Saturday, December 06, 2008
The Art of Giving
40-50 years ago, beauty parlours were not as de rigeur as they are now.
Beauty parlours and other explicit admissions of trying to improve an original model, were really not part of our growing up
The sort of society we belonged to, we wore conservative traditional outfits on celebratory occasions, some very sensible clothes at all times, and uniforms when in school. Things had to be decently below the knees, unnaturally loose, and incapable of emphasizing any part of the anatomy. Sleeves were mandatory, and a lack of those was frowned upon, and considered "forward".
As far as your hair was concerned, (as well as all other females in the family), well, it grew; and that was that.
There weren't shampoos as such on the scene, and once a week, our mothers did their stuff, oiling, scrubbing, massaging, washing (with some special nuts), combing our hair, after which it was always solar dried , as you went about doing some family errands on your bicycle, wisps of hair flying here and there, as you endeavoured to navigate through the throngs with one hand, your hair glinting in the noon day sun.
Almost everyone had to plait their hair, and sometimes turn it up and tie it, if it was in the school rules. Hairstyles, per se, were non existent. Our mothers put their hair up in buns, and our were plaited. No one wore lipstick in my house, or even in my friends houses. On school annual days, when staged plays demanded makeup, it used to be a secret wish that maybe we could sleep with all that wonderful makeup on; only to be dashed by having to scrub it off on reaching home.
No one peered into a mirror and shed tears over a pimple; it would go the way it had come. Facials were not part of the scene, though daily baths were incomplete without a face wash made of besan(garbanzo flour), fresh cream(skimmed off the top of just-boiled and cooled fresh milk), and turmeric powder.
Somewhere in the sixties, mothers became less strict, or more observant , depending on who was looking. Education was a happening thing, women had routinely started working, and appearances became important. The first beauty parlours were often oriented towards women of western sensibilities. Slowly , as the clientele increased , many more places opened up, and college girls and others started thronging there.
The same mothers who avidly plaited our hair, introduced us to places where tweaking of eyebrows resulted in an improvement of the original model, and hair was "styled" to suit your face. Beauticians doing their thing before wedding receptions was a mandatory thing now, and brides even went for a hairstyle and makeup rehearsal in some cases, a few days before the event.
And so when Meera announced the opening of her parlour in our vicinity, we were very pleased. A part of her apartment was cleverly altered to be useful as a parlour with a separate entrance. Her husband did interiors and he cleverly converted an extra room into a parlour, which at night, often doubled as a guest room , if you didnt mind mirrors on one entire side.....
Up a set of dark and cool stairs, you entered into a small set up, where hindi songs played on the radio, and pleasant smells pervaded amidst Meera and her assistants bustling around, a smile here, a reassurance there. A grateful goodbye nod to a departing lady, and Meera would close shut the cash drawer and get back to the work she was doing.
Little girls now came demanding "Princess Diana cuts" , and duly sat on a huge cushion on a chair, to see those happen. Their mothers stood around chatting about schools, and shopping, and left with a delirious child who was always given a chocolate candy from a container kept high up somewhere on the shelf. Teenagers, convinced about being shortchanged by the Maker, insisted on getting all kinds of transformations. Flips, curls, straightening, Perming, coloring, streaking, anything to look like those on , say TV.
Her mother stayed with her, and kind of ran the house so she could attend freely to her parlour. Of all the numerous languages spoken in India, we both spoke the same one, and it came to pass that I was able to get some old magazines in our language that her mother wanted. We'd discuss our children , their schools, their hobbies, their naughtiness. My daughter swam competitively, and she advised her on a nice cut, easy to maintain after 3 hours in the pool, and yet in fashion. At one time there was a bride getting intricate henna designs done on her palms and forearm, and my daughter, then 8, looked at the whole thing very wistfully and with great longing, followed by a nudge-nudge, and accusing look at me.
Peace was finally achieved after Meera guaranteed her there and then, a completely free, full arm henna design, the day she gets married !
Meera and I soon became friends.
So it came to pass that the year my mother turned 80, she happened to be staying with us that month. She would observe my teenage daughter spend hours fiddling around with some creams and her hair and similar things. She would shake her head, but then indulgently smile as grandmothers do. She would encourage me to take off, while she was around to mind the house and family, and go visit the parlour and get things done.
I was mentioning this to Meera once and she called me a few days later asking if my mother and I would come by one morning. We agreed, and my mother looked forward to meeting Meera's mother too. I did not realize it was a Monday, and a slow day at the parlour. My mother fasted on Mondays and took only fruits and milk.
We reached , and Meera took my mother around to show her the tiny parlour and the facilities. She mentioned that her mother was performing some puja (Worship ritual), and would be with us presently.
Then she took me aside.
"You know, I have actually kept this hour free. I thought we'd give your mother a special 80th birthday facial. I am sure she hasn't had one.....Would you cajole her into trying one ?"
I was overcome. What a wonderful gesture.
I asked my mother, and she never had a chance in the face of Meera, and her assistants, all clamouring to give grandma a birthday facial. She went through the various steps and then lay down as Meera sat behind her with all her jars and stuff, a bowl of ice, and slowly and with a great amount of feeling, massaged her tired face and neck. Pads on her eyes, music in the air, and someone massaging her tired neck..... she slipped into dreamtime. Gently cleansing the face, Meera applied a herbal face pack and went to attend to some other stuff as it dried.
After some time,. I noticed that , other customers were coming. I noticed the time, and asked Meera, if it was time to check the face pack.
And we suddenly heard someone snore.
The eighty year old tired body, had been lulled into a deep sleep with all the wonderful massage and therapeutic finger touches. My mother was absolutely fast asleep, on the only couch in the parlour.
I opened my mouth to say something.
Meera held up her hand.
"Let grandma sleep. Its absolutely OK. It doesn't hurt if the face pack dries for for some more time. We'll wait"....
Saying so, she got started on some customers who had come for stuff NOT requiring use of that couch. She pulled the curtain to avoid troubling my mother with the lights.
When my mother actually woke up ten minutes later , with a start, she took a moment to figure out where she was. Then got all apologetic. Meera sat down to complete the facial, treating the old, tired ,thin skin, like she would a baby's new, thin skin.
Grandma stood up, adjusted her saree, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Both she and Meera looked at each other. One after having given a facial to her oldest customer, and the other , in wonder at the young girl her daughter's age, who had such wonderful fingers, and attitude.....
We went in to meet Meera's mother, who was in on the whole plan, and was ready with a great cup of tea and fruits. The two Grandmas chatted, probably about their grandchildren, and the old days, and about Meera.
Not a single of Meera's customers , then waiting, complained about the delay. They thought this whole idea of an 80 year old grandma having a facial was brilliant. Meera's mother came to see us on our way out.
And Meera excused herself and returned to her work, but not before bending down and touching my mothers feet; something we all do when we meet elderly people our parents age.
My mother is no more, but she never forgot this wonderful gift. She came home that day, had a light meal, and nodded off into a deep nap that afternoon.
I am sure Meera will do well in life.
It's not about how good she is at her craft, it's not about how efficiently she manages her resources and her money, It's not even about how quickly she learns new technologies and methods in her field.
Its because Meera is a "giver"....
Its all about knowing how to give, when to give and where to give.