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Cheveux 3 June 2008

Posted by Ayesha Mattu in BARAKA, Culture, Humor.
A rural Purelander lass

When you have an autoimmune disease that severely limits energy and movement, you have to plan each day carefully. If I bathe today will I also be able to stand long enough to cook? Can I manage 74 stairs roundtrip to check the mail? Do I have it in me to run that errand 4 blocks away (plus the stairs)? In San Francisco, I also have to factor in the constant hills and chart the flattest course possible. On some days, the flat line between the couch and the loo is about all I can manage.

Sometimes though, you just have to laugh in spite of it all. Like the whole Wax Factor. Lying in the hospital unable to do much beyond basic grooming is at first embarrassing and then just amusing. My eyebrows look like Brooke Shields circa the 1980s and seemingly have found a fine fertilizer in the on-going steroids course.

They are very, very…expressive.

We Purelander (Pakistani) women are a hardy lot (all Purelander men should exit now to keep their delicate sensibilities about their maaji/biwi/bhenein/betis (mother/wife/sisters/daughters) intact. In fact, if you’re male, good-bye.). Nature has bestowed us with both a hot country and a natural pelt to keep us warm. Go figure.

We each tumble into the world endowed with a full set of Archie brows and the dashing beginnings of a mooch (mustache – see photo above) and proceed to spend the rest of our waking lives tracking down hairs in the manner of big game hunters obsessed with depopulating the Serengeti.

Waxing, threading, bleaching, shaving, depilatorying, epiladying, plucking, lasering and generally trying anything grimace-inducing just to stay smooth is routine from a tender age. And I’m not talking about normal areas that woman around the world seek to clear reasonable paths through – I’m talking about faint hair in ridiculous areas like ear lobes, elbows, and the smalls of backs which no one is going to notice anyway.

They might not see it, but you’ll know it’s there, the waxing-crack lady whispers when you’re 13, drawing you into forking over your allowance, and you’re hooked into the full-body wax ordeal for life. Which is fine in Pureland, where a hundred rupees gets the job done, but in the US the slash-and-burn can cost hundreds of dollars a pop. Thank goodness for the chilly year-round San Francisco weather and salon-trainable husbands for hard-to-reach spots.

Save up enough cash to walk into a US spa and one leaves refreshed, if ginger, for they take care to ply you with cucumber water and gentle touches between the godawful ripping. The soothing music and sweetly scented pillow muffling one’s mouth all go a long way to maintaining the ambiance and serenity – of the other customers at least.

In a Pureland salon, forget any notion of privacy, though they may bring you a glass of sweaty water – if you’re a regular. The likelihood is that you will be sharing cramped non-airconditioned space with at least two other women, the wax will be boiling hot and so shall sear your skin upon spreading, and the attendants will be so busy chattering to each other about their latest hairstyles that they will quite cheerfully ignore your screams of agony as they mistakenly thread off half your brow – the half you need to express basic daily emotions like happiness or surprise – and instead leave you with the other bit that looks like a Neanderthal overhang.

And they will blame you for it, because if anything goes wrong it is always the customer’s fault since your hair was too short or too long, your skin was oily so the wax didn’t stick properly, you moved, you breathed, and so on and so forth. (Purelanders have a real issue with taking responsibility, but that’s a whole other blog entry.)

I attended a women’s Deen Intensive in the SF Bay Area and when a Hanafi fiqh teacher responded to a persistent questioner (whom we were all trying to gag) by finally saying that while mooch removal was encouraged it was haram (forbidden) for women to pluck their brows at all beyond removing the bit in the middle, a horrified silence descended upon the well-plucked crowd. And it lasted a good long while…until everyone had successfully repressed that particular fatwa.

My mother was with me and she smugly arched her perfectly-shaped brows, and tinkled, “Thank God I had electrolysis before I knew that!” The teacher tried to make the best of it by saying we only had to deal with this for around 60 years and then insha-Allah (God willing) could walk around in bikinis in heaven. Masha-Allah, she had huge brows so this came across as very sincere.

In the olden days apparently they’d rub a wheat and cream mixture all over infant girls regularly to rip out any hair and to ensure adult smoothness. My sister Amo seriously considered it when her daughter Hado was born with the trademark big brows and dashing mooch of our clan, bless her. Luckily, we persuaded her not to torture the child, so she too is very, very expressive, just like her Khala Baraka. People look at her painstakingly Garbo-eyebrowed mother and wonder, but we just point accusingly at the father’s (balding but otherwise also hairy) side of the family.

In light of all this, I would like to celebrate my newest niece Shalo for being the first moochless girl born into our family in living memory. We all cooed around her crib in amazement and marveled at her hairless, smooth skin. She barely has brows either. It was almost too much to bear, really, masha-Allah. I hope she enjoys it while it lasts, for the last report was that a mooch is beginning to make a faint appearance at just four months old.

What can you expect when she’s getting mooch fertilizer through her mama Rabi’s “hairy” milk daily.

Subhan’Allah! :)

Author’s note: This piece is largely poetic license. I in no way resemble Chewbacca. Thank you.

Originally posted in Rickshaw Diaries, October 2005.



1. Baha'uddin - 3 June 2008

salaam alaykum from sainte rose du nord quebec. MashaAllah you are very funny. Barakallahufikum.

Allahuma solli ala l-mustafa habibina Muhammad alayhi salaam.

2. Mr Moo - 3 June 2008

As a Ghandiwala (i.e from Gujarat, India) I find Pureland customs and phrases fascinating.

Mooch nahin to kuch nahin
[without a moustache, you are nothing]

as taught to me by my Punjabi inlaws.

3. Haleem - 3 June 2008

this was funny… though thankfully / mercifully inaccurate when it comes to my wife!… or maybe….

4. maximus mercury - 3 June 2008

Tell me about it, girl! Out of my countably finite greatest fears in life, the greatest by far is ever having to spend any significant amount of time in a hospital (away from my grooming resources) or being examined by a white, no scratch that, *any* doctor… the self-loathing of furry pakistani women can be fully understood, I believe, only by their own kind. And Pakistani waxing ladies really play on that, taking great glee in telling their customers how hairy they are as they cash in on each and every strand…

I like the hunter in the Serengeti analogy. Spot on.

Waisay – lighter topics aside, I hope you and your family are doing better this week.

5. Muse - 4 June 2008

This was the first post I ever read of yours and I was hooked forever after :)

6. Baraka - 4 June 2008

Salaams friends,

This was such a fun piece to write – I’m glad you all enjoyed it too! :)

MM, alhamdolillah the memorial service on Sunday really gave us all closure so we are doing much better. And my sister’s arrival with her three adorable kids also helped a great deal. Thanks so much for asking!


7. seekingnoor - 4 June 2008

salaam baraka – this was awesome! I am american but still have the same issues :) love your wittiness on a sensitive subject :)

8. Baraka - 6 June 2008

Salaam dear and I’m glad you liked it! :)

Haven’t seen you around in awhile – hope all is well!


9. aisha - 6 June 2008

Chuckling while I read this at work!
My younger daughter has the notorious unibrow, and her distressed father actually surreptitiously shaved it one day! Thankfully it didn’t come back doubled!
But i have to admit I did the uptan rub once on her forehead… also inexplicable hairy, and it did reduce the growth, but I didn’t have the heart to do it again.

10. Umm Salihah - 11 June 2008

Salaam Barakah,
Mr Moo!!! thats my favourite Punjabi saying – have to be careful though, people take it the wrong way sometimes.

Brother Haleem…If you don’t see it , it doesn’t exist right?

Hmm, as a fellow purelander (I wondered which part of Pakistan that was when I started reading), I totally recognise this – ahem – issue. My little girl has a lovely unibrow and mooch which is concerning me deeply (I don’t want to gice her a complex at 5, but I’m yanking it off soon as she turns 13). Of course, Murphy’s Law being alive and well, both my boys have lovely smooth, hairless faces and bodies.

11. Baraka - 11 June 2008

Salaam dears,

Aisha: Glad it made you chuckle at work :)

My sister Amo shaved her daughter’s unibrow once too – much to our collective consternation!

Umm Salihah: Of course, Murphy’s Law being alive and well, both my boys have lovely smooth, hairless faces and bodies.

Isn’t that always the way of it though?! *sigh


12. Ego Boost « Between Hope & Fear - 28 June 2008

[…] about hair removal. Maybe because, in a sadistic way, it really does feel good. Here are Baraka’s timeless words on this […]

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