It was 5.30 P.M and the sun was beginning to set. I could feel the anticipation rising…my anxious eyes searching to connect with the other pair, that belonged in a face that evoked so much love in my heart.
She was washing her feet and hands passively; if she sensed my urgency there was definitely no indication of it. After much diligence in making sure her anklets were rid of any specks of dirt, she motioned for me to do the same. I hurriedly went into the bathroom, splashing water over my feet and quickly rubbing my hands in the steady stream of the tap.
I rushed back to the living room to find her she was deftly oiling a wick. In a few moments, a lamp was lit, and the Gods were smiling through the yellow flame. She folded her hands and stood in silence, deep in prayer; I didn’t want to be a spoilsport so I stood in obedience, next to her, with my eyes closed. I heard the anklets walk past and looked at her, taking the lamp in her hands, reciting “deepam” and going out of the house to the thulasi thara, liting the lamp there too. Folding my hands, and taking a few resigned breaths, I stood leaning at the door frame.
She turned to look at me, with a twinkle in her eyes, and said, “so shall we go?” Furiously nodding, I walked towards her. She said “Ask mummy first. If she doesn’t agree, that’ll be a problem”.
“I asked her already! She was okay about it”.
“Ask her again. I don’t want to get into trouble!”
*Grunt*…. “Mummmmyyyyyyy” …
I hopped behind her on the narrow pathways leading to the house behind ours. I could hear her in front of me asking “Chechi, shall we pick the leaves?” – and then consent being given after a few friendly exchanges . We were soon at the thick bushes, plucking tiny dark green leaves one by one, putting them into a cover. Soon, we had what we thought was a substantial amount.
Back home, she placed the cover containing the leaves next to the grinder. It must have been 6.30 because the power went off. I let out a wail; waiting for more time was unthinkable. She grinned, went inside a room and came out holding a lamp. The lamp was placed beside the grinder, and as I watched her shadow on the wall as it loomed large, she stood, splashing water on the surface of the stone and proceeding to mash the leaves into fine green paste. I sat on the ledge, swinging my legs, engrossed in our (seemingly philosophical) chatter.
The paste was transferred to a shallow steel vessel, that was placed on the dining room table. A few minutes later, the room was engulfed in light and I rushed to pull a chair and seat myself next to the table. She emerged with a triangular cone in her hands, made out of coarse cloth. I spooned the paste into it… we tied the ends of the cone so that it wouldn’t be squished out from the wrong end.
We took turns, peering with deep concentration at our hands as we tried to etch out complicated designs. Or atleast I did. She was always satisfied with the simplest thing she could make – a big blob in the center, and then the tips of her fingers covered with the paste. And if there was still more, dots all around the circle in the center. After about fifteen minutes of concentration, I had an exuberant smile on my face. The glob in the center of the hand was shaped like those mango designs that you found in saris those days. And the dots were not random but emerging out in a pattern onto my wrist.
She was excited for a moment and then wistful. “Oh! that is lovely! I wish I had done something sensible instead of this!”
I proudly held up my palm for exhibition, my smile indicating an achievement much more significant that merely a decipherable pattern of mehendi on my hands. I said to her, “Doesn’t matter. Will make it for you tomorrow. I love your pattern of dots too!”. She must have been satisfied with my reply, because she proceeded to stow away the cone.
Dinner was funny. Our left hands were stuck out carefully, many inches away from us, and we attempted to gobble our food quickly, taking care not to move our left hands too much. Soon, It was time to sleep. She said “we’d better sleep with it, otherwise the color won’t be that red tomorrow”. I looked at her in doubt.
After a fraction of a second, mulling on that statement of profound importance, I went over to my mother. “Mummy, can I sleep without washing the mylanji off my hands?” (mylanji being the malayalam word for mehendi). The nod came after a frown, and then a resigned sigh.
The next day morning, I woke as a deep and quaint smell wafted into my nostrils. My sleepy eyes opened to see a red blur in front of me… I heard an eager whisper “Go, get up and wash your hand! I want to see how red the color is!”
In a blink, I was up. I looked at her hand eagerly – the deep brown-red getting a stamp of approval in my mind as soon as I saw it clearly. I ran to the bathroom and held my hand under a tap, picking at the fragments of dried mehendi rapidly to uncover the rich color underneath.
The smile of satisfaction was unbeatable 🙂
P.S. Many years later, one night, 9.00 P.M. it was. I was crouched on the bed, poring over something in detail, the concentration in my mind visible on my forehead. It was her hand outstretched in front of me, and the mehendi cone was in my hand this time. I had stuck to my promise, as I had done so many times before… my design was being etched out on her hand. The next day was to be the day she got married.