I read this article in Reader's digest, a letter from a daughter to her mother. One of the things she complains about was how her mother reacted to her early experiments with makeup, she says, "Instead of forbidding me from using makeup I wish you had shown me how to use it well." My mother didn't forbid me from using any make up, she didn't have to, at fifteen I still wore glasses and only dreamed of changing the world. My sister was the adventurous one in the family. She made up for my lack of it. I still remember how she got some friend to buy her many coloured, 'imported' kajal sticks. I was also curious and watched her try them on her eye lids, a beautiful rainbow covering the area just below her brows, shades of blue, pink, green glittering down to her lids, and then continuing, with a break for the eyes, till a little below the eyes. A peacock would have envied her. Dad entered just then, he rarely lost his temper, here too he kept his cool (she was fourteen then), he just picked the pencils (looked more like multicolored, lipsticks than pencils) he asked where she got them from, told her she was not to do 'all this' and stepping out of the main gate, threw them in the dry 'nala' right outside the house.
My heart broke for her. I knew how keenly she had been waiting for these sparkling sticks. I thought she looked rather glamorous with the 'make up', like she had stepped out of a fancy fashion magazine. I was no rebel in these matters, just didn't think of trying to convince my parents that she be occasionally allowed to have fun experimenting with her own face. For all those who worship tradition, don't we allow little girls to buy bangles, put turmeric or 'talcum powder' on their faces, and apply dark homemade kohl to their eyes, put decorative bindis on their foreheads, henna on hands and, gajras and venis (flowers) in the hair? Aren't all these a proof that make up for little girls and boys was perfectly acceptable by our much revered ancestors? They say well groomed, better looking people score over plainly dressed ones in interviews. And don't we all feel good when we look our best? Grooming is just another useful skill, like driving, cooking, painting and using the net to pay your bills. But the thought of saying any of this to my dad did not even cross my mind.
That afternoon I was reading something in a window when I noticed the main gate was left opened, the dogs were excitedly looking inside the wide 'nala' just outside. I rushed out to check. My siblings were inside the nala, looking for the treasured kajal sticks in the dry grass and dusty weed. They found all the sticks and later we experimented some more with colours on our lids. This time the door was kept shut. But Dad found out, he said "There’s a correct way of putting it, you don't paint your eyes the way you did.", but more importantly, "You should do all this when you are married." and "You are too young for all this." I accepted without a murmur, my sister said nothing but continued to do this and more. He was busy with his work, if he ever noticed anything, he said nothing. But he kept his promise and I got my contact lenses the day I finished my Boards. We bought ‘Seventeen’ with our pocket money, found out how dumb those first experiments were. With contact lenses I saw my face for the first time and joined my sister in our experiments with perfection.
My mother took pride in her lack of interest in makeup, though she did have a nice collection of lipsticks, all in shades of brown and maroon, her only beauty tool till today. She does not even drink water once she applies her lipstick, unlike me who leaves coloured marks on cups and glasses proclaiming "IHM was here!"
Anyway, so over the years, when my mom saw us looking nice without challenging any Peacocks or Christmas Trees, she stopped objecting. We learnt about cleaning our faces with 'kachcha' (unboiled) milk from friends. I remember we followed Shahnaz Hussain's recipe for making wax at home (sugar and lemons...I forget the rest), we made henna pack, for perfect conditioning and highlights. I swear my recipe is still the best. My mausi (mother's sister) was only ten years older than I am. When she got married she gifted me her treasure of a Bound collection of Shahnaz Hussain's articles in Femina. She had collected among other material, these wonderfully written articles on beauty and grooming and taken them to a book binder (it could be done very easily in those days) and now the fat volume was MINE!
So we soaked methi (fenugreek) seeds in water and ground them to a paste and slathered it to our much pampered hair. We put milk, milk cream, urad dal paste, cucumber juice, papaya paste, crushed mango, rose water and glycerine, multani mitti...whatever could possibly be applied anywhere, was applied there.
When I got married, my eight year old niece stayed with us one weekend and declared "We should have a quiz on which fruit chachi does not put on her face!"
I didn't think we were vain then because everybody I knew (read peer group) was doing the same. Once a cousin stayed with us, he was about to get married. When he saw me making my weekend henna pack, he said he wished his wife would be 'simple' . I wanted to ask him, what do the imperfect creations of nature, like us, regular maintenance women do, so I said, "We are also very simple, but if we wash our hair with shampoo without any conditioning with henna, after a while it starts looking dull. Why not enjoy your hair and skin? Maybe a little care now will mean we enjoy it longer?" He did not argue but he was not convinced. 'Wait till you get married!', I thought.
Over the years I became lazy and switched to occasional facials, tubes of rejuvenating scrubs and moisturizing lotions. And now even that is done with a sense of duty! A duty I owe to myself.
But that is not the only incentive; I also know my family likes it if I care about the way I look। Husband stands and watches patiently, even indulgently when I am choosing lipsticks, he who would be bored if I stayed too long in Crosswords/Fabindia! Son says, " I like you when you are normal." (Normal= Well Dressed.) When my daughter read my post, 'The Vain Indian Homemaker', she gave me a hug and said, 'Have you really changed? Will you stay like this now? You should dress like Ani's mom!"