Mehandi buzz in the house : The Tribune India

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Mehandi buzz in the house

Mehandi buzz  in the house

Photo for representational purpose only. File photo



Shankar Gopalkrishnan

ABOUT three decades ago, our vacation at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu included a day that was set aside for painting hands and feet with henna. Applying mehandi, called marudhaani in Tamil, was a family event. Grandmother, grandaunts, mother, aunts, cousins, sister — everyone looked forward to the late-evening ritual. They just couldn’t wait for dinner to get over, after which the mehandi painting would begin. Boys in the family felt abandoned.

With mehandi paste of a dark-umber colour, a big circle was applied on the palm. It looked like the sun covered during a solar eclipse. Like little planets in the same orbit, dots were drawn around the sun. That completed the palm painting.

Now, the feet had to be taken care of. Mehandi was applied in the shape of footwear — as though a thin strap went around the foot, starting from the little toe, across the heel to the toe thumb. Soon, the toes were painted. Finally, a buckle was painted, just like a slipper’s, across the foot to hold the mehandi ‘sandals’ in place.

Once the painting was complete, the person had to stay put for the entire night. The plan was simple; the execution was complicated. Restroom visits were off for the rest of the night. Once mehandi was applied, the hands and feet were glued, and the person was like a tied hostage. Invariably, the demands increased manifold. I had to run errands repeatedly and do enormous shushrusha (service) — fetching water or warding off pesky houseflies that irritated the mehandi-adorned person.

With the whole place agog with excitement, enticing offers were made: ‘Why don’t you apply on one palm alone, just one big circle? You can wash it off in half an hour!’ There were many aspects to consider. What if the mehandi did not wear off before school started a few weeks after the vacation? The last thing I wanted was to be paraded through the class with my palm scrutinised by a jeering mob of boys!

The entire house was filled with a pungent smell. As the hours went by, mehandi cracked on the fingers and feet, and scattered in tiny bits, littering the whole room. A special straw mat was provided for the mehandi folk to sleep. They lay like lizards, with paws aloft, stacked side by side. But the straw mat increased the itch quotient and the need for volunteers as backscratchers and nose-scratchers.

In the morning, sister could not wait to wash off her mehandi. I pretended to stay aloof and uninterested but couldn’t help noticing how her palm was coloured a deep red, like the rising sun. ‘You don’t need to buy high-heel slippers anymore! Mehandi slippers are enough!’ I joked.

The rest of the morning was devoted to comparing one palm with another. Everyone in the extended family vied with each other for the ultimate crown of having the palm that was coloured the brightest.

#Tamil Nadu


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