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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Of Shadi's and Segregation

As the holy month of Ramzan comes to an end we are greeted by the festivities of Eid, and immediately without wasting any further time as soon as Eid ends, it is the start of a very busy shadi season. It is almost an annual ritual off sorts, Eid ul Fitr goes, a busy hectic tightly packed shadi season begins. For me the tradition of having a schedule fully loaded with Shadi's continued post Eid in 2013 as well. By the time I am writing this, I have attended over 10 events following Eid, and I am still due to attend 2 more before I can say Shadi season is over, well atleast to the best of my knowledge I have just 2 more to attend. Another card pops or a Facebook invite, might happen, it seems everyone I know is in the rush to tie the knot get married. Weddings are and can be fun, depends on the setting of the wedding, the venue, the food, the entertainment planned out, the people in attendance makes Shadi's a great evening out also. And if it is a close friend getting married, there is no excusing missing Shadi's for every day outings or pure laziness.

The season started with one of my closest friends wedding. That was indeed a memorable wedding affair. It had the usual 3 function set up, the mehndi, the baraat and the valima. For foreigners who are not familiar with our marriage event set up ordeal, here is a quick summary. The Mehndi is a Semi formal event which can be a large gathering or a small one with close friends and family depending on the would be married couple. It usually comprises of application of Henna on the hands of the girl's usually cousins and close friends of the bride, followed by a dance-a-thon of sorts. The latter assuming the family is not conservative about guys and girls dancing off in a competitive style like it's dancing with the Star's in front of wedding guests. The Baraat/Shadi function is where the Groom's family arrives at a Shadi Venue usually at a Shadi Hall or in a Hotel with his entire army of close friends and family and the function ends with the Groom taking the bride home. This function is usually hosted by the bride's family with the nikkah ceremony taking place also if not already taken place at the mosque. The Valima on the other end is a religious tradition sort of event which is hosted by the groom's family for the bride's family, as well as their own close family friends. For many traditionalist families, this is the only event on the cards. If the wedding is in a Punjabi family in particular, expect it to be loud and colorful with very extrovert people.

Over the last ten to fifteen years or so, urban Pakistani society has started experiencing a wave of religious conservatism, a lot of credit for which should go to very extreme right wing religious schools such as the Al Huda School for men and women, or the men's religious revivalist movement the Tableeghi Jamat. The latter is famous for it's massive annual gatherings in Malir, Karachi, and in Raivand, Lahore. Both the schools as well as this revivalist gathering mission seems hell bent on proactively creating and enforcing a culture of rigid literal implementation of religion on Pakistani society. Pakistani society has historically been conservative and old school, but courtesy of the effects of local culture, sufism and having lived in a pre parition India for centuries, the religiousness effect has been relatively moderate through most of Pakistan's history. The effect's of the wahabi style symbolic ritual focused Islam kicked into Pakistan during Zia's dark tenure as Pakistan's head of state. Following Zia's death, society returned towards liberalization in the 90's as democracy also returned to Pakistan, however as we headed towards the late 90's and awaited the 21st century, these right wing religious schools gained prominence as well as the Tableeghi Jamat and began undoing the the years of social progress of society. Their goals include a literal implementation of Islam,  an over emphasis on symbolic rituals and a disconnect from the worldly life for the life here after.

This has had an effect on people's social behavior and as a by product an effect on weddings in Pakistan. Growing up in the 90's for me it was a rarity to see such religiously influenced wedding ceremonies even among the religious lot. The drive to have a Sharia Law compliant or a religious compliant wedding is very intense among not just the elders of the house but also among the youth of the house that have subscribed to such schools of thought. The result of which is you see a fair amount of gender segregation at Shadi's, the music and entertainment in many cases has disappeared and a huge rise in the number of religious people in attendance, or atleast visibly religious people. Such has become the passion with segregation that many even among Pakistan's educated urban middle classes find mixed gatherings a disgusting sight. Every shadi season every year I have seen the occurrence of where people including close family of the the to be married couple walk out upon discovering that the event is a mixed affair and doesn't involve segregation of genders. This puts also added pressure on families that usually do not have segregated affairs to enforce segregation in their events so that they do not end up having an event where close relatives are boycotting or people socially relevant to them. This not only prevents, friends and close family from meeting and socializing with one another, but it stimulates and reinforces a belief that all hell will break loose should a gathering not be segregated, and we will go all to hell at the sight or being spotted by a Non Mehram man/woman and severe punishments lie waiting for us in the after life.

So far I haven't seen all hell break loose, and a lot of these so called segregated events that I have attended do not fully adhere to segregation trends either. The staff serving is usually male, so are the security guards, as well as the camera men and photographers. In addition to that, in some segregated weddings, the groom is the only guy present in the hall sitting on the stage with his new bride while his friends and male relatives are kept on the other side not visible from the eye. One should spare a thought or two for the groom, bechara, one never asks how he feels, or the newly married couple how they feel about what is supposed to be the single happiest moment in their life forced away from plan due to irrational social and peer pressure, especially from the religious lot, who if they were truly religious would show compassion and enthusiasm as others celebrate new beginnings in life in very much the same manner others participate at their crucial events regardless of the segregation even though they may find it a needless practice. We can atleast try and not cave into bullying if our beliefs state otherwise, were just encouraging a needles trend.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Ramzan Tooth

Most of us are familiar with the use of the expression, 'the sweet tooth' which is often used to describe one's desire and developed taste buds for all tasty edible sweet and sugar delights. I would like to make an addition to the sweet tooth expression in today's usage, the 'Ramzan Tooth'. To simply put it, the Ramzan Tooth is the desire and taste for all the wonderful sweet as well as savory snacks that the holy month of Ramzan has to offer to the would be worshipers. The sweet and savory, the hot and the cold, all consumed during the month can make things slightly uncomfortable for those with sensitive teeth.

Sensitive teeth can be a real cause of concern for those that have them. It becomes a daunting task manage your intake of various kinds of food. Be it the sweet, the sour, the hot or the cold. I myself am no stranger to that feeling as I too have sensitive teeth and gums and have very clear memories of the days where I struggled to eat some of the every day delights, especially those targeting my sweet tooth. A point had reached in my life where I had to make do without some of the sweet edible pleasures of life, as well as the slightly harder to chew food.

Ramzan becomes a testing time for food lovers, as a result of which fasting turns into a pre dawn feasting and another feasting which follows at sun set. The food that follows at sun set during iftar or the breaking of the fast can cause a tingle or two for those with sensitive teeth. The iftar meal usually features a diverse mix of sweet and savory as well as the hot and the cold, let's not forget all the important date (the khajoor) with which millions break their fast nation wide. The date itself can be a source of prickly pain for those with sensitive teeth and that bit I know all too well, I have had to go through a Ramzan some years back without having dates which are like majorly essential. Other items one finds on a typical Pakistani iftar table includes savory items such as the Samosa and Pakora, as well the super sugary sweet called the Jalebi. The latter due its high sweetness content can be a nightmare to eat if one is not in the best of scenarios with respect to their teeth.

Very recently towards the end of Ramzan in the last Ashra, Colgate Palmolive Pakistan staged an iftar get together at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi. Among those attending included bloggers such as myself, some local celebrities such as chef Asad, as well as those in the social media industry and most importantly dentists. You can't have an event about care for sensitive teeth and leave behind dental health practitioners. The event was exclusive invite only red capet affair. The purpose of this event was to highlight the need to maintain good oral health and to be able to manage the effects of sensitive teeth including the constraints caused by them.

The event was the brainchild of their public relations manager Samar Irshad who managed to do a reasonable job at organizing and conducting the event. During the brief talk at the event, chef Asad highlighted the challenges of having sensitive teeth and how a tooth paste such as Colgate Sensitive purpose made for those that have sensitive teeth helped him over come difficulties or the obstacles in his passion for food, which is an essential trait considering his profession. The event organizers at Colgate Palmolive Pakistan were kind enough to give us the opportunity to try out their new offering i.e. the tooth paste by giving all attending guests a gift basket with Colgate Sensitive as well as some other premium Colgate products. The evening finally came to a conclusion at around 9 pm so as to allow the attending guests to continue with other Ramzan and Eid related activities in the remainder of the evening.