Pyaari by Zunaira Nadeem

By Zunaira Nadeem

Dinaaz slipped into the drawing room and pulled the heavy double doors shut behind her. The sun was particularly sharp today, and the darkness in the room provided a welcome relief. It also made everything feel even more sneaky, forbidden, but somehow more tranquilizing. The windows were wide and covered an entire wall. Thankfully, the thick velvet curtains that shaded them were already draped over, barring the view of the derelict lawn. Over on the far corner of the room, was a wooden trunk, sleek and shiny still, despite having been in the same corner for over three decades. Dinaaz stood before it and attempted to heave it open. It contained fabrics no longer seen in the marketplace and cut cloth pieces from, quite literally, another century. She knew the contents of the trunk by heart, and so nimbly searched through the deposits of phenyl balls and cloves to yank out the rich wedding dupatta with golden brocade borders. 

The dupatta itself wasn’t heavy as wedding attire went, hardly more than a kilo, but the passage of time weighed it down with an invisible dust and fatigue from having slept in the trunk for so long. It’s only visitor ever was Dinaaz, that too perhaps once a year.  Dinaaz wondered if it felt sad that her mother, the original owner never took it out, preened herself with it, imagined the time she was a bride and so lovely, as only a young girl can be on her wedding day. Of course, a wedding sharara was destined for loneliness. The golden twirls of flowers that adorned the green silk were always meant for abandonment, one night of glory and then to be hidden away, treasured, but hidden away. But Dinaaz figured she could make up for it by doing what her dead mother never had a chance to do. 

She would trace her fingers over the flowers and imagine her mother in that dress, full of laughter and warmth from the happiness she must have felt in that moment. She was told her mother was plain and unattractive, but she knew that couldn’t possibly be true. She was acutely aware that there was a wedding album somewhere, locked up, but she wouldn’t have access to that for as long as her stepmother was alive. The images she did have of her mother were the ones that hung framed at her nani’s house. There was one of her mother in a plain white college uniform, the black and white adding a hint of old world charm, one of her mother in a chiffon sari at a wedding, and finally her favorite: a studio portrait of her mother in navy blue velvet, holding a two-year-old Denaaz in her lap. 

She wrapped herself in the dupatta, and for a moment, imagined what it would be like to be beautiful- – and not to just feel beautiful but to be called beautiful too. She knew too well what would happen if someone called you ugly, the inevitable crush even if you were a direct ancestor of the Prophet Yusuf himself. 

She was 15 when she realized she wasn’t cool or fashionable. Her mother’s silver shanghaies kameez dupatta, the one with the tight cuffs around the sleeves was the one responsible for bringing on this particular epiphany. She wore it to the school Eid Milan, she liked the shine, the feeling of smoothness it brought to her modest curves. She should have felt like a princess the entire day, but when the girls in her class laid eyes on it, they burst into laughter. Her clothes were old- – well yes, they were her mother’s after all. Her clothes were so flashy- -exactly what she liked about them. And they were inexpensive, no cuts, no silhouettes, no fun. She was flabbergasted. After the party, she returned the dress to the trunk. She didn’t like anything about it really, why had she ever thought it was worth wearing? She decided she did not like anything her mother owned. She would only wear new clothes, even if the fabric was cheaper, the stitching amateur, and the color palettes unbecoming on her. And so, she did exactly that for many years. Whenever she had the chance, she would steal an afternoon like this one, when she hadn’t a care in the world. 

And why would she? Her mother was telling her she was beautiful, pyaari. 

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