Mehndi and musings. . .
I squat in front of the mehndi artist and extend my right palm. She shows me a dozen designs to choose from and I pick an intricate paisley leaf, with spirals on the side. Within minutes, she's coaxed the dark-green mehndi color out of her plastic cone and on my outstretched palm much like squeezing icing onto a cake. She throws on some pink and turquoise glitter to match the sari I'm wearing. It looks pretty, but now I have to sit idly for at least an hour, giving the henna sufficient time to stain my palm. I'm not bothered though. I'm at a neighborhood Sangeet (song & dance) party and there're plenty of friends I can talk to who'll help me pass the time. Occasionally, a friend appears magically with a small bowl of lemon juice and dabs a dipped cotton bowl over my painted palms, rendering them sticky and useless once again. This is a way to guarantee that the henna produces the coveted orange hue when washed off. Not that I care—I've been married for more years than I've been single. However, if the resulting color for the bride is not dark enough, there are whispers among the elders that the union might not be that strong. Of course, if the bride couldn't even produce a darker color of henna what is the guarantee of that union? Who can hope for the success of that relationship? What kind of offspring would such a marriage produce? Luckily, for the hapless bride, these days the mehndi artists are instructed to use the best mehndi in the market, the one guaranteed to produce good results so that fate can be relieved of delivering any unexpected messages through color.
"These days the Sangeet often immediately precedes the wedding dinner or reception, an instance of immigrant practice boomeranging back to the mainland. According to the tradition in India, the bride and groom hold separate Sangeet ceremonies for their own largely female relatives and friends. The women from each side gather to play the harmonium and sing, and perhaps the younger girls dance. This practice of largely female and separate Sangeet ceremonies fell by the wayside in India weddings staged in the West, where time to organize and attend events was limited. Weddings that would normally extend over four or five days have to crammed one or two. So, in the global Indian culture, the Sangeet is no longer a private ceremony but one held for guests from both side and one in which male and female relatives both participate." (excerpted from Marrying Anita by Anita Jain.)
So also the reason why the custom of mehndi, a traditional morning event, is now clubbed with the Sangeet ceremony. Female guests only get their palms done, but a bride's hand and feet are decorated nearly to her elbows and shins, like a lace glove, heightening her feminine appeal on her wedding night.
I look at the henna, a map of lines stretching across my palm. Could there be new fate lines, drawn to determine my future; those stylized shoots and twining flowers? I inhale the musky scent, draw it deep into my lungs and imagine myself in the midst of the patterns, tendrils curling around my ankles, ferns reaching out to caress my face. Ah, what flights of fancy I may inhabit, even if momentary as long as the scent is still intoxicating. . .