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Purdah Delhi style!

3 May, 2011

By Nabila Habib (Khabrein.Info)

I was travelling in the Metro when I found a girl sitting just opposite smile at me. I could not place her among my acquaintances and tried to figure out the source of her familiar smile. Then I deduced. Besides her, I was the only one in the female compartment observing purdah. The girl had a scarf on her head and wore a long gown. Gauging from her attire, I further deduced she must belong to the Okhla or Old Delhi locality. 70% chance, to Okhla.

It was plainly written on her purdah style. She wore the long rectangular dupatta of her abaya wrapped over her head and had on the typical buttoned-down gown that they call “Sherwani burqa”. It is rather fitted to the figure and has large buttons down the front as embellishment. The gown was of some dense grey material.

I migrated to the national capital some years back and the first thing I noticed that distinguished the Muslim women of Okhla from those of Old Delhi was the style of purdah being observed. The above mentioned style was typical Okhla – popular especially among the younger generation.

While women of old Delhi wrap a huge dupatta about themselves and do not bother with a gown. This large dupatta is mostly of light brown colour, heavily embroidered, or at least with print that appears as embroidery of satin thread of black, sequins and mirrors. They would cover their mouths with the dupatta sometime, but mostly it would be visible.

Now I wonder why they prefer these two typical styles so much. The fact is that for purdah observing Muslim ladies while having some sort of external covering is good, but the purpose is not fully met in these two styles.

Let us take the Sherwani abaya. A firm cloth material is chosen of any colour. The front of the abaya resembles a coat complete with buttons, lapels and pockets. The bodice is also fitted like a tailored coat of a suit. The skirt of the abaya is not fitted, but it hardly gives enough space to walk briskly or sit with the folds falling loosely, as the skirt of an abaya should do. The fitted bodice has already failed the purpose of wearing a gown in the first place. Then goes the stole on the head and neck. The stole is a rectangle of clingy material that is not broad enough to cover the fitted bodice. It just covers the head and neck decently. Covering the chest could have been managed if the stole had been wrapped singly over the head. So, instead of a dress to cover the contour of the body, what we have is a girl wearing a dress that is revealing her figure like any other normal shalwar-suit, and the skirt is even tighter than the shalwar suit.

The Old Delhi style is a more practical one. Since the dupattas of suits women wear are generally of the light silky material that is too translucent to cover the hair properly and too slippery and unmanageable, the large dupatta does a good job. Only it is not always worn with proper care. Since the material of the dupatta is heavy like the normal fabric of a suit, it becomes too heavy and large a piece of cloth to manage without pins or other such aids. The sheer weight of the whole thing makes it slip off the forehead to reveal the hair.

This is not to say that both these ways of purdah are useless. They are the best way of covering up for purdah observing ladies. Only a few points need to be taken care of.

The Sherwani style abaya does not fulfill the purpose of wearing a gown to cover the whole body from neck to toes, so the general empire line abaya is the best. Its bodice is also not fitted and looks elegant on the lean and heavy frames alike.

The old Delhi dupatta just needs one accessory to make it a hit. Either it can be wrapped around the head and pinned below the chin to prevent it from slipping back the forehead, or a headband/underscarf of light material can be worn, over which the dupatta can be wrapped to make it stay over the head without much ado. The dupatta can be pinned on the underscarf/headband at any place the wearer feels convenient.

Muslim women of Delhi have stuck to observing purdah and have carried on the legacy of Muslim culture quite remarkably well. Even the fashion trends that sweep the capital of India have not deterred them from their faith and they have just adapted well instead of shedding the hijab. This is the most appreciable quality that inspires every new Muslim woman coming to the capital for the first time. If they also carry their hijab with this little care, they will become inspirational.

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