Friday, July 9, 2010

Lady in the burqa



I take my son to a remedial class twice a week. It's what we now term a mild form of 'learning difficulty' or dyslexia. In two years, we've sort of grown out of the discomfort of talking about it. I say sort of because we do sometimes get tangled in the 'why him' 'why us' kind of totally fruitless questioning.

When we began the routine two years ago, the last half hour of his one hour class would overlap with that of another young girl who would be accompanied by her mother.

I am not the type to make conversation with someone outright. Either that person has to acknowledge my presence with a smile or eye contact or I can just simply sit around doing my own thing. Even after smiles, it can take weeks before I initiate a conversation. If they start it I can jabber my guts out almost instantly. But take the first step towards establishing cordiality? Na! Thats not me!

Anyway, so while this young girl I later learned is called Fatima went in to the room to make sense of words, her mother and I sat in the waiting room together, without exchanging so much as a glance, forget words.

I would always be carrying 'work' with me - list of calls I'd need to make, a story I could possibly work on sitting there - anything that would help me 'utilise' this time effectively. I still do that.

She, I noticed would walk in with a clutch purse that always matched her outfits, a cell phone and a magazine.

Three times a week then, I would see her walk in, take the seat near the window, look out and talk to someone on the phone. Then she would flip through the pages of the Cosmo or Femina she'd be carrying as I would sit there clacking at the keys of my lap top trying to look very very busy.

Truth is I looked at her. A lot.

She wore the most outstanding salwar kameez combinations I'd ever laid my eyes on. Pasty pink kurtas with white churidars and carefully draped dupattas of crushed cotton - she almost always wore combinations that looked 'thrown in' together... Each 'meeting' left me enamoured by what she wore and how well she carried it.

After about eight months, the remedial class moved to another locality and the timings of my son's sessions changed too. Fatima was assigned another day of the week that did not correspond with our visits. We settled into a new routine with a new set of children and mothers we would meet every week - mothers I exchange a glance with but no more!

Imagine my surprise then when I walked into his class the other day and saw Fatima sitting in the waiting room. She's grown up a bit and smiled as she recognised me.

But I didn't recognise her mom. Because she was clad in a burqa (and I must mention here, that the burqa was a pasty pink, little pink flowers printed over it with a white lace.) It was a shock to see her covered from top to toe when I'd in the past seen her in sleeveless kurtas, minus the 'cover up'.

The fashionable clutch has been replaced by a regular "jhola", and she didn't flip through a magazine as we sat together on the wooden bench. Her perfectly manicured nails have been replaced by unsightly, unkempt specks of yellow. She's upgraded her cell phone to a touch phone though, I noticed.

I was tempted to ask her about the makeover. Why has she suddenly chosen to don the burqa? What happened to her lovely manicured nails? But didn't. Even though my curiosity was threatening to burst out of my being, I contained myself since it went against my usual policy - refrain from conversation unless spoken to.

We sat there, both of us, throwing once-in-a-while sideway glances at each other. She must have noticed that I'd probably noticed the changes - the burqa in particular. But she pretended to gaze at the clouds of dampness that had formed a pattern on the white washed wall in front of us.

In one hour, the class ended and all of us collected our kids, their home works and their bags, in that order.

Out of two classes a week, Fatima shares one with my son. Recently, due to my increased work load Harish has begun taking him to these sessions more frequently than I do.

So the result is that I don't see her often.

But when I do, I do miss seeing her ensemble, hidden as it now is under the pasty-pink-printed-flowers-white-lace-burqa.
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