, you will automatically deal with the meter that needs the most attention; with no will, when you are unattended to you will simply stand and scream at the heavens for days on end, urinating on the spot, having fits, until (due to lack of attention) you ultimately die, vanishing to leave a gravestone where you once were. No matter, you can always make a new you. Making friends is essential. Just invite people over, command yourself to give them compliment after compliment, and after awhile they’ll open up enough for you to do other actions. If a fire breaks out in your house, simply cancel the action of panicking and hollering that you are carrying out at the moment and direct yourself to get the fire extinguisher. When you put food in the microwave, it is compulsory for you to stand with your face in the microwave window. While dancing, simply follow repetitive, angular, jerky movements; your fellow dancers don’t know how to dance any better than you do. Best of all, time is in your hands. You can make it flow at a normal pace, or, if you’re engaged in an activity you know will take some hours, set it to fast forward so you can get to the next activity quicker. If life gets monotonous, just get an expansion pack to get more activities to do.


Quite simple and non-threatening. We hope this will satisfy you at last.

The Management


Dear Hopeless,

You fail to like anything we set up for you; obviously, you don’t have the neurons to appreciate complexity. Therefore, the best thing for you is to live as Pacman. Your whole life is on a single screen. Just eat all the food there is (the best, and possibly only, source of motivation there is) while avoiding the ghosts. If you can figure it out, eating the special food lets you eat the ghosts too. If you manage to complete one level, go to the next. Nothing new to do, just a new maze to negotiate; hopefully the novelty of this will not overwhelm you.


The sheer challenge of this will be enough to keep you occupied for eternity.

The Management


Originally published in SPIDER Magazine.

Introducing…the iLove 2.0


The silence of my third tea break of the day is interrupted by a commotion at the front desk. Apparently, someone is challenging my right to five minutes’ seclusion by demanding that I see them right now. I enjoy my work as much as I enjoy my tea, but I hate it when an impatient client turns this circle of harmony into a love triangle.

Blink, blink, beep, beep goes the intercom. Back on the saucer goes the teacup. Into the room strides the client.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to happen. Usually, I page the receptionist with any standard version of the message “I don’t keep you at that desk for decoration”, and he gets moving. This is the first time that his appeal on the intercom has failed in its timing. Failed miserably. The damsel of doom is not supposed to flounce into my office five minutes before her appointment. She is supposed to be made to wait fifteen minutes before being allowed to enter, so that exactly what is going on right now does not happen.

“Thank goodness I got in here, doctor! Your telephone operator tried to tell me that you weren’t free, but I couldn’t stay in that waiting room any longer!”

He. Is. Not. A. Telephone. Operator. “Take a seat, madam,” I speak automatically. She flops onto the patient’s couch but instead of settling into it so that she faces the opposite direction, she twists around to face me.

Regular people act the way they’re supposed to. They sit the way they should for their therapy session. Your brother’s business partner’s sister-in-law—well, the less said, the better.

“I can’t believe it, Dr. Q,” she says. “You’re such an excellent therapist, just walking into your office soothes my nerves. But he’s just spoiled the place for me now. I can’t believe he’s here! I couldn’t bear seeing him in your waiting room. I just had to get out of there.”

I don’t like stories with snapshots-from-the-middle-of-the-plot epilogues. They never make any sense. “Who are you referring to?” I ask.

“I told you about him last time. Guy Z. The one I met after I left X. You know.”

“Hmm.” I rack my brains to make sense out of this alphabet soup, searching for recognisable labels. I probe for information: “Always Online or Photo Junkie?” Then I prepare myself to receive the incoming onslaught of information as the damsel (or Dod, as I personally call her) launches into the narration of her woes.

“Neither of them. They were a waste of time. I don’t know what they were even doing on a dating site. Always Online chatted with me for two weeks, went on a week’s holiday and then when he came back, he told me to remind him who I was! As for Photo Junkie, all he wanted was photo comments, he apparently hadn’t heard of the existence of photo sharing sites.

“I thought X was my type. He really had potential, but then he just had to go and display his complete lack of brain cells. He didn’t get it when I acted attractively mysterious. It’s the first rule in every book, don’t give too much about yourself away. Maintain an alluring aura of riddles and half-clues. Be elusive. But I was so gorgeously elusive that he totally missed the hint and thought I wanted to get away, so he gave me a good push to speed up the process. Deleted and blocked me from everywhere! After I spent a good month taking pictures of myself with my eyes peeking out from behind my dupatta! I can’t believe I wasted so much effort on that loser.”

“So this…X is in the waiting room?”

“No, that’s not X, that’s…well, let’s call him Zanzibar. He’s a real find, I subscribed to iLove 2.0 to find my perfect match and we got together. I sent him my mobile number, very conveniently tagged ‘AA Rabia Jaan’, so that it would always be at the top of his contacts list. He called up the owner of the person with the same mobile number as his on another network. He had to threaten him with arson and murder before he agreed to give up his number, but we finally got matching mobile numbers. I sent him an MMS of myself and he set my picture as the wallpaper on his mobile phone. Isn’t that just darling?

“The climax of our relationship was when he told me that he was driving past my neighbourhood to see me, and asked me to come out onto the balcony. My mother nearly had a heart attack when I asked her to let me drape the laundry over the terrace rail that day—I don’t even make my own tea, otherwise—but the mission was completed successfully. Just as I was rearranging Munnu’s cloth diapers for the fifth time, he drove past. The sun glinted off his sunglasses so that I couldn’t see his face properly, but he sent me a text message to ask where we’d bought the stonewashed jeans which were drying on the rail, so I knew that he could see me just fine. Wasn’t that a Romeo-and-Juliet moment!

“But something happened. He wasn’t texting me every few seconds anymore. I don’t know what happened. And now he’s here, so that means that whatever problem he has, he didn’t consider me worthy enough to confide in, so he’s going to discuss it with you!” The Dod glares at me for a moment, then a very different expression crosses her face. “Doctor…if you ask him to come in here and discuss it in front of me…you can do that, can you? I know you will. You treat me just like family.”

I treat you because you have money. “As both of you haven’t mutually agreed to come for couple therapy, I can’t guarantee anything, but—”

“Forget it. I’ll just ask him myself.” She frisks out of the room before I can say anything else. I glance in the direction of my (now cold) tea and suppress a sigh. The things one has to do to earn a living! I was better off before dating went digital.

The Dod strides back into the room. Impossibly, she is even more agitated than she was before. “He’s gone!” she shrieks dramatically. “Dr. Q, can you believe it?”

I very well can. The scene is very clear in my head. Dod and Zanzibar see each other in the waiting room. Dod flees to my office. Zanzibar exits the building. If that guy has an ounce of sense, he will be twenty miles away by now. That leaves me, a sobbing Dod and a curious receptionist leaning into the hall trying to eavesdrop.

Dr. Q Pid is the name, longtime clients is the game. I don’t run after people shooting arrows after them anymore. Sending them fishing for people in the world of bits and bytes is much more convenient. The new and improved system, sponsored by the Doc himself, the iLove two-point-oh. I sit at the edge of the lake selling equipment and listening to their woes when something goes wrong with their fishing rods. Some things work so well once you get them going that you wonder why you didn’t set them up years before.     

I try to console the Dod. Have to do something to send her away thinking about something other than a broken fishing line. I have just the perfect suggestion to drive all other thoughts out of her mind. “You just need someone to talk to, right?” She nods. I consider her for a few moments before popping the proposition out of its shell.  “Well, then. Why don’t you just take my number and talk to me!”



 Originally published in Us Magazine, The News, on February 12, 2010.

Link to original:

How to kidnap a child (Bollywood style)

First, go find two people who’re at daggers with each other. It isn’t hard to find such a pair. A ruined business partnership, a botched love triangle or an inherited family feud will do. If you’re lucky, you won’t even have to search for one: some lovelorn, hate-ridden scumbag will come along sooner or later and shell out cash for you to kidnap someone’s child.


Once you get the job, obtain the victim’s father’s phone number (usually from thin air) and give him a threat, which you cut off the moment he tries to reply. Wait until the poor father has stationed FBI agents around his house, then don your most gangster-style black leather and go to do the deed. Make sure the police are right outside the child’s door before you snatch the kid from its bed. Ensure the policemen flooding into the room see your leather jacket whipping out of sight. It adds to the drama. If you’re lucky, the victim won’t be a child at all, but a beautiful young girl who will promptly fall in love with you while you show your manly indifference. If it’s a kid, take it back to your hideout (which stands out a mile due to its gloomy, derelict, haunted look, instead of being inconspicuous). Make sure you choose the most typical, clichéd hideout you can find. If it’s not a kid…well, you still have to take it back to your hideout. And don’t forget the manly indifference.


Now, go out and tail the father. While he goes ahead in the crowd, you stride behind in black leather and dark glasses. Never mind that you stand out like a sore thumb. Who bothers with disguises anyway? Call him up on his mobile and mention the clothes he’s wearing and his location (preferably Marks and Spencer and next to the busiest shopping mall in the country, in that order). While he spins around on the spot wildly, looking in all directions, demand an outrageous sum from him. Remember to cut the call just as he begins to stutter back.


When the haggard father turns up unaccompanied and deposits the money in a paper bag into the dustbin, or (more preferably) clutches a briefcase to his chest and calls out for you, remember to make a dramatic appearance out of the shadows, with some lightning flashes in the background. Take the money and declare that you’re going to cut up his child into sheesh kababs and sell them for five rupees each, at which he will whimper and plead for his child’s life. At this point, police will pour in from all sides, even though they were not contacted by the father. This is your cue to show off physically impossible kung-fu moves and slash your way through every police officer that comes in your way. However hard you try, you will eventually die a dramatic death at the hands of the hero (to which the first two-thirds of the movie was dedicated). The kidnapped young girl will wail over your dead body and then go off to live happily ever after with her saviour, or commit suicide in your honour. Who said kidnapping was easy?


This was originally published in Us Magazine, The News, on May 30, 2008.

Link to original:

Perennial Fashion

It is said that the fashion of today will look horrendous five years from now. I say fashion is something that looks horrendous right now! Fashion is also supposed to be seasonal; every few months even the saner magazines feel the need to tell us about the new ways to look ridiculous, as the old ways don’t seem to be ridiculous enough. Here, I bring you perennial fashion: tips and tricks that will hold you in good stead for years to come. Keep in mind
that I will deal with the dominant part of fashion that guides you like a duck going through the grinder in hopes of emerging as a peacock. The reasonable styles floating around the edges of the world of fashion that can be adopted sensibly if they are to one’s liking are, of course, something we fashion divas avoid like the plague.

Our motto – skin is in

Always remember, it’s not about clothes: it’s about YOU. Do not suffocate yourself underneath unnecessary clothing. After all, if it’s all about YOU, and YOU are hidden by cloth, how can you expect people to see your individuality? Unfortunately, the norms of civilised society prevent us from going stark naked, or we would have done away with clothes altogether and gone about trumpeting our uniqueness. Fortunately, there are ways to create the illusion of being clothed. The basic method is to discard unwanted bits of cloth from around the body, allowing YOU to shine through. This is easy enough for those living in normal conditions, but what about those who live in inhumane environments where people are finicky about smothering them under so much cloth? Have no fear; you can create the appropriate illusion, too.


Do not worry, by no means am I asking you to wear the monstrosity that covers you. I know how much it upsets you when backward parents and retarded institutions compel you to wear the ungainly thing. The answer to your persecuted cries lies in the right dupatta worn in the right style. By that, I mean a chiffon dupatta twisted around the throat or riding high on your neck so it barely shows from the front. The word ‘dupatta’ tacked on after ‘chiffon’ is meaningless: it serves no purpose, as it is too see-through and slippery to pose any danger of covering YOU. Twisted around the neck, it allows you to put on a frontal display which other dupattas threaten to hide.


While our sisters of the first illusion (the illusion of being clothed) happily showcase necklines that plunge so low that they could expose the tailbone from the back or the navel from the front if they were a few centimetres lower, we girls of the second illusion (the illusion of being properly clothed) have to contend with higher necklines. The key is going horizontal instead of vertical; try out the boat or square neckline for your next dress. The square neckline is such that its vertical lines extend three or four centimetres below the collarbone, but the bottom horizontal line stops a few millimetres short of the armpits. The boat neckline is higher than the square neckline, but the bottom horizontal line takes so much advantage of being higher that it is an inch or so away from making your dress off-the-shoulders. Or you could ignore the front neckline altogether and focus on the back neckline, making it go halfway down your back, displaying your shoulder blades to perfection (that is, if they aren’t hidden by flab). Pure overkill!


Don’t burn up with envy watching people in strap dresses. You can also achieve the sleeveless-but-sleeved look. The eternal trick is to wear ‘cup sleeves’, your sleevelessness veiled by an inch of ‘sleeves’. The other, more popular trick, which saw much variation and diversity looks complicated but is actually quite simple. Just put your dress with full sleeves up on the clothesline and attack the arms with a pair of scissors. Ta-da! The resulting mangled sleeves are not only a unique design, but your arms show through from the
shoulder down (objective achieved!). If that is still too much cloth for you, consider cutting a slit in your full sleeve up to the elbow or the cup-sleeve mark. People like to adorn the sleeves with beads, embroidery and what not. Go ahead, frame those windows of skin as plentifully as you desire.


Some people of the first illusion don’t like spending money on something they can’t show off. Therefore, they want the whole world to know what brand of undergarments they are wearing. They tackle this problem by donning jeans, then letting them hang down at the hips to display their you-know-what. Boys are happy that there is a fashion statement that applies to both genders. What are girls of the second illusion to do? Don’t fret. Your fellow people of the second illusion are one step ahead of everyone; they wear cup-sleeves and let their shoulder straps dangle out at the forearm for the world to see, determined not to be left behind in anything. Just follow their supreme example not only to catch up with but surpass those first illusion girls!

Shirt and legs

Look at clothes of six or seven years ago. Longer than the knees, with a broad daman, YOU covered left, right and centre. How appalling! How did we allow ourselves to be drowned in so much cloth in this revolting manner! It was from the shock and horror of it all that we went full speed in the opposite direction. We never appreciated the elegance of the folds of cloth at the top of the shalwar until we shrunk our kameezes to microscopic size, displaying this work of art. Girls everywhere were rediscovering their hips without having to resort to jeans, but the less fortunate ones were left to wail over their fate: they couldn’t possibly create any illusion to don microscopic kameezes. People who were triumphing over this answer to cloth shortage had to halt their celebrations, because girls recently made a new discovery: they had LEGS! What were they doing there, covered and useless? Something had to be done about it immediately. Capri pants began mushrooming over the landscape. Again, the ones of the second illusion were fraught with despair. They couldn’t even wear jeans, how could they possibly wear capris? The answer presented itself in a dazzling display of East meets West: the capri shalwar! Simply hack off a few inches of cloth from the end of your shalwar or pants, and there you are! You get to flaunt your ankles and a few inches of leg like the blessed ones of the first illusion. Some people, nostalgic about the childhood era when they could wear shorts, end their capris or capri shalwars directly below their knees. At this new cloth-saving measure, cloth sellers went crazy. They were selling less and less cloth! They had to do something about it or they would go out of business. Fashion designers took their plight to heart and immediately came up with a solution that was palatable for both illusions: bring the kameez down to below the knee and end the capri pants an inch or so below the kameez. Females of the second illusion were swooning with delight. They couldn’t wear knee-length capris otherwise; the long kameezes compensated for the startling lack of cloth around the shins. So what are you waiting for? Head onto the surf and ride high on the newest wave of fashion that transcends both illusions.

A thing or two about fashion

Come rain or shine: THE way to be successfully fashionable is, apparently, to stick to your guns no matter what the conditions are. That is why you will see fashion conscious girls

i) persisting with sleeveless outfits in winter until further stubbornness might result in death from frostbite;

ii) hobbling around in uncomfortable shoes;

iii) skittering forth in pretty, useless shoes through mud, rainwater and/or cold, having their toes either mud-encrusted and/or frozen off.

Who said being fashionable is easy?


When belts came into fashion, people with shalwar kameezes sported all sorts of cloth belts in response to this new fad; some were merely outsized laces serving a term as a waist accessory, others were meticulously embroidered, hip-adorning creations. Then people went a step further in incorporating belts into the traditional dress; a lace of any size and type sewn around the waist area of the kameez. The final result is not a belt; it’s not a lace, either. It’s just a thing; moreover, a nameless thing. There should be a limit to this East-meeting-West-and-spawning-ridiculous-fashion-trends thing, as if the capri shalwar wasn’t enough already. The same thing goes for the actual style where a V-necked or deep necked shirt is worn over a high-necked one, its local translation being V-necked shirts with cloth sewn behind it, aspiring to achieve the same look. Of course, my dislike of these particular inventions does not deprive them of the right to be liked; if people are wearing it, they must like it. The point of significance, however, is the inventiveness of our people when it comes to ‘localising’ trends. What will be the next thing to be localised? That’s the burning question, and as soon as someone accomplishes it, the rest will follow like the sheep. Who knows, maybe the person responsible for it could be you!

Mom, they’re teasing me

Once, after coming out of a shop, my mother asked, “Did you see that girl?” “What girl?” I asked. She told me about a girl clad in a see-through dress. My mother noticed her when she went up to her mother to complain that some boys in the shop were teasing her. I fail to understand the mentality of such people. Girls who dress up prettily to go outside and expect that boys won’t give them attention is one thing, but girls who wear risqué clothing and expect that they won’t be bothered is something else. Another thing in the same vein is females who don’t intend to show off their bodies, but are so careless about the quality (and by this I mean see-through-ness) of their clothes that they end up doing it anyway. Saudi Arabia made it compulsory for females to wear abayas for the Hajj, because of the loads of Pakistani women going there in see-through clothing. It’s embarrassing that the government of another country has to tell our females to take a good look at the type of cloth they’re wearing. A little care would go a long way.

Redefining appropriateness

Lining up to enter the examination hall for my O Level examination, I looked up to see how far the line had progressed to clap eyes on the stunning backline of the girl at the head of the line. At the topmost step, she was displaying literally half of her back to all and sundry behind her, wearing ‘coloured clothes’ because she was a private candidate. Wearing something like that to an examination centre is too much! Any sense of appropriateness of the occasion is lost on these people. That, or they simply don’t have proper clothes to wear. Perhaps it’s the “fashion no matter what” attitude; fashionables walking the catwalk whether there’s fog, rain, snow or imminent death from a meteor about to hit the Earth. Being dressed to impress 24/7/365–who knows, there could be cute aliens on that meteor.

Originally published in Us Magazine, The News on October 17, 2008.

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