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VARIOUS TEXTS: MIRIAM - CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO CULTURES (excerpt from A Pair of Jeans)

"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.
648 words


Source: From 'A Pair of Jeans' by Qaisra Shahraz in 'Caught between Cultures', Klett Verlag, Stuttgart 2006, pp. 169-171


Annotations:
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


Assignments:
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.



amazon.de Caught between cultures
by
Ellen Butzko
amazon.de




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