I am, for my sins, now on more social media than I was before (needs must, etc). And since I’m there, there are naturally many, many photographs of people wearing shadi clothes (because what’s the point of being as dressed-up as the bride if nobody else sees it?). And since there are photos, there are myriads of people with time to kill, who like nothing more than to comment on them (I believe they were called ‘loafers’ in the Good Old Days).

To wit was the recent wedding of two celebrities. The bride, an actress, wore a series of rather nice lehnga-cholis and was supremely overdressed for all events, but that’s the happy upside of being a celebrity and getting lots of free clothes, so you can wear a bridal-level outfit for a dance practice and it’s all good because what goes of your father. For her wedding she wore some off-the-shoulder number by HSY that no doubt weighed fifty pounds and hats off to the bride for being able to even stand up in it. A celebrity wedding is supposed to be lavish and over-the-top because they are stars and they embody the fantasy life ordinary people such as you and I may dream of. It’s ok. There used to be royalty before, now there are celebrities. That’s not really such a problem (as long as one recognises that the fantasy is precisely just that, make-believe). What I found more disturbing were the comments. Predictably, all of them were from pretty anonymous sounding usernames, because heaven forbid anyone have the guts to be critical for real.

Many were complimentary—you’re so pretty, congratulations, etcetera. Nice. Then there were all the haters—so many, many haters, who dispensed their meanness with a lavish hand. The most common comment seemed to be “you aren’t Muslim” and “this is not Pakistani culture”. And with a nasty little tap of a button, we come straight back to square one: all the Muslims and Pakistanis are women who don’t wear clothes that show any skin, who don’t dance, smile or sing and in no circumstances display any affection or spontaneous joy. Basically an automaton whose only purpose in life is to pray that their children acquire motor vehicles so that they can put a “it’s all my mother’s prayer” sign on the back window. Conversely, all the men are exempt from representing the Muslim Pakistani Ummat because their membership is guaranteed no matter what they do.

This is nothing new. It won’t be any different either with the passage of time, because our favourite national pastime is to be judgmental of everyone and now the internet has given legions of people the perfect vehicle for all the nasty blather they ever wanted to spew but were unable to because someone would give them two tight slaps and tell them to mind their own business. Maybe this is the problem—in a culture where you can’t even write an honest book review because you don’t want to be impolite, being critical of people is also difficult unless you’re in some kind of position of power. If you’re nobody’s mother-in-law, nobody’s aunt, nobody’s older sibling by a long mile, then where are you going to direct your catty, power-hungry impulses? The internet, that’s where! You’ll wrap your dupatta tightly over your head, hitch your shalwar up above your ankles and sally forth into cyberspace, first looking at photos of thin, stylish women at parties and weddings and then doing chee-chee and deciding only you are Muslim and therefore Pakistani, and everyone else is a lecherous, naked kaafir. An actress wore an off-the-shoulder dress to her wedding? She is the devil, a terrible beast of a woman leading everyone astray! Now everyone is going to forget their Pakistani identity because it’s not like this was a Pakistani girl wearing a Pakistani designer at a wedding in Pakistan. Never mind that her husband was in a suit, nobody cares about your Western Devil Clothes if you’re a man. They also don’t care that you did a little bhangra or smiled, because “It’s okay for men”.

It’s so tedious, really. Can’t we just accept, finally, that there is no such thing as a homogenous Pakistani culture? What does it mean where every province and every ethnicity has their own traditions and every strata of society maneuvers around their customs depending on how they wish to be perceived? A Sindh Club ball is about as Pakistani as Basant is and weddings have been long-winded affairs since time immemorial. What’s the problem? Why does anyone have to be the standard-bearer for a culture that nobody can even define? And why oh why does all the responsibility for upholding religious propriety and magical cultural ‘norms’ fall on the shoulders of women? Something not being a “part of our culture” is a convenient blanket term used to shut up women when there’s no other reason you can think of for forbidding something. It’s not “part of our culture” for girls to study abroad, for women to divorce, for wanting to work after getting married or wear clothes that make them feel happy and fashionable. It’s “not part of our culture” to enjoy your wedding, be annoyed by motherhood, to want something more than frying shami kababs and straight hair. What kind of ridiculous culture is that? And if that’s the best, lamest cultural duck there is to offer, then I’d rather be a cultureless nomad. Especially one that isn’t on social media.