I don’t think I can recall the last time I wrote anything with a feminist voice especially an Asian feminist voice since, well, my dissertation on ‘the British Asian Representation of the Female’. Whilst I am of course, British Asian and female, I tend not to let that that be the only way I see things. A favourite saying of mine has become “I am not defined by my culture, but rather inspired by it”.
So here I am, a modern, working class twenty-something female on Thursday morning having rushed through the traffic of Birmingham city centre to board my train to London. I said to myself last night that this journey was to reflect on my thoughts of what I saw last night. I sit at table by the window tapping away at my laptop not really knowing where to begin…
Dirty Pakistani Lingerie. Provocative title huh? Yeah, I think that’s the point. Last night I went to see a play performed by Aizzah Fatimah and Erica Gould at The Old Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Having met Aizzah earlier in the day I knew it would cover the obvious themes of being Pakistani. The word ‘dirty’ made me think sex; you know that “shhh we don’t talk about that” taboo attitude and of course lingerie, made me think things could be getting a little saucy! Aizzah was on the panel of a radio show I work on to talk about female empowerment and everything she was saying made me think about my own position as a British and Asian female. Are we just one or the other, or can we be both?
Aizzah is a Pakistani American. The purpose of this play was to highlight that you can be both cultures or more in immigrant life. She played several characters of whom she wove in and out of beautifully to tell stories of what it is like to be a female immigrant or child of immigrants.
The one-woman show was simply a breath of fresh air. It cleverly used stereotypes of the aunty who desperately searches matrimonial ads in The Urdu Times for her 32/34 year old daughter as a catalyst to highlight underlying issues in the community. Every character that was created truly depicted a real woman from the anxious new bride to the confused young woman exploring dating and meeting the right man. Looking closely at each scenario it all comes down to the female being judged and the story of her struggles.Often as women we have the thought in the back of our minds of how will we portrayed by others in society, our husbands, mothers, family, community and quite frankly by everyone?!
It is clear Aizzah speaks from a very strong American and Pakistani culture however, as a British Sikh woman I was still able to connect with the culture as well as her performance as an actor. During elements of the play and Q&A session at the end, she cried real tears. A particular scene which struck a cord with me was the character of a young girl, perhaps no older than five or six sharing her experience of racism at school. “I like roti and home but not roti at school” is something that I can resonate with. I remember having friends over from school and saying to my Grandma, “today we are English and you will eat waffles and beans and wear English clothes not your salwaar”. It reminded me of how once I was embarrassed of my culture. Trying to be one or the other. But in fact we are both.
Reading this and thinking that the conclusion is simple, you can be both British/American as well adopting your Asian culture may feel like the obvious solution however Aizzah ends the play in such a way that still provokes you to question can or can’t we be both? Which life would you choose? The play opens and closes with an eloquent line from Mirza Khalib’s poetry which sets an intelligent and sophisticated light on Aizzah’s humor and artistic style. I often review theater performances, though this one has moved me in a way that connected to me personally and universally as a woman that I wanted to express my thoughts on it. Dirty Pakistani Lingerie – a must see take on cross-cultural life, laughter and dramas.