Desi Girl: Cooking classes and learning to sew

Growing up in middle-class Karachi, my girlfriends and I had neither the permission nor the resources to "hang out" at popular joints. So we enrolled in various courses to entertain ourselves.

I was 16 and living in Karachi when my best friend at the time asked me to join her for a sewing course at the neighbourhood's notoriously homely Al Nisa Club. I didn't know quite what to say.

Growing up as teenagers in middle-class Gulshan-e-Iqbal in Karachi, Pakistan, my girlfriends and I had neither the permission nor the resources to "hang out" at popular joints. Bored with hanging out at each other's houses and playing badminton in the compound, we stumbled upon the idea of enrolling ourselves in various courses to entertain ourselves.

The first place we headed to was Rangoonwala Hall, a name that readers who hail from Karachi will be familiar with. The Rangoonwala Community Centre was built in 1971 and provided different types of courses for those looking for a hobby or to acquire new skills. Currently, the centre offers more than 65 courses lasting from one day to three months. I don't recall how many were offered when Annie and I walked in to see what caught our fancy, but we were soon making regular trips to attend Chinese cooking classes - something neither of us was particularly interested in. It was just something we did to use up our spare time for lack of better options. For all I know, we might have blindly jabbed at the course menu and picked the first course our respective fingers had landed on.

It was Somi who proposed the sewing course a few months later. I laughed at the idea at first - sewing was something my grandmother did. I grew up wearing clothes and playing with rag dolls she had sewn for me. There was a brief stint with a sewing machine in our own house, when my father embarked upon one of his mad schemes: reupholstering the living room couches himself. I think I get my "mad scheme" streak from him. We also share an extremely short attention span, and after the upholstering project was finished, Papa lost all interest in the machine. My mother would not touch it with a barge pole and so it has sat unused in some cupboard in our Karachi house since then. Papa refuses to get rid of a perfectly good sewing machine that has only been used once.

Getting back to the course at Al Nisa Club - which was much smaller than Rangoonwala and offered fewer courses - it wasn't something that I wanted to do, but best friends stick by each other and so I attended the twice-weekly classes and became the butt of jokes of numerous cousins and friends. Midway through, after I had learnt how to operate a sewing machine and to measure, cut and sew the pattern for a shalwar-kameez outfit, I decided I had had enough. Same went for the Chinese cooking course, where I got only as far as chicken corn soup, egg-fried rice and chicken kung pao.

But as I've got older, I've decided to try to finish off what I left midway.

Last year, I took some proper one-on-one Chinese cooking lessons at the home of Gahana Khatwani, who has been running cooking workshops in Dubai for more than six years. I can whip up a mean Schezwan chicken and prawn toast now.

This year, I want to cover some essential bits of sewing that I left unlearnt: putting in a zipper, sewing button holes with a machine, et cetera, and I know just the place to head to.

If you feel like giving either a try, you can call Gahana on 055 204 4988 for cooking classes, and the Dubai International Arts Centre in Jumeirah on 04 344 4398 for sewing classes. Just don't drop out halfway through.

Ujala Ali Khan is an honest-to-goodness desi girl living in Dubai

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