Over a cup of tea: Reminiscing the rich culture we have

Source: Pakistan Today


Reminiscing was an activity of our elders, or so I thought. It seems, however, that places change, not the reminiscing.

Browsing through wedding pictures of a friend’s son over on the Facebook, I saw the bride dressed in a neck to ankle heavily worked upon dress. The edge of flaring patloon just peeping from under it. It took me back in time when the bride would wear nothing but thegharara. I have always loved the gharara, as I have stated that earlier in one of my blog posts. A traditionally Lucknowi dress, made up of a loose pant. At the knee it flares into cascading swirl of fabric stitched to the straight pants in pleats and pleats of gorgeously rich fabric. Brocades, Chinese brocades, ‘poat silks’, another one known as the ‘patta-patti’ consists of vertically cut six-inch silks in vibrant colors stitched together to form the swirling ‘skirt’ of the pants and resplendent to behold. All 12 metres of it. It is worn with either a short kurti or a long shirt and a long, trailing duppata (or veil). It is often worked over with traditional zari, dabka, and zardozi.

Once they were worn as a daily wear. The dress would be simpler to suit a daily comfortable wear, plain satins for gharara with a white chicken-fabric shirt and a dupatta(veil) of white malmal (a soft lawn). The duppata would more often than not be of ‘chunnat’. Often, the ghararas themselves would be made of cotton, crisp and fresh to behold.

When I was younger, a lot younger, girls of all ages and aunts all wore this timelessly graceful outfit not only for special occasions but also at the ‘milad’ held at houses, a regular feature. A milad is traditionally a gathering of women, reciting events from the lives of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) coupled with the recitation of ‘naats’. Guests turned up in theirghararas, and the lady of the house, of course, would also be dressed in one. It was a special occasion. White sheets were spread on carpets for seating and to ease an aching back, round traditional cushions known as ‘gao takyas’ were put against the wall.

A low wood stool would hold the books that the ladies would recite. Placed also on the table would be two ‘agar battis’ or incense. On another low wood stool stood a silver ‘gulab pash’. This was used to sprinkle rose water on the guests. The gulab pash has been used since the Mughal Empire (1526-1857). They were used in the Mughal court to sprinkle rose water on the guests upon their arrival. With the gulab pash would be a silver platter containing sweet and ‘saada pan’ (beetle nut leaves) with an alcove holding ‘ilaichi’ and ‘misri ki dali’. This would be passed around to all to sweeten the mouth.

The first formal function of a wedding, started with the ‘mayoun’. The milad would always precede the rasm-e-mayoun itself. The two Eids were other occasions we would look forward to. We all got a new gharara, of course with the accompanying kurti and veil. In those days, all my maternal aunts would work with my maternal grandmother to prepareghararas for girls of the family. They were, of course, identical. Hours of fabric cutting and whirring away on sewing machines, family chitchat and snacks marked the happy occasion of their preparation. One I particularly loved was when I was eight or nine-year-old, maybe. A pale pink taffeta with silver ‘gota’ at the knee of the joining pant-flare with a pink lace and silk kurti and a silk duppata of coordinating color.

It seems gone are the days of the graceful gharara. New fads have taken over. Even the brides seem to wear new-fangled dresses instead of the graceful gharara. As I opened my cabin trunk today to air the gorgeous ghararas I have, I could not but heave a sigh of regret, unwrapping each piece lovingly wrapped individually in a delicate white ‘malmal’ with a silver gota running around it.

Putting down my cup of green tea with a flower of bada’aan khatai, unground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, I mused over the changing times. Our culture, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Seraiki, Pashtun and so on, needs nurturing and transferring to the younger generation. The awareness of the roots of the tree we have sprung. Stories and folklore are an excellent source of transmitting culture. Customs, festivals, foods are all mediums of being a part of the circle called heritage. So overshadowed we have become by the cultural invasion that our own seems to have receded in the past.

‘Sassi Punno’ is a famous folklore of Pakistan, loved equally by people hailing from all provinces, lovingly touched upon by leading Sufi poets like Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai and Sachal Sarmast. The former dedicated five surs to Sassi Punno. These were based on different phases of her life. Allan Faqir has sung about Sassi in unparalleled performances for connoisseurs of great music.

Foods and drinks are another manner of preserving and sharing culture. I love Punjabi food made of sarson ka saag with makai ki roti and a helping of melting butter. Top it off with a glass of refreshing lassi. A recipe for a long noon nap.

As for dresses, who can beat the grace and timeless beauty of the ajrak? Renowned designer and one of my favorites, Noorjehan Bilgrami, has discussed at length the making of ajrak in her book, Sindh Jo Ajrak (The Ajrak of Sindh)”. Unique block prints are used to design shawls both for men and women. A later trend has been to use it also in tea tray mats, cushion covers, bed covers etcetera.

The Baloch embroidery is exquisite and distinctive. Their folklore honours their heroes in their songs. Doda, a young Baloch, sacrificed his life in pursuing a thief who had stolen a cow of a rich widow who had sought protection of young Doda’s village. His death made him immortal.

I have particular admiration for the woolen carpets known as ‘kady’. Woven by hand, each piece is individual and in rich, vibrant colours. Reds, turquoise, rich dark browns. The Pashtuns have perfected carpet weaving to an art. Absolutely nothing beats the delicious taste of chappali kebabs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with Peshawar being particularly famous for this food. Made from minced beef, chappali kebab is a popular food originating from Afghanistan.

A day cannot begin, nor progress nor end without tea in Pakistan. Whether it’s the start of the day or work time, a cup of tea can refresh one. A day is just not complete without tea. What better than the ‘Kashmiri Chai’, also known as ‘Pink Tea’ owing to its color. I would like to share an interesting extract from a blog site on ‘Kashmiri Chai’, “Traditionally, tea makers also add a pinch of baking soda which turns the tea a pinkish color.” This tea can either be taken with salt or sugar, catering to both tastes. Heavy in drinking owing to quantities of milk added, it is a beautiful beverage, especially for winters.

Over a cup of tea one’s thoughts wander to many an interesting subject. For me, today, it was culture and cultural symbols. Chuck Palahniuk said, “The first step — especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money — the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.”


Categories: Asia, Pakistan

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