With a mind still stuck between adolescence and amateur adulthood, I was busy in an argument with my elder brother a few years back. The argument fueled up with my refusal to wear a dupatta. The point I raised was “Why should I cover myself up when I don’t want to? I want to flaunt my long silky hair in twisted braids. Dupattas are so out of fashion, nobody wears them anymore.” His counsel superceded the prevalent trends in return for the personal space it created for the wearer. A dupatta acts as a shield between the lustful eyes of a man and your body. “I won’t be affected by your decision to not wear a dupatta” he quipped continuing to point at the covering I had casually thrown on the chair before concluding “but this dupatta will make many decisions for you in your life, mark my words” before he calmly left the room.
Not willing to surmise or relent, the duppatas were eased out of the wardrobe and into the drawers of spare clothes. I would occasionally wear one to weddings or traditional parties, but not very often would a scarf or dupatta would be wrapped around my neck or hanging on my shoulder.
My success as an entrepreneur in fashion design was beginning to gain on me. I designed dresses with cuts and colors borne out of my dreamful imagination. My clients happily wore these dresses and gave heartwarming reviews. I was overwhelmed by the response wherein I began to receive invitations to parties and fashion weeks. It was an ecstasy for a girl who always wanted to step into the world of fashion and create masterpieces of her own. Indeed the glitter and glamour made me numb with happiness.
Time passed and the parties and events increased. I was becoming a popular figure in the fashion industry. My social circle grew and so did my frankness with all the new people I met. The handshakes transformed to partial hugs and then proper hugs. Although I admit I hadn’t discouraged anyone to embrace me in a hug, the margin of comfort was nevertheless remiss. Everyone in the fashion industry was very friendly and they considered the whole handshakes and group hugs as a sign of showing love and support to the family we had made by choice.
Going deeper into the circle I realized fashion and glamour was just a face, most of them were hiding a damaged part of their life somewhere deep down. They found comfort in each other’s support; and then there was me, who didn’t have an impaired past and who had been brought up in a conservative and traditional environment. My anxieties were on account of school grades and what to wear to the next party while the people in the group had issues with violence at home, drug addictions, separation of parents, financial strains; one person had a single blood relative in this world who was suffering from Alzheimers. Imagine the pain of not being recognized by a mother who had labored through the formative years of one’s life. Amidst all this fractious past, where did I stand?
These group needed to gel closely to maintain their status in the fashion industry while circumventing the sour memories of the past and tribulations of the present day. In comparison, I had family nearness and dearness and a successful career path firmly set ahead. The group culture was becoming a case of mistaken identity for myself.
It all started when I went to a post-event celebration of the biggest fashion week arranged in the country. All the top designers and models made their presence. I was wearing a beautiful emerald dress, my hair hung down in waves and a bold red lipstick completed the look. One of the most senior designers (who also happened to be my mentor) introduced me to all the top designers of the country and others from abroad who had come to showcase their pieces in the fashion show. That night most of the men in that party embraced me in a half hug as a gesture of encouragement towards my debut in the show.
That night instead of being happy for myself, I started having existence issues. How could I let this intimacy intrude on myself? Some of them kissed my cheek in an utmost friendly manner. A few people complimented my dress and how well maintained my figure was. That night I felt like a pantomime on display, everyone came and touched it in appreciation. Then I wondered about my departure from the family values that had been inculcated in me. Was my career wayward or the lack of understanding of its nuances. The identity crisis fit into who I was and where did all this fit?
That night I remembered my brother’s words about the dupatta making the difference between my traditional vs expectant lifestyles. The meaning of his words began to make sense, between openness and modesty. The now unwanton intrusion into my privacy was not something I could be comfortable with given that I could feel the ownership of my self come back to me in the way I had been brought up and the values that had been so deeply instilled in my mind. There did not exist a need for a parallel lifestyle. The career could still be followed in the manner of many successful designers who did not indulge in indiscreet lifestyles. My mind was set to take ownership of who I was.
I had stepped out of my comfort zone to adopt a lifestyle that was alien to my social mores. The decision to disengage was very conscious and worthy of my self esteem. I realized the dupatta was realized as an instrument of safeguarding my chastity and self respect. It cautioned all and sundry about the space it created for my self. My conscience was not derelict anymore and the dupatta was just an instrument in its embellishment. I did not have to feel uncomfortable in the company of men anymore. I stopped going to celebratory events because I realized it was not the comfort zone I cherished but a cause for a phony sense of security in unabashed altruism. I did not need an endorsement of my talent at the altar of the group, in their faulty ethos and disparaging sense of unity. I realized that my discomfort was owed to failure to create the space necessary to discourage people from personal intrusion. Dupatta was not a game charmer but a rewarding instrument of my life.