I had made a vow more than two years ago to chronicle life in Pakistan with as much detail and colour as I could. The digi-cam went awry on me and, I confess, I got fed-up and left the matter. It is only now that I am leaving that I have been (frenetically) trying to recapture my life in Pakistan.
I thought I would write about glass bangles for a start – kanch ki choorian. Glassware and ornaments dating back to 800 BC have been found at various archaeological digs in South Asia. However, it was really under the Mughals that the art of glass engraving flourished. Today, bangles are an integral part of this continent’s culture. Slender and round, they are worn in the dozens, usually on the left hand since the right hand is for doing work.
My first experience with South Asian glass bangles was in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1997. I was on a 6-week backpacking trip across India – we travelled from Delhi, through several Rajasthani states, Bombay, Hyderabad, Kerala and Madras.
On our last day in Bombay, my travel companions and I explored the street bazaars. We were tempted by the pretty fabrics, sampled faluda and eventually stopped by an old lady’s stall. She had a lovely, if small, range.
One of my companions, Aiza, was interested in buying a set, but was afraid to try it on. She had had an accident earlier that day at the train station and had bruises all over her wrists and arms which were tender to the touch. The old lady insisted that she try them to get the best fit and showed her how to put the bangles on. She waved away Aiza’s protestations and gently guided the bangles up her hands and wrists. Aiza winced at first in anticipation of the pain, but then smiled in surprise – the lady had so expertly slid them on that she did not hurt her one bit!
In Pakistan, glass bangles are just as popular. I don’t wear them myself but, I admit, I did enjoy dressing up my girls with them on `Eid and hearing the musical tinkle as they shook their wrists. Bear shucked them off and scattered them all over the house once the novelty wore off, but Marz took her bangles seriously and not a single one broke!
To some these choorian may seem gaudy and I used to think the same, but I have grown to have a better appreciation of them. In a country where the majority of the population struggle to put food on the table, henna and glass bangles may be the only affordable ornaments for weddings and `Eid. Carefully chosen and matched with the right outfit, they can really add a touch of grace and glamour. They come in a bedazzling array of colours – iridescent shades of rainbow, solid jewel tones, pearly pastels – and some are encrusted with gold and silver accents, beads and jhumkas. They are versatile accessories that can be worn with both traditional and modern wear.
I hope you enjoyed this little snippet… I’ll do another on our village trip next in shaa Allah.