The mark of my femininity.
My son stood watching me impatiently from the doorway as I hurried through the finishing touches of my make-up. I opened the battered shoebox upon the dressing table and started to thumb through the contents, my movements frenetic with the increasing tempo of his fingers drumming upon the door jamb. There was an abrupt halt to the rapping. He came forward into the room to watch me grab a sticker bindi strip from within the pile in the box , peel one deftly and smack it resoundingly in the gap between my eyebrows. Without bothering to preen myself once more before the mirror I turned hurriedly to see him close the shoebox and run his fingers contemplatively over its faded exterior. He exclaimed, "Amma have you not changed this box yet? I remember this from my toddler days." I looked at him in surprise. Somewhere at the back of my mind I felt gratification of my motherhood, at having presented him a warm if trivial memory he will carry with him always, of his mother. I could not be sure how many more such images were there in his composed mind, but of this one sharp one I was content. In a way he was sucking into his core the top notes of my impression, a signature motif, that proclaims without guarded scrutiny a conclusive identity. Many a times it was a bindi, stamped upon a fuzzy memory and with the disjointed pieces of my lips, eyes, hair and gestures my bindi too blazed out to be a valuable clue, often the final closing piece to the puzzle of the entity that is, me. I am not annoyed at being identified through such an antiquated adornment, the bindi. My fascination for this feminine enhancement began when I was a small girl in my spiky pigtails. I cannot remember those faces, but to date my memories of the foreheads stamped with those definite spots of vermillion, of the long aquiline noses shaded red
with the fine dusting from those puffed up circles upon the foreheads, is like a crimson gash, pulsating in its freshness. I remember their perfectness and their crudeness... the chapped circles crumbling slightly at the edges, the dry powderiness of a freshly applied one giving way to a dull maroon compacted spot with time and the faint red impressions they left upon the foreheads always. I watched many of them being made and washed away.
NO CHILD’S PLAY
It was no child’s play, I was told. It belonged to a fully grown woman. When the toys and trifles of adolescence were flung off into the repositories of childish innocence, then came the time to take up the thimble holding the vermillion, time to engrave a bold red statement upon a smooth forehead, proclaiming a challenge to be taken. Time to keep watch, to fence and to ultimately capitulate.
I drew my share of bindis in time. But the vermillion never agreed with me. My efforts with it failed to create the cherished impression. It always lay limp upon my dusky forehead, never retaining its friable intensity. I reluctantly gave it up and daubled with liquid kumkums, of different shades in cute nubby bottles. I painstakingly drew strokes, symbolic of the nameless, unrecognised instigations of my mind governing my not too steady hand. It created a ripple of amused interest often and made me aware, for the first time, of the aura of a distinct spot upon a forehead. It had nothing to do with my trained beliefs, culture or customs. It was solely an awakening of the woman within me, seizing upon the casual with intuitive acumen, far beyond her years, that would go into the making of something supremely feminine, at the same time proclaiming proudly, her ethnicity.
The passage of years has brought on its share of variations to the bindi too. I was always eager to try out every modification – still do.
But despite the years of bearing this singular mark of femininity upon my forehead habitually I take this moment now to reflect upon the true motivation behind this tenacious fad of mine. What has been its contribution to the realisation of my femininity, my womanhood? I draw a blank there. I progressed through the phases of womanhood to maturity without receiving any of its purported influence. Its presence was never instrumental to making myself perceived either at the physical or psychic levels.
This makes me think upon the millions of women who faithfully mark their foreheads with the conspicuous red each day, those who never fail to accentuate the parted edges of their hair flips with the gaudy red, those who touch the thimble of vermillion sacredly against their closed eyelids before opening to don its content, those to whom any deviation from drawing the habitual circle of red upon their foreheads would be sacrilegious even to reflect, those who go to sleep and wake up with the red speck intact on their foreheads …what tones does this celebration of red colour lend to their lives? What makes them cling on to its unproven power? I would like to believe it goes beyond the bliss accorded through the conjugal supplication. These women were the lucky few for whom the inculcated myth elevating an ordinary red speck to the hallowed effigy of a presence in their lives…their partner on this journey called life, have somehow turned true in every sense. But the reality mostly vests with the contrary.
I have seen much of life so far, met many innocent women, who believe the bolder they forge a red circle upon their foreheads they could perhaps hope for that insignia to bestow upon their lives that promised marital contentment that has strangely eluded them. I have met many women for whom this red was a veil, shading them from the unblinking cruelty of a thousand lecherous gazes. I have come to know a few who used the red lined hair flicks gracing their foreheads to their best advantage to snub out all shadows of implied impropriety that their lives have regretfully thrust upon them. Red became a guardian and a tyrant at the same time.
THE SWAY OF RED
But the sway of red and the bindi was destined to work in a totally enigmatic way upon me, its ardent adherent. I remained detached from its implications while making it a customary part of my hearty life. So I continued to lean on it heavily using it like another limb upon my body, to reach out, to emote differently as per the mood gripping me, each day. I could never think of parting with it without reluctance and laying bare the innocence of my unencumbered forehead. Would I be coaxed into doing it? If I do I want it to be as per the spontaneous dictates of my mind…a swamping domination which would make me tear away this distinctive stamp upon my forehead, with never a care and walk in the nude, bare as the day as I was born, to rejoice in the recognition of the sublimely feminine within me.
IT WAS NO CHILD’S PLAY, I WAS TOLD. IT BELONGED TO A FULLY GROWN WOMAN. WHEN THE TOYS AND TRIFLES OF ADOLESCENCE WERE FLUNG OFF INTO THE REPOSITORIES OF CHILDISH INNOCENCE, THEN CAME THE TIME TO TAKE UP THE THIMBLE HOLDING THE VERMILLION. Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.