The practice of Halloween is not mimicry of some Western tradition, but of a liberal mindset
While I lived abroad, one of my common icebreaker questions was: “If you could change one thing about the way you dress, without fear of being judged, what would it be?” The answers would generally be along the lines of dyeing hair in crazy colours or dressing like a pop star.
Of course, all that was in a liberal universe, with enormously different gender norms. When the same question is posed in our part of the world, the replies are more along the lines of wanting to wear shorts in the summer without being stared at, or the ability to dress comfortably without being described as a desi, Western or wannabe.
The Pakistani populace has made a competitive sport of judging one another. In my opinion, a Halloween night seems to offer the liberals some reprieve from the constant humdrum of loag kya kahein gae (what will the people say). I don’t mean the seasonal offerings from various brands and clothing outlets that are just trying to find a new marketing gimmick, but the private parties that take place in times like these. Simply put, the practice of Halloween is not a mimicry of some Western tradition, but of a liberal mindset that often comes from the West.
House parties are selective and small. Knowing the host, you’re aware of what to expect in terms of the crowd, and as such, these have become the temporary speakeasies of our land. The costumes are not about the skeleton makeup or bedazzled pants, but the fact that, for one night, the partygoers have more agency in their attire than daily life affords them. It becomes less about dressing for the occasion and more about dressing freely.
The costumes are not about the skeleton makeup or bedazzled pants, but the fact that, for one night, the partygoers have more agency in their attire than daily life affords them. It becomes less about dressing for the occasion and more about dressing freely.
There could, of course, be an argument between the supposed lack of morality of these sorts of parties and the cultural acceptability of them, but the conflict cannot be looked at in stasis. If multiple segments of society opt to spend a night in a friend’s apartment with 20 acquaintances simply for the chance to put on that shirt which makes them look cute, but they can’t wear to university, work, or even a café without being leered at, then you already have a group of people who wish to experience another aspect of themselves within the nation. Oscar Wilde once said, “Give a man a mask and he shall tell you the truth.”
The truth is being spoken, even if it is just a whisper at the moment, and sanctimonious judgment does not allow any progress. All too often we cling to the idea that Pakistan follows this defined and limited image of acceptable fun; as if Karachi did not have nightclubs in the 1950s. That changed because the people who made up the society wanted it to change. Now, as the current and coming generations edge their way into the norms and introduce newness, they’re simply doing what their parents did, even if it is in a different direction. After all, what is a culture if not a product of its people?
The writer is a storyteller and a journalist. Having published a short story collection, titled Encounters, he is working on his second book.