The Salwar

Ramsha Siddiqui


Razia had crept into her husband’s private room while he was away. The room had a single shelf lining the wall; otherwise, it was a grey drab room. Underneath the charpai [1] were sacks made out of bedsheets, stuffed and top-knotted as if ready to be carried away balanced on a head. She touched the bottles on the shelf, smelling the ingredients, unscrewing lids and rubbing the powder between her fingers. They were usually in an indistinguishable state, all pastes and powders of herbs and roots tightly secured in stoppers. There was also a lockable register where he wrote down his homeopathic remedies and beside it a small metal canister where he kept his degree from Aligarh University; he had wanted to sell it, but she told him it was his only worthy possession. In return he told her that she was very plain apart from her perfectly shaped ears.

Razia walked into the room, she walked over to the charpai. There was a starch white salwar [2] laid out, fresh, ready to be worn. She touched the fabric; it was stiff and needed a little sweat to soften it, she thought. As if the strange thought had overcome her, she slid off her salwar in a swift motion, almost lost her balance, and steadied herself on the edge of the charpai. She then drew up the brand-new salwar, swept her long shirt to the side and clutched it on her hip while she worked at the drawstring. As she tied the second knot, a strange thought occurred to her, one of those things no one would really dwell on but it might have just been a qabooliat ki ghari [3], so that before she was finished knotting, Razia disappeared into starched white trousers.

Razia, who was now no longer Razia, or a different kind of Razia, was nowhere to be found when her husband arrived. He was twice her age, and the first time she saw him he had reminded her of a shrivelled-up frog in the June sun: tough and brown and shrunken to the bone. That morning he lay in bed soundlessly curled to his side, while she lay as far away from him as she could, then, turning to face him, she inched closer and studied him. She looked at his furrowed brow and wisps of an unremarkable grey beard and felt a hardening resentment. It was the kind of solid stuff that built in her, but she could not explain it without sounding thankless. So she reminded herself about how he always bought things in twos so there would always be a spare ceiling fan or pair of slippers, but it was his incessant nagging that had become unbearable; taunting seemed to run in his family like a disease. Women’s minds, he said, run at zero meter, just look at my wife, she can’t even make my breakfast the way I like it. The brother’s wife was pleased with this and heaped more food into his plate. One day at breakfast he was complaining about the state of his eggs, cold and unsalted, yet proceeded to chew loudly, smacking his lips with every sip of tea. She picked up her knife and stabbed the toast on her plate but kept looking down. He had begun to irritate her enormously, especially in the bedroom when he touched her clumsily while she cringed at his trembling hands, creased and thick like paws; he wore a look on his face as if he was about to cry or sneeze but couldn’t find relief.


When Razia’s husband came home, he called out for her, but there was no answer. She had been quiet and ponderous over the last few days, and her quietness unnerved him. He peered into the kitchen but there was no food prepared, yet a strange odour permeated the house. Recognizing the acrid, ripe smells of his tonics and bottles, he quickly marched into his private room. He was infuriated, discovering his things out of order — opened and spread and smelling everywhere, he thought, I don’t want to have to slap her again, but a young dumb girl needs some sense. When he squatted down to start clearing his things, his eye caught, on the charpai, a white starched salwar — that was reassuring. He thought she had laid it out for him, maybe she had bought it for him, made it for him, and maybe she was finally getting over the whole incident.

He slid off his blue salwar and eagerly grabbed onto the bleach white. He slipped in one scrawny leg and then another; he hiked it up to his waist. He lifted up his shirt, clenching it under his chin, and strained to see the work his hands were doing below his grey-haired belly. He noticed the drawstring was too long but double-knotted it and stuffed it inside, letting it hang against his skinny thigh. Allowing the shirtfront to drop, he then changed into one of his ten identical white kurtas. Strutting around feeling ship-shape, he heard the booming call for namaz and left for the neighbourhood mosque. He started feeling an itch in his legs, but he’d be late for the congregational prayer, so he ignored it.

Inside the mosque he settled his damp feet on the straw mat spread across the marble floor.


Razia, who had stitched herself anew into starch white, slowly began her tightening and tautening; she began shrinking around his scrawny hairless legs. The white shrunk up so that his ankles started to become visible. He felt this strange occurrence taking place and thought she hadn’t soaked the unstitched garment to let it shrink, and now it was shrinking on his body, from his own sweat. Except the prayer room was cool enough, and he wasn’t even sweating. It was breaking his concentration, and with his hands across his belly he stole a quick glance downwards — the devil’s imagination has gotten into me, I must concentrate.


He quickly bent down to catch up with the rest of the congregation. Razia was enjoying herself now. She chafed the dangling sack of his balls and started to choke his flaccid penis so that he gave out a sudden yelp. The whole thing looked like a tuskless elephant, currently endangered. As he bent with his hands on his knees, he itched and scratched there, digging his trimmed nails as far as he could. While fifty or so foreheads greeted the mat in prostration, he quickly rubbed and scratched where Razia tightened the most. The elephant had started to sweat, and if it could have, it would have delivered an ear-splitting trumpet that would cause the congregation to scatter barefoot. He was terribly anxious now, and his eyes were watering from the pain — he broke his prayer; he would offer his penance-prayers, but he just had to get the damn thing off — so she hadn’t forgiven him after all, and there was some black magic in this; he was sure of it. At the doorstep of the prayer room there was a muddle of slippers and sandals, but he didn’t care right now to find the shoe that fit. He slipped out into the street, panting and jogging while someone called out to him, but he ignored the concerned voice.

There was a movement around his waist; the drawstring unknotted, snaked its way across his tufted belly, and wrapped around him tightly as he shrieked. The garment had now shrivelled itself right down to his lower half, paralyzing any further struggle. It was clear to him he could no longer move, although he was close enough to his house down the narrow, pitted street. Neighbours had started gathering around his fallen figure. His legs would soon start to swell and he trembled — his body half curled and half stiff, had started to fall numb before he was laid onto a stretcher and driven away.

Razia was left in the stiff white of the garment that had to be cut and peeled, shred and scissored till every little bit was finally torn away. She felt she had astonished her husband to his rightful decline, and that now she could rest happily in her tatters.



RAMSHA SIDDIQUI is currently doing her BA in liberal arts from Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, Pakistan. She enjoys writing surrealist poetry and dabbles in short story writing to survive against depression. She also enjoys traditional forms of Islamic art, Qawwali, Punjabi poetry and is fond of surrealist artworks and fiction.

[1] a traditional woven bed used in the Indian subcontinent.

[2] a pair of light, loose, pleated trousers tapering to a tight fit around the ankles, worn by women from South Asia, typically with a kameez.

[3] any time when prayers are answered