Meraj Hamayun Khan

In the days gone by when horror and madness had not shrouded the beautiful Peshawar valley, a time when the valley’s ancient city, Peshawar, was trying to slowly wake up from a slumber induced by the departure of the British, and prepare for a new life, a new identity, a familiar picture in the streets was that of colorful women with bundles on their head.

These were Afghan women from the nomadic tribes known in the local language as Koochies. These brave Koochie women went from door to door with bales of velvet, chenille, silk, and chamois to dress the women of the city.

They wore their exquisitely stitched traditional attire embellished with gold and silver embroidery and multicolored beads.

They were beautiful women proud of themselves. One could see this in the bluish-green beauty spots on their chins, the orangey-red ever-smiling lips, and the smoothly combed glistening hair held back by slender plaits.

They were sturdy women but they walked with swagger and grace to a soft, irresistible chan, chan tune made by their silver anklets. A tribal Pakhtun woman with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes is a cure for sore eyes.

They are no more to be seen. Just as rising smoke disappears into thin air, these exotic, industrious women have vanished into thin air.

Where have they gone?

Those charming, pioneering women traders?

Gone, gone to the invisible, feminine world!

The world of procreation, chatter, and mysterious happenings….

The Home! The impregnable fort surrounded by unscalable walls of patriarchy!

Why did I suddenly remember them? How did I accept a life without their chan, chan, and their flamboyant visage?

It is saddening to realize that people who brought excitement at certain stages of our lives are so easily forgotten. I cannot remember when we lost touch with them.

I was so busy growing up into a young lady looking for adventure outside the home. I was lost in myself, my pride in my personality prevented me from thinking of others.

Youth is considered the best period of one’s life but it is also a dangerous period as it is so deceptive, a period of waywardness land passion. Its infectious vigor and idealism create an aura of invincibility and omniscience.

Advice and warnings of others are summarily dismissed. A young woman is a bundle of excitement and curiosity. She wants to experience and get first-hand information about happenings around her.

I was no different. I wanted to live life to the full, not missing even a second of possible adventure. So I took a plunge into the bright, busy, yet unexplored world outside my home.

My excitement soon faded giving space to a feeling of awe and bewilderment. This was an alien world inhabited by rough-looking persons.

I was unaware of the deep dividing line between home and public space. Nor did I understand the nexus between development and gender.

The realization that men ruled the public space came as a big shock. More painful was the fact that the roaming, money-wise women traders had no place here.

Their years of labor in sweltering heat and icy cold weather had generated enough dough for their male family members to lease or purchase shops in the new shopping malls that were sprouting with abandon all over the city.

The new Peshawar was waking up from its slumber and opening its arms to a new class of citizens migrating from the tribal areas and neighboring Afghanistan. Peshawar has been a trading center historically and traditionally.

Caravans of traders from Central Asia and beyond rested here briefly to enjoy the city’s famous hospitality and relate their stories of romance and courage no less entertaining than those of the Arabian Nights.

So the revival of trade in the “Koochi Bazars” was welcomed and watched with great interest. But alas! To my chagrin, I learned that the prosperity of a family is directly linked with restrictions on women’s mobility.

Merchants tend to imitate the feudal who keep a strict watch over their women. For them, women are their priceless possessions to be kept in safe houses.

So it was with the Koochi businesswomen. Their men had risen in the Pakhtun social order and so they had put a chaddar of respectability and honor around their women.

The Koochi saleswoman had transformed into a mother, sister, wife, and daughter. She had sacrificed her own identity and name on the altar of her man’s ego!

*The writer is the Senior Vice President of PMLN Women Wing (KP) & CE, De Laas Gul Welfare Programme

*The views presented by the author do not reflect the position of The Diplomatic Insight. Nor does The Diplomatic Insight bear any responsibility for the accuracy of the information cited.