I wore the full-face veil for the first time on my wedding day. I was eighteen years old and I had never worn it before. In Pakistani Muslim tradition, this was the day of the ceremonial giving away of the bride, the day I was to say goodbye to my family (theatrically, and before an audience of a few hundred) and go off to be with my husband and his family. The fabric I had chosen over a year before for my wedding dress had been selected for hue and sheen—a fiery red-orange—and it was utterly opaque. I could see nothing. For navigation, I had the assistance of two younger cousins, unveiled and full of giggles. It was September in Karachi, I was pouring sweat and also blind.
The story of how I ended up fully veiled and a bride did not begin that day. The skein connecting it to incidents past could be reeled back to an event a few years earlier, one that had led me to begin wearing the half-veil or the head scarf. Fifteen then, I was a student at an all-girls school that prided itself in being almost entirely free of the contaminating male presence, whose very existence made veils necessary in the first place. The hundreds of girls that were students there were instructed almost entirely by women. From the time we were six years old and began first grade to the time we were seventeen and graduated eleventh, it was women, women and all women. At five past eight every morning, the gates of the school would be locked and the man-free day would begin. The only men left inside were the very poor ones that the school employed, who mopped the halls, set up the nets for games of volleyball behind our high walls, or guarded the gates. The fact that they were poor seemed to cancel out their masculinity. Read More