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CHILL PILL: Some Like It Cold

November 22, 2008

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Much as I love winter - no humidity, no perpetual sweating, no oily skin and resulting pimples, no expensive air-conditioning bills and no hot outdoor summer weddings to sweat through - in Karachi it comes armed with an annoying side-kick extreme dryness.

Now in mid-November when the chill of the winter breeze has yet to set in, the dryness in the air can be felt as if to announce winter`s impending arrival.

I woke up one morning to find my throat dry, my lips painfully cracked and my skin parched for moisture... and I knew it was time to keep lip-balm in my purse with a small bottle of moisturising cream; throw away the regular soap and unwrap the one with one-fourth moisturising cream. It doesn`t matter whether your skin is dry, oily or `combination... the dryness of winter spares no one. In some cities such as Quetta, during a visit to my extended family, I discovered it gets so dry in the winter that water-soaked clothes take about 10 minutes to dry off completely and - surprise, surprise - roadside vendors sell Vaseline by the kilo!

Knowing that winter was almost upon us, I did what any other typical Karachiite would do go to Sunday Bazaar to shop for my winter wardrobe. Yes, literally everyone who is anyone shops at Sunday Bazaar and in every visit, I haven`t yet failed to recognise a media-friendly face. The clothing section of Sunday Bazaar is stocked seasonally spring, summer, late-summer (autumn isn`t considered a season that exists in Karachi) and winter. I wanted to be one of the first to get my pick of winter wear before it became too crowded and I was not disappointed.

The `trends` if you may, this season at Sunday Bazaar showed longer coats, long front-open sweaters tied together with a belt, a plethora of `sleeves` (items which are literally only composed of sleeves, to be worn over sleeveless or half-sleeved shirts to cover one`s arms, and the remaining fabric is tied up in the front), a definite decrease in the variety of ponchos and... plaid on the sweaters. The clothing stocked in Sunday Bazaar is carefully chosen to protect against Karachi winter not too warm to cook you alive when you wear them and thick enough to protect against the chilly breeze.

The craziest item on my shopping list was a beautiful white half-sleeved, fake-fur sweater which the vendor initially tried selling at an exorbitant amount by claiming that it was made of `real rabbit fur`. One raised eyebrow and a shocked exclamation of “but that`s illegal!” set him - and the price - straight. Unsure of where I could possibly wear the fake-fur sweater, let`s face it, it`s not exactly the rage on this side of the globe, I bought it anyway.

If you are a socially-active person and new to the city, you will know that winter is also the prime party season. It is when most of the reunion and charity balls are thrown by various organisations, and halls are booked a year in advance for weddings. Often people will find themselves attending three weddings a day, running out of clothes to wear, since at least one outfit has been worn by each of the same-sex family members of the same size on different occasions and if worn one more time, would qualify an “aur kaprey nahin hain?” (Don`t you have more clothes?) looks/comments from others. Designers will show their winter collections in late summer, aunties and socialites will queue up to order and go through  various fittings, and darzis will face some of the busiest times in their careers - save for the pre-Eid period.

Interestingly, to look chic and the most fashionable, female socialites willtake what is often considered a drastic measure. In the extreme chill of the season, when animals can be seen huddled together for warmth, when a regular person cannot survive outdoors without wearing a thick pair of socks, a sweater and a coat on top... these whimsical women will wear beautiful, albeit skin-baring dresses, with cheerful expressions that signify that they`re having the time of their lives and smiles that I can only assume, are literally frozen on their faces - no pun intended. They are willing to brave frostbite and the cold wind of this coastal town, making me wonder whether they prepare for winter by literally growing an invisible layer of blubber under their skin to protect against the cold that they seem to be happily unaware of... in the manner of arctic animals.

When it is cold, there is a natural need to remain warm. When I was in college, I noticed that people tended to drink

more hot coffee in place of colas in the winter than in any other season. Similarly, cafés would be crowded with a warmth and cosiness comparable only to the comfort that a thick comforter provides early in the morning... right down to stepping outside the café into the frosty weather, to sticking one leg out of the comforter and stepping on the cold, cold floor.