Chappals and Gym Shorts – An Indian-Muslim Woman in the Land of Oz by Almas Sayeed

In her essay titled “Chappals and Gym Shorts”, author Almas Sayeed points to the sources of cultural conflict affronting people like her, when caught between an impulse for progress and the restrictions of tradition. Almas alludes to the fact that she herself is not certain about her sexual identity and orientation. For example, not only was she in a long term relationship with a White man, but she also has a huge crush on a particular girl from her college. While Almas is trying to grapple with these realities of her sexuality and being only partially successful at that, her father on the other hand has set a deadline for her marriage. For the western educated and progressive minded Almas, her father’s idea of “long-term security” for her in the form of an arranged marriage seems regressive and anathema to her feminist principles. Rather than portraying her father as the villain of the piece, Almas tries to elucidate his point of view – one borne of fatherly concern for his only daughter. So, Almas is debating with herself on two fronts – the feminist angle and the queer angle. If getting around her father’s endeavors for a traditional arranged marriage is a huge challenge in itself, trying to accommodate her homosexual inclinations would prove almost impossible.

In the essay, without suggesting or proposing a radical solution to the aforementioned conundrum, Almas Sayeed, implies that a balanced, moderate and accommodative approach is the way to move forward. According to her, abandoning either her traditional Islamic cultural norm is not a viable solution; neither is embracing a modernist western feminist lifestyle. In many ways, this middle-path approach to the opposing cultural imperatives seems a clever and informed choice. Submitting herself in marriage to a total stranger (as a result of an arranged marriage) would definitely be anathema to her feminist ideology, but she does not doubt the earnestness behind her father’s persuasion. After all, she believes, her father will act keeping her best interests in mind. For someone who was just twenty-two at the time of writing this essay, Almas Sayeed displays a maturity beyond her age, and to that extent, her suggestions on negotiations issues of sexual identity, orientation and marital choice are prudent ones. In the words of Almas herself,

“There is a delicate dance here that I must master – a dance of negotiating identity within interlinking cultural spheres….change my frame of reference, developing from a rebellious tomboy who resisted parental imposition to a budding social critic, learning how to be a committed feminist and still keep my cultural, religious and community ties.” (Almas Sayeed, p.266)

Reference:

Almas Sayeed, Chappals and Gym Shorts – An Indian-Muslim Woman in the Land of Oz, Section 2, Reading 33, p.263.