When audiences see movies and read books such as Little Women, or Pride and Prejudice they see an era of time long ago. Of girls awaiting courtship, of women in extravagant gowns whispering about the comings and goings of the local socialite. But for desis, such movies do not represent times long ago, instead it represents the here and now. At any given desi wedding one can find the carefully made up girl with the small gold set and hair swept up, standing nonchalantly hoping an auntie will take notice for her son, or better yet, hoping to catch the gaze of the son himself. Just like any Jane Austin novel you will find carefully made hairstyles, embroidered clothing with sequins and frills. You'll find air kisses and smiles and whispering behind closed doors. This sort of atmosphere should objectively speaking be cherished because it is of a waning era and should be enjoyed while it exists.
I love many aspects of being desi. I love the gold jewelry and the colorful greens, reds, and yellow clothing, the henna decorated hands, the songs, the saris. I love the respect for elders, and the hospitality. But there is something about desi dinner parties, particularly those of my parents generation, that throw me off and leave me feeling a bit desolate. I try to hide it as well as I can because my parents love them, and love bringing us along if we are visiting. But inside, there is something that aches after parties such as these, a sort of emptiness. After thinking about it, I came up with a few reasons.
1. Gossip, gossip, gossip. I will not deny I have gossiped in my life. Its not something I'm proud of and since childhood I have tried abstaining from it. I do think there is a different between venting (i.e. expressing frustration because the situation affects you) and another to talk about someone else for the pure sake of taking apart their outfit, their demeanor or speculating about their life. I try to refrain from the former but I make it my personal mission to not engage in the latter. Does not the Quran say that gossiping is akin to biting the flesh off your dead brothers back? There is a reason why gossip is also referred to as backbiting. But desi parties are a caldourn of gossip. Almost every corner you turn, almost every voice you hear. She could be clad in hijab or wearing a sleeveless sari but you can hear the gossip. What is she wearing? Why is she talking to him? Did you hear they are having marriage problems? I see Auntie X hug Auntie Y and say how nice she looks and ten minutes later see Auntie X tell Auntie Z how bad Auntie Y's outfit is. As I sit quietly taking it all in, I can't help but feel the negativity overwhelming me.
2. Idle chit-chat. If being charming involves being able to stand at dinner parties and engage in mindless chit chat, I am decidedly as uncharming as they come. "How are you" "How is school" "No we don't have kids yet" "Yes I know we should" Is your husband a doctor? It. gets. exhausting. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out, and meeting people. But sincerity is an essential component. A desire to have a meaningful conversation, not talk for the sake of chatter. Not talking simply to gather new information to run off and gossip about with others. After an hour of such chatter I feel as though my mouth is dry from the discourse and my soul slightly depleted from the exchange.
3. Tardiness. There is a saying called "Third World Standard Time" or "desi standard time" or "fashionably late" Essentially, if you are invited to a party at 7pm. No one, not even the hosts, will be ready at 7pm. 7pm translates to 9pm which translates to dinner served around 10-11pm. Which translates to Aisha whose mood is directly linked to food consumption or lack thereof (former: happy, latter: grumpy) growing decidedly of the latter mentality through and through. On a more serious note, the knowledge that all events and gatherings will start late encourage even those who would normally come on time to appear late as well.
4. The Fact that I am a particularly sensitive elephant. By which I mean I remember everything. If I heard the gossip that you began that involved me or a dear loved one, I can't pretend I adore you to pieces. But that is a way of life at desi parties: X said Y about Z. Z and X still hug and air kiss like they are buddies though later they will gossip viciously about one another. I can't do it. I am incapable. My mouth refuses to turn upwards to form the obligatory smile, my arms refuses to open in a gesture of embrace. Of course, if we talked about it and resolved the differences thats a different story.
5. The cliques. I can only imagine what it must be like to not be desi and have to try to find your place in desi society parties. As soon as you enter one the lines are drawn and the cliques are clearly outlined. Islam is about brotherhood and unity and togetherness but you'd be hard pressed to see these qualities at most desi parties. Instead a newcomer will stand at the sidelines attempting to strike conversation only to be rebuffed because the person they approached already has their own friends thank you very much and do not need another. And yes, I actually have heard someone actually say this to a girl who tried to reach out to someone at a party.
6. My time is valuable and I jealously guard it. If law school has taught me one thing it is that time is all that life consists of. No more, and no less. It should be spent with those who are sincere to me, and those I feel sincerity towards as well.
This post is cross posted at nisaa, a great new group blog for Muslim women.