"Deny it as much as you like, Miriam," her heart whispered back.
"It's no use. They have seen another side of you - your other self."
The other 'self' had apparently, by either sheer accident or mere
contrivance, remained hidden from them from the very beginning. When they first saw her at a party,
she was dressed in a maroon chiffon sari and later on each occasion she was always smartly but
discreetly and respectably dressed in a traditional shalwar kameze suit. Never at any time had
they glimpsed a jean-clad Miriam with an inch of midriff showing! In fact, judging by her mother's
expression and lack of composure, it must have been a nasty shock! For now, they were
seeing her as a young college woman who was very much under the sway of Western fashion and by
extension its moral values. Muslim girls do not go outdoors dressed like that, especially in the
short jacket, which hardly covered her hips and a skimpy vest. She had heard of stories about
in-Iaws who were prejudiced against such girls. For they weren't the docile, the obedient and
sweet daughter-in-Iaws that they preferred. On the contrary, they were seen as a threat and
portrayed as rebellious hoydens, who did not respect either their husbands or their in-laws.
Miriam was all too familiar with such stereotyped views of women.
From her wardrobe she drew out a blue crepe shalwar kameze suit. As she put it on, her rebellious
spirit reared its head again. 'They are only clothes!' her mind hissed in anger.
She could not deny the fact, however, that having them on her back she had embraced a new set of
values. In fact a new personality. Her body was now modestly swathed in an elegant long tunic and
baggy trousers. The curvy contours of her female body were discreetly draped. With a quick glance
in the mirror she left her room. It was a confident woman who glided down the stairs. She was now
in full control of herself. There was to be no scuttling down the stairs. Her poise was back. Her
long dupatta scarf was draped around her shoulders and one edge of it was over her head.
Once downstairs in the hallway, outside the sitting room door, she halted, her hypocrisy galling her.
She was neatly acting out a role, the one that her future in-laws preferred. A role of a demure and
elegant bride and daughter-in-Iaw - dressed modestly, with her body properly covered. Yet she was
the same person who had earlier traipsed the Pennine Mountains in a tight pair of jeans and
wellingtons and who was now dressed in the height of Pakistani fashion. The difference lay in
what her in-laws regarded and termed as an acceptable mode of dress. Or was she the same person?
She didn't know. Perhaps it was true that there were two sides to her character. A person who
spontaneously switched from one setting to another, from one mode of dress into another - in short
swapping one identity for another. Now, dressed as she was, she was part and parcel of another
identity, of another world, that of a Muslim Asian environment. She was back now on home
ground, her thoughts, actions and feelings had altered accordingly.
Her head held high, Miriam entered the living room. Once inside,
she felt four pairs of eyes turn in her direction. She stared ahead
knowing instinctively that apart from her father's, those eyes were
busy comparing her present demure appearance with her earlier one.
It was amazing how she was able to move around the room at ease,
in her shalwar kameze suit, in a manner that she could never have
done in her earlier clothes amongst these people. She sat down beside
her mother, acutely aware of her mother-in-law's eyes; discreetly
appraising both her appearance and her movements.
Source: From 'A Pair of Jeans' by Qaisra Shahraz in 'Caught between Cultures', Klett Verlag, Stuttgart 2006, pp. 169-171
contrivance - plan to trick s.o.
sari - piece of clothing wrapped around the body and worn by Indian women
composure - calmness
sway - influence
docile - easily controlled
hoyden - girl behaving in a boyish manner
swathed - dressed in sth. that covers one completely
to drape - to cover
to gall - to make angry
to traipse - to hike when one is tired (informal)
Pennine Mountains - in Northern England
wellingtons - rubber boots
part and parcel - an important part of sth.
to appraise - to judge
1. What does Miriam feel when she encounters her parents-in-law?
2. Describe Miriam's outward appearances when she is with her parents
and when she is together with her college friends respectively?
3. How does Miriam's mother get along with Begum, Miriam's future mother-in-law?
4. Why does Miriam consider her future parents-in-law dishonest?
5. Miriam and her friend and fiance have the same cultural backgrounds, but
have been brought up in a foreign culture. What difficulties might arise between
them in a potential marriage due opposing values?
6. Do you think a mixed marriage would pose problems if Miriam were English?
Substantiate your opinion.