Life is all about making your own choices, and I made mine by sticking to my roots. Or, should I say that I was not given any choices but to stick to them? Looking like a stereotypical emblem of India is indeed pride for me today but there was a time when I was being ridiculed for it for my ways of dressing, speaking and behaving.
I was 18, just married and expected to be dressed like a married Indian woman. Despite being a teenage college student, my mother used to force me to be clad always in heavy traditional Indian attire so that her daughter looks like a happily married new bride. But what I felt is, that I looked like a clown or a Christmas tree loaded with gifts from head to toe. And the cherry on the cake was ‘the big red bindi’, she forcibly used to apply on my forehead while going to college.
Though she anyhow allowed me to wear casual clothes, but with her strict dogma of ‘Indian wear only’. The height of her sovereignty was imposing that big red bindi even with my subtle salwar kameezes which, according to her was the symbol of my good fortune and marital bliss. And a clowned me used to think; “Where should I hide my face after sticking this garish national emblem that shouts false pride?” The more my mother loved me, the bigger that bindi turned. 🔴
One sad-bad day, my mother caught me sticking that bindi discreetly inside my handbag while I was leaving for my college and she, for my utter bad luck, had gone to the terrace just to see me off. I was caught red-handed removing that silly thing while walking on the pavement. I used to do that every day as I didn’t want to be the fun element amidst my gang of girls all dressed in casual western clothes. And the punishment I got? I bet you can’t guess! All my salwar kameezes were confiscated and I was left with silk sarees only— heavy, gaudy, garish to add on to my so-called ‘Indian-ness’ (or for my brash style statement).
I hated my bindi till the day I traveled to U.S. for the first time in 1991. It was my first ever International journey and I felt like a perplexed child lost in the village fair— a small town girl all decked up in my mom’s lurid dress-code. My mom was quite elated with her daughter going to a ‘fo-reign’ land and suddenly turned out to be extremely generous to allow me carrying simpler stuff, casual Indian clothes. But as expected, she handed over a box full of bindis to me and a frowned me started packing them in my luggage without having a glance inside. She, then, smiled and told me to check the box. To my utter surprise, it was full of the brethren (or sistern) of my good-red-old-bindi. The new Avatar was less tacky, trendier, full of myriad colors, and in varied shapes. This time I was not at all ashamed of them and carried them in my handbag. And ah, they made me feel proud of them at LA airport.
It was my first International flight, an altogether new experience with my 4 ½ years old husband (oops! My husband for 4 ½ years 😛 ), a navigation officer working for a Norwegian shipping company. I was completely an odd person out in that flight and even my husband started taunting me that I shouldn’t have come being dressed like a ‘behenji’ for an International flight. I was ashamed, nervous and agitated.
At LA airport when he again started taunting me on my behenjish looks, I lost my patience, and burst in tears, “Please don’t call me behenji! What would people think of me?” He laughed, “No one understands Hindi here!”. Suddenly, we heard, “Bhai saab, kitne khushkismat hain aap, aapki biwi itni khoobsurat jo hain (Brother, how lucky you are having such a beautiful wife)”… it was a sweet voice which was an amalgam of Lucknavi Hindi and pure British accents. I was surprised seeing a tall and beautiful Briton lady sitting beside me speaking Urdu mixed Hindi with stark clarity and beautiful intonations.
She then came to me, appreciated my looks and my way of dressing. She said that her father worked in East India Company and was posted in Lucknow, Also she told about her special affinity for India, its culture and especially for its customs and clothing. Her little daughter was staring at my face continuously and inquired about my nose-pin, bindi and colorful baandhni dupatta.
My agony had simply vanished away by then. I explained her about my accessories and gifted them those little bindis. The elated mother-daughter duo wore them that very moment. The lady even requested me to help her in buying a nose-pin when she gets her nose pierced and if we could ever meet again (her wish was to visit India once).
Today when I remember the bindi-clad faces of those British women, I wear mine quite proudly. Be it, Madonna or Celina Gomez or even Miley Cyrus, most of the Hollywood celebs wear them and our ‘little-red-old-dot’ 🔴 adorns every forehead with pride.
Whether in India or at any other part of the world, bindis are rage today and worn and appreciated by everyone. That day I missed my mom the most but couldn’t thank her for that box because ISD calls from airports were too expensive then for we, ‘the Indians’. Nevertheless we could gift happiness to others which was inexpensive (priced at a mere 1 rupee per strip) yet priceless and by wearing those bindis, my British friends were even #MoreIndianThanYouThink 🙂
It has stuck to my face since last 30 years. No matter how much I hate my bindi, it has now become an inseparable part of my persona. I have evolved with it, been used to it and learnt with time how to look good sporting it. My ‘bind-evolution’ started when I experimented with various styles being inspired from T.V. soap queens. From ‘snakes-n-ladders’ to ‘planets & constellations’, to ‘bows and arrows’, bindis took many Avatars in T.V. serials and continued inspiring me to develop my own new styles. From the bind(i)as Shanti (Mandira Bedi) to bad(a)ass Ramola Sinkand (Sudha Chandran), big-small bindis kept me glued to the idiot-box and maintained their glue longevous on my forehead with changing shapes and sizes.
But time has proved that ‘moms are always right’ as the conventional round one prescribed by my mom sits pretty between my unplucked, untamed, thick (khandani) eyebrows and suits me the best. I’m now kinda loving my bindi and thank my mom every now and then. She never fails to surprise (I fake that surprised look) me with bindi packs. So, I have abundance of them. 😀
After doing this detailed bindi-thesis, I’d surely like to give an experienced piece of advice (free advices are always #MoreIndianThanYouThink) to Lufthansa. I’m sure my idea would add to their ideology of hospitality and make them #MoreIndianThanYouThink. While welcoming their guests on board, they should gift every woman a pack of (or at least 1) bindis and apply roli over the foreheads of male guests. This gifting idea is reasonably Indian (shh! Don’t call it cheap). The best quality bindis (Shilpa char chand lagaye 😛 ) come at a mere Rs. 10/- per strip which is stickier than the super glue. 😀
Even, the designer variants (Dragon designs?You heard it right!) are priced economically to suit the restricted budget of homemakers (demonetization have robbed them off of their hidden treasure of Rs. 500-1,000/- notes,… sob… sob…). What’s your take on bindi-gifting Lufthansa? 😉
PS: After writing such a long post on such a little dot, I think my bindi is stickier than how much I stick to my roots. Its stickiness even denotes ours as we Indians become too sticky and go overboard when it comes to hospitality just like Lufhthansa Airlines serves the world with sheer Indian-ness.