It is my first visit to Iran so, naturally, I am excited about going to a country which has had historic ties with India [ Images ], and is currently going through a politically tumultuous phase.
Being part of the prime minister's media delegation to Teheran to report on the 16th Non Aligned Summit, there won't be much time available to do sightseeing or visit any museums.
But packing for the three-day trip to an Islamic nation that restricts women's freedoms is a challenge.
The dress code is quite strict for women, so I have to pack with care. The contents have to be carefully selected and placed so that my bag is not opened at the customs counter and its contents displayed in front of everybody.
I also have to make sure that I have the ''right clothes'' packed. Reporters, government officials and friends who have been to Iran are generous with tips. The head has to be covered at all times, so pack long dupattas and shawls. Full long-sleeved kameez that should cover the butt. An overcoat or manteau is advised. Loose salwars or pants, no churidaars. No saris because those have a tendency to not stay in place. Anyway, who has long-sleeved-high-necked blouses other than Pratibha Patil [ Images ]?
Pack outfits with thick fabric that does not reveal any skin, and a big 'NO' to clingy material like crepe de chine or organza. Not even as a dupatta, that too better be wool or cotton.
I rummage through my cupboard to hunt for Indian outfits that would meet all these criteria. Just two, and those are the ones I bought in Pakistan. Nice long sleeves and high Chinese collars, copious amounts of fabric that swirl way below the knees. How I am going to be able to run around with camera equipment at the summit wearing this ultra feminine attire is what I will have to work around. My cameraman of course has no such restriction.
Shoes, not sandals. Toes must be covered at all times. Check. By now, I am a little irritated. Not that I haven't travelled to places where one dresses to suit local sensibilities. It is just that I have never been somewhere where a dress code is enforced. For instance, I would dress differently while on a shoot in Srinagar [ Images ] than one in Goa [ Images ]. Same goes for whether I am in Lahore [ Images ], or in Larnaca. I would do so not because of fear of a sarpanch or a priest or a mullah but because I would be drawing attention to myself rather than getting the shot and the sound bite that I want.
Many TV reporters make the mistake of becoming the news instead of reporting the news. Of course, sometimes even that is beyond your control, like in the case of British student journalist Natasha Smith, who was sexually assaulted by a mob in Tahrir Square.
There has been so much debate over the hijab, whether it is a social malady or it is a choice that women should be allowed to make. The fact is that women are still subjected to lashings for not wearing hijab.
In India too, there are places where women are forced by families to dress in a conservative manner: wear a dupatta, cover their heads, not wear jeans, wear bindi (pottu). To most modern women it is indeed frustrating that well into the 21st century, decisions on what is proper for women to wear still rests with men in many countries.
So as I pack, I realise that I am not making the decision on what goes into my suitcase. That decision has already been made by an unknown bearded cleric sitting in Teheran who is clueless about the NAM summit and how his president is trying to shed his country's diplomatic isolation by hosting this meet.