A Pakistani Parlour

Most people who have known me for a while would raise an eyebrow or both at the notion of my work in fashion and beauty overseas. It sounds really glamorous, so I say “oh yeah, you know, I’ve just been, ah, working the fashion and beauty scene in Lahore,” to sound impressive when in actuality I was waxing old ladies and fixing broken beds overweight brides to be had broken.

I lie; I’m working two extremes, here. I had it pretty good in comparison to the other girls; I was in the secret bridal rooms blending lavish colours on lips and eyelids, and I could take a break whenever I wanted. Whenever fingers snapped at me I would for some reason be conversing in English because “my daughter is flying to New York to study economics,” or something. Because I was from London I was held in high regard, I was special. What really tickles me is I think about how most people here in England like mocking foreign accents, the majority of them seem to think it’s a thing of comedy; but when I was in Lahore I always got “oh the way you speak in Urdu is absolutely hilarious!” they enjoyed a mash up of a British and Pakistani accent, they didn’t mock me for it.

As I have previously said, the Westernisation had always disconcerted me in that traditional values were being neglected. NOT in a “things are becoming too modern,” because hell, look at me; but in a way that makes it evident that “the right way is the white way.” A facial in Pakistan comes with bleaching the skin to lighten it up nicely and whitely. Models on screen were flaunting saris and bindis but their faces were ivory and porcelain with rosy lips and light brown hair. The amount of women who would come in lamenting their daughters dark skin, moaning “who would marry her now?” before, obviously, turning to me and asking if I was married or looking because they had a son who had just graduated and is just about to become a doctor. I wasn’t looking.

It’s pretty evident that the women who stepped on these marble tiles under the spot lights were incredibly rich, and the contrast between wealth and poverty were separated by the entrance to the salon. In the space of a second my sandal would step up from the excruciatingly hot sand, my ears would no longer here the motorcycles or the crying or the beeps or the shouting, my nose wouldn’t smell the sweat, the burning, the chickens, or the horse shit; my sandal would be off and my foot would be cooling down on the marble floors, my nose would smell the fragrances cosmetics and fruity lotions, my ears would be hearing a Bollywood song or something by Britney Spears. But that’s only after I manage to push the iron door shut and bolt it before we unlocked it for opening.

It does sound like a pretty standard beauty salon, sure, it had leaking water in the hallway to the foyer, Madame and her mother could poke their heads from their bedroom and look directly down at what we were doing. The products weren’t even that great; but the standard of the salon would be the same standard as, say, Taylor Taylor, in London. (well the pricing is almost the same, Pakistan being more expensive.)

It struck me how passionate the women were about keeping themselves “presentable,” “youthful,” and “beautiful,” even as they wrapped burqas around themselves before stepping out and into a rickshaw, back to the kids. It astounded me how, as poor as they were, they would still, without fail, make an appearance every fortnight. But it touched me, being taken in as their daughter, being taught things that I have taken with me ever since, (and not just how to give a mean neck massage) and that’s appreciating what I have. I loved how together everyone was, even if two customers didn’t know each other, they would bond and become friends, there was a real sense of community there, and I loved that. 

Until I stepped out onto the sand for the fourteenth time. 

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