Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Moderate Enlightenment

An old friend sent me a dinner invitation for last night. He's an interesting guy. Quiet, polite, well read, well spoken and well-everything-else. He's achieved much in life, based on sheer talent, and has finally "arrived" in Islamabad. Dinner was in honour of an Important Person. I groaned inwardly, but decided to make the effort for my host. Dressing up in a suit, driving to the other end of town, getting frisked and being deprived of my cellphone are not promising preludes to dinner. What the hell. I decided to go anyway.
Upon arriving, I spotted a handful of uberdynamic women waiting in the queue to get in. We struck up a conversation. One of them blushed when I recalled that I had seen a Nat Geo documentary which featured her and some amazing work she was doing for women. The queue trudged along and we entered the dining area. Just as I was about to ask my friends to join me, a voice perked up "Ladies, this side please." Oh No. This was a segregated dinner. The "ladies" looked at me. I looked at the usher. "But they're professionals. And they don't want to sit there. They work every day with all the men on that side of the divide." "I"m sorry sir. I have orders."
Orders? From who? It cannot be our host. He's just not that sort of guy. "Well" said the young usher blushing "it's actually the Important Person who decreed that the dinner be segregated." Yuk.
For the rest of dinner, I gazed at the women caged off like colourful birds of paradise. I wrestled with a moral dilemma while sipping at my non-alcoholic drink. If I am invited to someone's house, I assume that as a guest I am supposed to respect the customs of that house. So, for example, if I see no ashtrays (or other people smoking) I will not light up. In any case, smoking is bad for one and there's the whole never ending passive smoking debate. But what if one's host does something one disapproves of? Say, if he behaves badly with a guest or (for the sake of argument) hits someone. I guess I would be disgusted enough to leave. Fortunately I know few, if any, people who lead me to situations such as these. I once left a dinner when the sparring host couple threw copious quantities of food at each other. (In a surreal twist, the servants proceeded to hose down the walls with water.) But that was a long time ago. What do I do now? Don't get me wrong. There are occasions where one puts up with some kind of segregation. Some weddings and some funerals customarily require enforced segregation. If these are the beliefs which people require of others, should I stand up and protest? Some more "modern" people have a half hearted segregation allowing the sexes to mingle in twilight zone somewhere on the gender-border. But tonight was positively martial in the enforcement of sexual separation.
Throwing caution to the wind, I walked over the "divide" separating the sexes and tried to enter the zenana. "Sir. Please. Go back to the other side." The little usher was now positively cringing with embarassment. So was the host. This was proving to be useless. I guess I had the satisfaction of knowing I had tried. I used the opportunity to slip out and head home. As I made myself a soggy cheese sandwich in the kitchen I had the miniscule satisfaction of knowing I had done the right thing. The only other alternative would have been to start a sexual revolution right there and then. Somehow I don't think the Bastille would have been stormed last night.


Blogger rocky said...

i love how the only person forcing his way into the zenana was homosexual!!

if they only knew.

amusing how such segregations (imposed by society or religion) never take into account what a paradise same sex ONLY places must be for gays and lesbians.

5:33 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Yes Rocky! But I happen to LIKE women a great deal. :)

8:27 pm  
Blogger BBCD said...

:) thought provoke post.. hahaha

8:37 pm  
Blogger Sister Spikey Mace of Desirable Mindfulness said...

As an uppity American woman, I find this segregation intolerable and nearly unfathomable, but I applaud you for making the effort. You set an example, and made your feelings known with class, which is, from what little I know of you, nothing less than I would expect.

11:35 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say storm the Bastille that is segregation so that uh... we can get on with bonking each other senseless?

4:50 pm  
Blogger livinghigh said...

hehehehe.. really? dat sounded amusing, actually... is it de same as, when my parents thru a fit when they heard i was moving in with a gal in my new apartment...? despite de fact that i've known her for ages, and there's NOTHING there watsoever..? or wud dat be toooo drastic?

12:31 am  

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