Women & Climate Change

Decemberistan redux

Jan 16 2019 - It is what happens in Karachi every December and extends sometimes to January or February but hardly ever to March. The sweltering heat abates, blossoms emerge in flowerbeds, the air is dry and cool, and the wedding venues are lit up like amusement parks (which they also are in a sense).

Rafia Zakaria

Rafia Zakaria

Expatriates arrive with their dollars in pockets and suitcases empty to fill with clothes so expensive and so specifically made for them that the designers just state the price in dollars. If you are young and present, your phone likely lights up with all the requests from frenetic brides and grooms (or their cousins or sisters) to attend dance practices for the many choreographed numbers that every middle-class wedding must now put forth.

I did not coin the term and it isn’t exactly new. It is the creation of author Adnan Malik, who in 2015 wrote evocatively about the strange phenomenon that takes place in Karachi every winter. He described it thus: “A fleeting psychological and physical condition brought on by seasonal displacement when a false sense of mass euphoria and well-being affects the population of urban Pakistan” and is considered as causing the mass influx of expatriate Pakistanis, the nice weather, the many weddings, etc.

Having endured the slow slog of nine months of summer, the sun moves a bit further away, allowing everyone to clean up and get made up.

Like so many other people, Malik himself was afflicted just as most Karachi dwellers are, having endured the slow slog of nine months of summer, the load-shedding and the water outages, the heat-related exhaustion and anger all lifting suddenly and inexplicably as the sun moved a bit further away, allowing everyone to clean up and get made up, trussed in finery to show the world and their relatives that they had survived another year, could still fit into the sari blouses or the bridal joras of the last Decemberistan.

An essential fixture in the end-of-year euphoria is of course weddings. Over the years, and at least in Karachi, they have become not just nuptials of two people, two families, two friend groups, etc but also a function of a sort of pop-up all-ages nightclub.

Like most other things in Pakistani society, the roles are scripted but also evolving. The young -people realise that the functions and the many dance practices and pair-ups that come with them are really a mass speed-dating event. New partners can be found or discarded or considered; Decemberistan does not last forever and so its opportunities must be partaken of with gusto.

The dancing, now absorbed into the script of the shaadi, exerts its own pressures. Friends, the best of them being in demand for several weddings simultaneously, must be rounded up, choreographed and offered up before guests as examples of the couple’s popularity and coolness.

In many weddings, brides and grooms have also entered the fray; dance duets featuring them have become a sort of predicted performance of their ability to move in tandem, proof of sorts of their ability to be good husbands and wives.

Not all Decemberistan parties are of the marital sort. One inventive host threw a bash mocking the Ambani wedding on the other side of the world. The inherent hilarity of the event was not only the satire of copying the gaudy debauchery of Indian others but also that the satirisers were those who are unlikely to note obliviousness of a similar sort among their own.

It was okay, of course; Decemberistan permits and even requires such buzzworthy events, and it would be cruelty to limit opportunities to show off only to those getting married or trying to get married. There are other sorts of flirtations enabled by Decemberistan — and the celebrations, if you have the chance to attend one of the parties, are proof of that.

Where there are consumers, there are those facilitating their consumption. This year, many designers came up with specific Decemberistan collections. One of them even provided delivery options (around the world, no less) along with an impressive cache of clothes for ‘any Decemberistan event’. Make-up and beauty parlours, waxing ladies and hair mavens, are all booked up long before the actual December arrives. If one were looking to set up any of these businesses, December¬istan is the time to do it. The demand is such that the discernment falters, even disappears.

A word, too, about the arriving expatriates, perhaps the hungriest of the Decemberistan breed, wanting to be seen attending so many events that the workaday mediocrity of the rest of their lives lived abroad are forgotten.

Often, a white friend or two tags along, eager to consume the “verve and colour” of the South Asian wedding, never quite understanding the function of the whole thing or of their own presence, but always good for the Instagram likes and Facebook shares of the event. Attending a wedding at home seems a mainstay for most expatriates, passing judgement on the events and the way things were and the way things are, almost an edict of their expatriate faith.

There are, of course, those unfortunate souls that cannot partake of the ebullience of Decemberistan, those who have jobs that require them to be there early and bosses who have no sympathy for the midnight dinners that come with the month, those who have to work the events themselves and those who for ethical (yeah, they exist) reasons find the excess and gluttony, the untempered braggadocio and the lustful exhibitionism that comes with partaking, against their principles.

Perhaps this last group, small and near invisible as it may be, can devise an alternate Decemberistan, a Decemberistan Lite that can be composed only of enjoyment of the weather and nature, the chill in the air and the flowers underfoot, a relative- and dance practice-free Decemberistan that can reform and revive the Karachiites who suffer all year long.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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