I have wanted to tell this story for a long time, but there really never seems to be a good segue into it in the innocuous world of everyday conversation. Today being a drab and drizzly Wednesday, (with you, my captive audience), seems as good a time as there will ever be.
It begins with a painfully dull wedding party in a backwater suburb of Karachi, Pakistan. Weddings in Pakistan have many events besides the actual wedding which sometimes lasts for weeks; the party in question was one such para-wedding event. I remember sitting in a lamely furnished TV lounge wearing uncomfortable silks with my sister, the room bare apart from the following underwhelming details: a child playing with a television remote control, inciting an older woman trying to nap on the couch (also in uncomfortable silks) to reprimand him screechily every now and then.
“When are we going to the wedding?” I naively asked my sister beside me.
She watched my face with some amusement when she replied “This is the wedding.” Then, mercifully, she added: “There are others coming.” I learned that most of the party was held up at a mosque ceremony we were too young to attend.
Soon a motley crew of parents, older cousins and stern-faced aunts arrived and there was a flurry to get dinner ready. I had the impression it would all have gone faster if host and guest had not viciously been competing for Most Industrious Kitchen-Hand of the Evening award in a cramped and overheated kitchen.
Dinner over, soon we were back in the insipid TV lounge, albeit with a few changes: a great many women were cramped into the tiny room, while the younger ones – including my sister, cousins and I – sat in a tight row on the floor. “Finally!”, I thought, when I saw a long wooden drum (tabla) being passed down the room over heads like a beloved rockstar, and a young woman (to whom I must be vaguely related) began to play it with alacrity. Soon the room was filled with the familiar discord of imperfectly remembered and improvised wedding songs.
I would have been satisfied if the height of our revelry peaked at my (usually meek) grandmother having a go at the tabla, belting out a song I might remember today if she had not collapsed, red-faced, in giggles halfway through the first line.
I noticed unfamiliar voices at the room’s entrance and turned to see two ladies that looked unmistakably like men under their heavy makeup and coiffed hair. They were leaning at the threshold looking playfully offended. The elder of the two spoke:
“Rather mean of you to have a party and not invite us,” she scoffed as she pushed through the room with a tabla much bigger than ours and found a seat on her haunches. “Lucky for you my lovely daughter here has a heart as pure as spring water, and she convinced me to come here and congratulate you.”
Playing the tabla – Photo by Jasleen Kaur
The matronly woman put her fleshy hand on her bosom and looked at her “daughter” with a sigh of affection. I noticed that her hand was decidedly brown against the thickly-powdered white of her face and neck. Then she looked around the room, and said: “This is my daughter, you know.” I thought that her eyes were challenging someone to point out the obvious. When no response came, she told the room that her daughter was a spectacular dancer, and wouldn’t she show us, darling?
The following show was delightfully bizarre. Her daughter was indeed a spectacular dancer, though her moves were nothing I had seen before. A few times she lifted her foot up to her thigh and broke into a throaty song about how she was a very special peacock, and then threw herself dramatically onto the floor – what I believe was meant to be semi-erotic lurching. I noticed that the crowd in the room had considerably thinned.
Now this was a party beyond anything I could have hoped for. To have a troupe of fun-loving transwomen offer us a special performance, and visit us “just because,” pleasantly broadened my idea of what wedding parties – usually a chore to attend – could be. It seems probable that they entertained us expecting to be paid; but whether they were paid, or paid to leave, I’ll never know, as I was tugged out of the room after the dancer startled me by throwing her head into my lap for the second time during one of her full-body floor throws.
After some hasty goodbyes, I was on my way home. I’ve never been to another wedding party like it, or one half as much fun. I think I enjoyed it so much because it was a breath of fresh air to be spoken to so kindly by strangers who were unafraid of that formidable jury of the tight-lipped aunties against the wall – they let loose, caused a scandal, brought the unexpected, and, from the looks of it, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I love the vertigo of being in a new and strange world. On that evening, thanks to the party crashers, I was thus blessedly transported.