Monday, July 24, 2006
PAKISTANDARDS: Topics of Impolite Conversations or Operation: Find Grandma's Bra
There are certain things, like female undergarments, that are never spoken of or even alluded to in polite Pakistani society. Like menstruation, sex, and dating, dainty underthings are topics of hushed and giggled conversations, which usually take place amongst members of the same gender and age. Not once during my vacations to the motherland have I ever seen ads for tampons, sanitary napkins or bras.
Naturally my mother is demure when it comes to such taboo subjects. I, on the other hand, am not. Imagine her shock and outrage when, as a teenager, I’d often preface my usual declarations directed to my brothers of “I don’t care so much about the smooth move you just made in John Madden’s Football, so no, I wouldn’t be interested in watching an instant replay,” with, “Dudes, I have monster cramps right now. It feels like my uterus is doubling as someone’s stress ball.” Even mentioning that I need to purchase a new sports bra in front of them makes my mom’s eyes widen in disapproval, her cheeks flush with embarrassment. I’ve explained to her a million times that things such as periods and breasts are biological inevitabilities that one shouldn’t have to skirt around (no pun intended). She just harrumphs her disappointment in me.
Earlier today, my mother joined me in the kitchen as I prepared a salad. She had just returned from Sears where, she told me, they were having a sale on (dear goodness, she would just melt with shame if she ever discovered that I was blogging about this!) Playtex bras (I like to call them “Mommy bras”). She ignored me when I wrinkled my nose.
She told me that while trying on bras, she overheard two women in the fitting room next to hers. Both were Pakistani and sounded to be a (very old) mother (or mother-in-law) and her daughter (or daughter-in-law). Now, the younger woman was trying to convince her mother to try on the bra that she’d picked out for her. “The poor woman had probably never seen a bra in her life,” my mother said, holding her hand to her cheek, embarrassed on behalf of the older female. In any case, the daughter was speaking very loudly and in Punjabi, which makes the entire scenario all the more hilarious.
So, the daughter says “Amma ye burdha chunga hai. E pao na!” (Mom, this is very good/nice [referring to the bra]. Try it on!).
What sounds to be a struggle ensues followed by the old woman sadly declaring “May ne payna, burra thung hai.” (I don’t want to wear this. It’s very tight.)
“Es vastay ye thung hai, ye cotton ka hey. Dusra jersey kah hain. Who burdha chunga hain.” (This one’s tight because it’s made of cotton. The other [bra’s] made of jersey. That one’s very nice/good.)
"The way that woman was talking, one would think that her mother was still in Pakistan!" my mother exclaimed.
My mom exited the fitting room to discover that the search for this bra made of jersey had become a family event. Not only was the younger woman searching through the sales racks, but she had enlisted her husband as well as her little boy to participate in what seemed to be “Operation: Find Grandma's Bra.” The old woman looked mortified. Even as she tried to contain her giggles, my mom was mortified on the woman's behalf as she stood before me in the kitchen.
“And then,” she continued, “the little boy yells out to his dad: ‘Abu jee, vaykho, e bra burdha chunga hai! (Dad, look at this bra, it’s very nice!),' before he tosses it in the pile his mother's carrying."
We were both cracking up at this point. "Amma, I swear to you that my future husband and children won't have anything to do with your undergarments," I declared as solemnly as I could.
"People have no shame these days," she sighed. And then she laughed some more.