Yesterday, we went to this wedding shindig thing about 90 minutes away. Although Iâd been to fourteen weddings in the course of the eighteen months I lived in Pakistan, this was the first Pakistani wedding in the U.S. that I can remember attending. âTwas fun, even though we didnât know most of the people. Actually, my sister and I did a great job of just walking up to people and introducing ourselves. We met lots of new cool people in the process. And whenever I got bored, I amused myself by playing peek-a-boo with all the little kids, or grabbing my sisterâs arm and exclaiming, âAww, look at that cute baby!â Lots of cute babies in attendance. My kinda event. But good Lord! â Pakistani women really need to get out of this immensely unattractive habit of staring, and soon. That I do not find amusing at all.
In hindsight, the most entertaining part of the evening was when I unsuspectingly got waylaid by a group of single-minded aunties. See, hereâs how it happened: I walked down to the end of the room to hug a family friend and ask how she was doing. After she had moved on, I was about to take another step when I found my arm firmly grasped by some old lady at the table I was standing next to. Without slackening the grip on my arm, she jerked her chin towards the empty seat next to her, almost physically hauling me into it. Shocked and surprised, I was about to open my mouth to speak, but she beat me to it. As I jerked my arm out of her grip, she directed rapid-fire Urdu questions my way: âWhere are you from? Some Muslim country? Do you speak Urdu?â
Oh, great, I thought. And as she and the three other women across from us stared at me expectantly, what came out of my mouth was, âNahin, maala sirf ligga ligga Urdu raazi,â which, of course means, âNo, I only know a little bit of Urduâ â in a mixture of both Urdu AND Pukhtu. Oh yeah, Iâm amazingly slick, what can I say.
Thankfully, my sister wandered by just then and was put on the spot as well. The old lady stared at us, looking puzzled. âWhere are you from?â she repeated. âAre you from a Muslim country?â
I almost laughed. âIâm from Pakistan,â I said, this time in real Urdu.
âPakistan?â She peered closely at me. So did the three ladies across from us. âYou donât look Pakistani,â they said doubtfully.
âReally?â I said. âWhere did you think I was from?â
âNo, Iâm Pakistani.â
The old lady looked me up and down. âYouâre from Karachi, arenât you?â
âNo,â I said, âIâm from _______.â
â_______,â I repeated loudly, with as much patience as I had left. âItâs the name of a village in district Attock.â
âOhh, Attock!â said the ladies across from us. âWeâre from Behboodi [a nearby village]! Whatâs your fatherâs name?â
We told them. âOhh!â they said again, now smiling widely all of a sudden. Everyone knows our father. Iâm so glad we have some connections, otherwise I can see how this conversation could have degenerated into misunderstandings and lip-curled vicious remarks as soon as our backs were turned. Or maybe Iâm just generalizing. Unfortunately, I do know far too many people like that, though.
âSo if youâre from _______, why donât you at least know how to speak Hindku?â demanded one of the women. The sudden shift from agreeableness to disdain and condescension was too much for me. âI do speak Hindku,â I said with obvious annoyance, gladly reverting to fluent Hindku. âPerhaps if you had started off this conversation with Hindku, we wouldnât have been having so much trouble.â
The old lady next to me, being a fluent Urdu speaker and a non-villager, was feeling left out of the loop of things by this time. She grabbed my arm again to direct attention her way, moving her hand in a circular gesture to signify my headwrap and scarf. âWhy do you wear those so tightly?â she asked. âDoesnât that cause you any takleef [trouble/annoyance/inconvenience]?â
I resisted an impulse to roll my eyes. âNo, it doesnât cause me any takleef,â I said impatiently, stuttering through my limited Urdu once more. I was trying to explain the concept of hijab to her, and my reasons for wearing it, but my limited Urdu was getting in the way. Not only that, I was distracted by the ladies across the table loudly asking each other, as if we werenât even there – âAre they single? Or married?â
My sister retorted loudly, âNo, weâre not married. Weâre in college.â
A few seconds later, we finally managed to escape.
Yes, that was an interesting exchange. As we walked away, my sister laughed, âThey probably think weâre so stuck-up â we were trying to speak Urdu with the village women, and talking about how we go to college.â
âGood!â I said irritably. âServes them right for putting me on the spot like that.â
Usually, Iâm known as the queen of sarcastic rejoinders and cold comebacks that result in flustered, embarrassed silence, but itâs awfully difficult to tell someone off if you donât even speak the same language.
Later in the evening, a girl asked me, âWhere are you from?â
âOh, I came up from the Bay Area,â I replied, my standard response all day, since the majority of the wedding guests were from local towns.
âNo, no,â she said, âI mean, what country?â
âReally?â she said in surprise. âI thought maybe you were Kashmiri. Or Palestinian.â
Hi, my name is Yasmine, and I think Iâm starting to have an identity crisis already.
Oh, and the evening only served to confirm that I still need to learn now to gracefully accept compliments. Iâll get it right one of these years, donât worry.
Iâll put that on my to-do list. Right up there with speaking Urdu without making a fool of myself.