The F.E. Choudhry Gallery: Personal Hygiene

Posted on April 21, 2008
Filed Under >Nadeem Omar, Photo of the Day, Society, Women
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Nadeem Omar

In this, the first in our series of photographs from the F.E. Chaudhry Collection, we want to feature this remarkable photograph taken on a Lahore street-side, probably in the 1950s.

Women hygine Lahore lice

A group of four young women unabashedly sitting in a row on a road side in Lahore, picking each other’s heads for lice and so very focussed on the task at hand that they are oblivious to the passersby. The children (probably their own) squatting around and hiding in their laps, captures an age old family ritual that is no longer to be seen, even in the private, lost forever to the glamorous new world of branded soaps and shampoos.

The photograph shows F. E. Choudhry’s penchant for novel sights. The public performance of personal hygiene was not an uncommon sight, even amongst the more affluent. But usually not so for picking lice. Although it was a common practice for women (sometimes men too!) to pick head lice for each other, especially in summer, when head lice breed in great number, it was usually done in the privacy of home. This is clearly an example of poverty forcing people to “live” in the public space and conduct what would otherwise be private acts, in public. This, as we shall later see, was a recurrent theme in F.E. Choudhry’s portfolio.

There is so much that is striking and worth thinking about in this photograph. Do tell us what caught your eye and attention.

Click here for the evolving F.E. Choudhry Gallery at ATP.


25 Comments on “The F.E. Choudhry Gallery: Personal Hygiene”

  1. Aamer says:
    April 21st, 2008 10:45 am

    Once classic photograph.

  2. Daktar says:
    April 21st, 2008 10:59 am

    Wonderful find. What a great picture. How uninhibited and how engrossed in their work they are.

    Look forward to more photographs from the Master.

  3. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    April 21st, 2008 11:39 am

    Jauq dar jauq, juoon ki talash

  4. Fahd says:
    April 21st, 2008 12:16 pm

    It is the innocence of the phto and the times that is striking

  5. bugs bunny says:
    April 21st, 2008 12:19 pm

    Well I was thinking of the order in which these four women are placed.The last one is wearing a dupatta.Perhaps she does not need any lice picking.But she is carrying out the job without being repaid.The middle two women are being served n they r serving as well so that balances out.What about the first one.No work n all play?

  6. Owais Mughal says:
    April 21st, 2008 12:37 pm

    This is an amazing photograph. One of those shots which just happen. you cannot script such scenes. have to be present there at the right moment.

  7. Adil Najam says:
    April 21st, 2008 12:47 pm

    Bugs bunny, I think there is a certain rotation in placement that happens eventually, so no one gets a free lunch – or, in this case, a free lice checkup!

  8. Fahd says:
    April 21st, 2008 12:57 pm

    Joo ba joo phail gayee baat shanasaee ki!

  9. Irfan says:
    April 21st, 2008 1:57 pm

    The old saying, “You scratch my back and I will scratch yours” is ingrained in human genes.

  10. Tina says:
    April 21st, 2008 3:01 pm

    I think lice-picking is a ritual everyone is glad to see disappear, although humans like all social creatures long for each other’s touch, that is true. But we girls know that today, fingernail decoration, eyebrow plucking, makeup experiments, and sometimes mehndi and hairdo sessions fulfill this need for grooming among the sisters and girlfriends ;) No lice needed! Guys, don’t know what you do, can’t help you there.

    The young girls, barely into their teens, who are already mothers is something which is unfortunately still with us, albeit less than before.

  11. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    April 21st, 2008 3:02 pm

    @ Do we still have the same solidarity as it was in good
    old 50s, people were more clean or perhaps we saw
    clearer those days, now we have dandruffs, genetic
    “scalptitude ”
    ladies use to wear gorgeous parfumes,
    having their long hair groomed with chambeli, yasmin, johi, motia,
    now they smell ” chemicals ” and sprays :

    If only ATP had a nice and kind lady “administratress ”

    “Aa teray gesoo’aun say, nikal doo’n kuch joouain,
    khalq-e-khudah, kia apka rakhti nehein khayal ?
    Rafay Kashmiri

  12. Tina says:
    April 21st, 2008 3:07 pm

    P.S> Would like to add, in both technical and aesthetic and human interest aspects, it’s a great choice of photograph, too.

  13. Baraka says:
    April 21st, 2008 4:25 pm

    Some of my fondest memories are of my aunts picking lice out of my hair after I played with the girls in the village :)

  14. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    April 21st, 2008 5:44 pm

    @ ATP,

    some “distance” strongly recommended from
    ” virus ” on this blog !!!

  15. Tina says:
    April 21st, 2008 6:03 pm

    yes, Baraka, apparently some people have such fond memories which have found their way into the popular culture–there’s the American country-Western song, “I’d Like to Check You For Ticks” :) there’s a Bollywood song about picking off bedbugs, and girls checking their legs for fleas was a popular subject for porcelain statues during the time of the French Tuileries–gave the sculptor an excuse to show the girl with the hem of her dress raised, I would guess.

    Dang, I’m starting to itch now, just thinking about all that. It used to be a buggy world in the old days….

  16. QURBAN says:
    April 21st, 2008 9:06 pm

    This is a captivating photo. I find the sense of purpose in the women captivating.

  17. BelligerentPacifist says:
    April 22nd, 2008 7:38 am

    Uh oh Darwin was right!

  18. April 23rd, 2008 6:34 pm

    You can safely and effectively kill lice with salt water or a sauna – learn how to kill lice without killing yourself or the earth……

    Pediculicide POISONS do not remove nits and are dangerous. Among the reactions to poison shampoo or lice “treatments” are seizures, mental retardation, many different allergies and respiratory problems, strange tingling, burning, itching, attention deficit disorders, brain tumors, leukemia, cancer and death.

    I have used a sauna and/or salt water to safely and effectiely kill lice (but the nits remain).

    I have also used

  19. Aisha says:
    May 14th, 2008 10:16 pm

    This picture seems to capture not so much poverty as it does obvious ignorance of or intentional separation from social appropriateness. Who do we blame for such ignorance and uncouth public street display? My first thought when I saw the picture was that the scene mimics what I have seen numerous times at the zoo with the monkeys lined up one behind the other grooming each other of lice. It’s cute when the monkeys do it but it’s sad to see humans behaving this way without a thought for outward appearances. It makes one wonder (even if for a second) are they human or animal or a combination of both? However, is this public lice picking really any worse than seeing women or men today squatting in public to relieve themselves? I think not. Regardless this picture supports the theory that instead of being decendents of Adam and Eve we evolved from apes!

  20. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    May 15th, 2008 2:15 am

    @ Really great photos, very nostalgic for many,
    I can see on the photos some personalities of
    Geo Free Channel in their sheltered childhood.

    Guess which one ?

  21. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    May 15th, 2008 4:40 am

    @ Aisha,

    don’t you think you are exaggerating a bit !!

    the picture seems very natural and harmless rural
    daily routine, its female desire, useless to
    develop lice picking syndrome complexes,
    Pakistanis have already sufficient.

  22. sam says:
    July 11th, 2009 2:49 am

    its not some busy road side, where these women are sitting, its somewhere in their local community, and it has been and still is in rural cultures a common occurance. why so much fuss. i liked the photo for its details, but the discription regarding affluents having a public display of hygine etc. aren’t we getting a bit carried away.

    but very intersting and apt capture by F E Chaudhry

  23. September 6th, 2009 2:38 pm

    Some comments from the ATP Facebook Page where this was reposted recently:

    - “Charles Darwin fill in the blank…:)”
    - “ya kia hora hay ake dosaray ki joway daki jari hai. hahaha”
    - “ye hamaray ancestors hain….thori izzat karo”
    - “Surprised the fake wannabe mullah brigade hasn’t commented to show how un-Islamic their dress is lol”
    - “so old pics”
    - “very nice picture. Even if you are in a refugee camp you have to have personal hygience. These are smart women, this is far more effecient if you did it barri barri.”
    - “The joo niklna assembly line”
    - “bohat ala !”
    - “ohhhhhhhh my god fantastic……………….”
    - “wow…sweet”
    - “nyc…”
    - “amazing”
    - “rofl :-D….typical ladies”
    - “nice”
    - “Today it is quite easy for us to say words like,
    Sweet, Wow etc. But just imagine the plight of those people who left their homes in search of the promised freedom. These ladies might have suffered more than their share while traveling towards Pakistan. Let us ask ourselves today, “Have we done enough to acknowledge their sacrifices”
    - “Khoklay comments say humari current generate ka caliber nazar aata hai. One will never see any other people making fun of or passing mindless/thoughtless comments on the struggles of their forefathers. Likhnay say pehlay sochna chahyay. The sufferings of these folks shouldnt be taken lightly. Had they not migrated, most of us would be getting a whipping in India right now as second class citizens subservient to a hostile majority.”
    - “very well said! Guess PK is far from doing justice to all the sacrifices of one the enormous mass movement history has seen (and underreported!)”
    - “amazing picture, shows how one can get familiar with those one hasn’t even know. Love is not based on feelings its based on needs. Thats what the picture says. thnx for sharing. No one can understand (until he sees) what life is in refugee camps. No one can understand( until faced) how half crazy people look and search for their loved ones in ruined cities. So if those of us dont have anything good to say, we should rather shut up .:)”
    - “amazing……….”

  24. September 6th, 2009 11:41 pm

    More comments from ATP’s Facebook Page where thsi was recently re-posted:

    - “truly amazing!”
    - “sisterhood?”
    - “great pic…this chain might have continued if the last woman had not covered her head…:) alas!!! :)”
    - “nice one…”
    - “nice”
    - “It’s really nice!”

  25. September 7th, 2009 11:07 am

    More comments from the ATP Facebook Page where this was recently reposted:

    - “truly amazing!”
    - “sisterhood?”
    - “great pic…this chain might have continued if the last woman had not covered her head…:) alas!!! :)”
    - “nice one…”
    - “nice”
    - “It’s really nice!”
    - “waqat kam aur mukhaballa sakath .. :-)”
    - “Its really a great picture.”
    - “A million Thanks to Allah for giving us Pakistan!”
    - “Do’nt 4get past and think for Future,,,,,,”

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