The Message of the Mehndi

By Ishrar Islam. Ishrar, 17, lives in Little Rock, USA and attends Little Rock High School. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

The floral-like, intricate traditional designs upon these hands are only done justice through the struggles of its making. There are the processes of wrapping aluminum foil around your hands and feet, adding lemon onto your drying hands, or even just allowing the green cracks to diminish onto your carpet or hardwood floors, making a mess that vexes your parents to no end. This enriching paste made from dried henna—hina, mehndi, or whatever you may call it—leaves is a large component of my life. The way I perceive it, the woman’s sparkling bangles near the mosaic itself represent the infinite Bengali weddings to attend. It evokes the thrill of Eid morning after I’ve woken up to presents and the outcome of my henna designs, being worth every millisecond of the wait. However, the community behind these hands triumphs all.

 Having a chand raat with friends and family only enhances the pleasure of getting my henna done. My loved ones surround me, shopping for beautiful salwars and vibrant bangles to wear the next day. There are always gifts involved, where my personal favorite was a sort of flashy, magenta pink and orange lehenga that I always reach for when I want to look festive. My younger relatives receive shiny, new toys that brighten their faces immediately. While these celebrations are special, nothing can surpass sitting down and giving up my hand to my dearest aunties and friends, who ensure that I am in “good hands”—no pun intended.   Once the process begins, everyone is so jubilant and alive while discussing his or her plans for the next day. We all delve into personal stories of our experiences and random anecdotes about our stunning outfits, where some of the aunties mention how they have watched their children grow into themselves over the course of their timeline. This night is not merely about inanimate objects and the beautiful henna amongst our skin, but about the sense of community and growth in our little bubble of South Asian women.

 There’s the weddings too. When someone decides they have found their perfect match, or close enough, we all eagerly apply henna all over again; this is more exciting when the wedding receptions are a while after our Eid celebrations. The night before, we all help the bride pamper herself before her special day. We add turmeric paste all over her face, arms, and legs to give her a youthful glow, but most importantly we all let the bride get her henna done. This is when all the nostalgic feelings of past weddings and celebrations we’ve had come back to us and we can appreciate the times we’ve spent together, where there’s always one common denominator: henna.

Henna does not only evoke a sense of beauty and celebration within a culture, but a sense of belonging in a sea of whiteness. Henna allows South Asian little girls to grow up loving themselves for their skin color and heritage. Yes, there are obstacles: the “Is that a rash?” or “What is that stuff on your hand?” statements can be frustrating. There will be those who taunt and tease you out of a mixture of jealousy and curiosity. And even the two-faced people who try to belittle you of your culture but thrive off the profit they receive from it through music festivals and fashion shows.  Nonetheless, these girls will realize the statement her hands embody: I am Desi and unashamed.

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