Nikur tamasha — Ejaz Haider

Dhoti is not a myth; far from it. It has been around for a long time and while it is not exactly suited for hand-to-hand or any other type of combat, it does have its uses because of the sub-continental habit of squatting and doing things

No, this is not the title of a new Ajoka play, though this may just titillate Shahid Nadeem’s fertile imagination.

My good friend Salman Rashid’s Saturday article in Dawn tells me that one Mian Ejaz Shafi, a member of the Punjab assembly, doesn’t like shorts, what we call nikur in vernacular. (Note: nikur is not the same thing as knickers which is underwear, though the word is a distortion of knickers!)

Apparently, such is Mr Shafi’s aversion to the nikur that he took the matter of its wearing by the DCO of his district to the provincial assembly. If reports are anything to go by some MPAs even chose to debate the issue and called for the DCO’s head. Woody Allen needs to call his next film Wear the Nikur and be MPA-ed.

As Salman put it: “It turns out that while attending what the DCO called his awami daftar (aka khuli kacheri), the man had worn baggy Bermuda shorts that reached to just below his knees. That, if you please, is just a little bit shorter than the shalwars of some very punctilious religious men.”

It also seems that Salman knows both Mr Shafi and the DCO, Raheal Ahmed Siddiqui, the former for being “no taller than ankle height” and the latter for his “rectitude, courage and sense of duty”. I know neither gent but Salman I do know and have known for long. I shall therefore not say anything about either Mr Shafi’s height or Mr Siddiqui’s rectitude. But about the nikur I have something to say, as also about Salman.

A former ack-ack officer, Salman is a colourful personality. He becomes even more colourful after a stiff dram (I should know having spent many evenings with him blessing the Scots!). When in the mood, he also does much to enrich the Punjabi language by coining the most imaginative expletives — the process involves using known categories and rearranging them incredibly to describe a situation or, more usually, the lineage of a person. I usually leave his company with broken ribs.

It is only natural for a former ack-ack officer to leave his target, in this case Mr Shafi, in the ack-ack position, or what used to be referred to at the PMA fondly as the Gurkha position. And like the sadistic corporal, Salman, after putting Mr Shafi in that position, has walked back into his room to take a nap.

Let me, for the uninitiated, state that the ack-ack position relies on choosing a perfectly healthy man with two legs and making him go down on his head with hands at the back and the backside to the sun. With the entire body being balanced on the head at one end and the toes on the other, the backside arching towards the heavens, the sight is more unseemly than holding a meeting in a nikur, especially baggy Bermuda shorts.

Now, to the issue of the nikur itself. Pray, what is wrong with wearing it if the weather is muggy, as it is nowadays? When the British came to these shores they realised soon enough that it was somewhat inconvenient to dress up the way they did at home — starched collar and all. So, while they would wear the ceremonials for special occasions, as for instance in the army, for normal activity they introduced the nikur — please see the photograph of the Quaid giving the regimental flag to an ack-ack regiment in Karachi. The soldiers are wearing nikurs.

Forget the nikur. If propriety is what Mr Shafi is concerned about then he should perhaps concentrate on the dhoti, especially the way it is worn in the field. By the way, the dhoti is our equivalent of the Scottish kilt and just like the kilt, it doesn’t allow for wearing underwear. Try going to sleep in a dhoti and chances are you will wake up rather embarrassed. The nikur lends itself much better to the morning condition than a dhoti.

By the way, Adam Kirsch in The New York Sun wrote an article, Hugh Trevor-Roper’s ‘The Invention of Scotland’ informing us that the late historian Hugh Trevor-Roper “points out with ill-concealed glee [in his book ‘The Invention of Scotland’ that], tartan and kilt, those universal badges of Scottishness, are about as authentic as Disneyland.”

Be that as it may, dhoti is not a myth; far from it. It has been around for a long time and while it is not exactly suited for hand-to-hand or any other type of combat, Punjabi films excepted, it does have its uses because of the sub-continental habit of squatting and doing things. All one needs do is flip it up from the backside and bingo! For other work, it is usually pulled up above the knees and secured before people get down to doing what could otherwise make it come undone.

Why Mr Shafi might have taken the issue to the provincial assembly I can only conjecture about. One, he doesn’t like the DCO which seems to me, now that I write it, as stating the obvious. Two, and this is more worrisome, in trying to take out the DCO, he seems to have relied on a growing religious punctiliousness which has become the bane of this country.

There is malafide here. Why? I do not know. As I said I know neither Mr Shafi nor Mr Siddqui. But if what Salman has written about Mr Shafi is correct, and I know Salman doesn’t go out on a limb in such matters, Mr Shafi’s action becomes more plausible, its maliciousness notwithstanding.

The issue clearly is not about the nikur or its wearing but Mr Shafi’s perfidy. That’s the long and the ‘shorts’ of it.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at


Source: Daily Times, 24/8/2008


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