I have this habit of observing people in public, trying to gather the topics of discussion that go around in society. I usually go out alone for shopping, lunch etc. where I observe these things. This incident occurred around 2-weeks back when I decided to indulge in Mughal cuisine for lunch in a restaurant located in the very heart of my hometown.
I was just browsing through the menu when I noticed a girl dressed in a hijab (headscarf) and niqab (face veil) walk in. I don’t know but for some unknown reason I always feel myself drawn to such “covered” women. She was dressed in a black salwaar kameez and sat in an opposite table, facing me. Though I couldn’t see her face, but I presumed her to be around my age or maybe 1-2 years older. She sat with her face down as she chose what to eat. As she sipped water from a glass, I saw how carefully she maneuvered her face veil so that she could quench her thirst and at the same time, not reveal her face. I caught my reflection on the glass behind her, staring open mouthed, as I wondered how simple things like eating and drinking could be a “Herculean task” for them and how did they accomplish these feats.
“Lucky India is a secular country,” I heard someone say and was brought back from my thoughts with an unpleasant bump. I looked around and saw that the speaker was a 30-year old man (approx) sitting at a table across the niqab clad girl, with around 5 other men. I inched my chair forward to eavesdrop on these men who were eyeing this lady with unpleasant stares. “Some people take secularism so seriously and practically,” he continued, “I mean, this one couldn’t even try out this feat in Trump’s America,” he said, pointing a chin towards her. “What the hell is this thing anyway?” another man piped in, “if you are so self-conscious and don’t want to be seen, why on earth do you come out of your homes?” “They probably come out to enjoy some alone time you know, after satisfying their husbands and uncountable children…you know what I mean,” jeered a third man and they all burst out laughing. The first man again said with a crooked smile, “Or they might come out to get that meat of theirs….its not available everywhere isn’t it? Because that’s the only thing they probably eat.”
Just then, the waiter approached the table of these men to take their order. “Beef beef beef! I want beef”, said the first man, “Beef chilly is supposed to be good, right?” he asked the waiter. “I will also have beef something” said another one. The waiter took the waiter and left the table. I was bit taken aback at this because few moments ago these men were referring beef as “their meat” and now they too wanted to relish this. I looked at the niqabi girl and she appeared not to be really bothered by the conversation in the nearby table that included her. Rather, she was busy positioning her food plate and adjusting her face veil so as to eat comfortably. I too tried to forget the overheard conversation and got busy with my own food.
“Oh no!” I suddenly heard a startled scream and looked up from my plate to see that the niqabi girl had spilled water on her face veil, probably because she had forgotten that her face was covered when she tried to drink. She appeared embarrassed and I saw her dab the water on her clothes with tissues. “Why act like a clown in public when one cannot handle it,” I heard jeering from the men’s table. They were laughing a lot, thumping hard on the table. One of the men even approached this girl and mockingly said, “Should I help you Begum Jaan?”. His friends continued wolf whistling all this while. “You all must be pretty, aren’t you? Lucky bastards your husbands,” screamed one guy who had been quiet all throughout. The girl, who had been really silent all this while, paid her bill, walked out of the restaurant. I can’t ever forget that piercing “I get that all the time” look those kohl-ed black eyes of hers gave me as she passed my table.
Just made me wonder: Are we forgetting the “live and let live” concept or are we becoming so intolerant? A young girl was literally jeered in broad daylight only because of her dress code. WHY????