Sunday, March 27, 2011

The little black dress

Continuing with the Arab-Moslem theme here, I would like to put in a word for the little black dress. We are supposed to bewail the idea that so many of our Moslem sisters must encase themselves in black from head to toe. All I can say is that for many a day, right now, and for the whole of my adolescence that would have been a dream come true.

For a teenager obsessed with legs, hips, how awful you look from behind, to be able to step out protected by that cave of black would have given me a carefree youth. And when I think of my despair at and hatred for my nose, my skin, my hair, the bonus of being able to cover all that up too, would have been sheer heaven. Personal bias noted here: Growing up I always heard: "-She has lovely eyes!" (i.e. "At least there's something we can salvage.") So for me, the whole black outfit was just tailor made.

Well, you may say: we in the west have sweats- but sweat pants are clingy. And the western version of Don't look at my shape- the caftan - is so forlorn. Unless you are a lean six footer who doesn't need one, you look like an abandoned, graffiti-smothered traffic cone.

Safi, whom I met in Italy all those years ago, the young revolutionary journalist: ("I am the first Arab girl to hitchhike!") has adopted Moslem dress, including the veil. So I was told when I tried to contact her at her Cairo newspaper when I was in Egypt a few years ago. Had she
become ..a devout Moslem? "Well," said one of her colleagues slyly, "when women get to a certain often seems a good idea."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The colors of the prophet

So Gadhafi has claimed the color of the prophet as his own in a bright, optimistic shade, miles away from the standard, somber Muslim green used mainly in the west for agricultural machinery and school uniforms. His supporters only need shamrocks on their head gear to look like a pub crowd promoting St Patrick's Day.

Gadhafi green, like every other color, is there in India. When we were hunting for orchids along the country roads of Kerala, I was recording the colors of Kerala's mosques: pea green, lime green, that bright Caribbean, cabbage green, chartreuse. And that's just the start. I saw a lime green mosque with mint green trim. A bright Gadhafi green with orange accents. A deep violet, mixed with a lighter shade. And how about periwinkle blue and marigold? And why not pinstripe your minaret? In fact, some were turned into candy canes of pink and purple.

It was as though they'd let the Imams' children loose with paint cans - Let's have purple walls and a green arch! Well then, half a mile down the road we'll do a lime green mosque with a baby blue gate! And then they went on to the churches; a lavender church, a pink and white church and a Christian orphanage, all in sugar candy colors.

But when the colors fade this time they may stay faded. The money for such exuberance came from Muslim Indians working in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and the Gulf states, out of work now, refugees from the Arab revolutions.