Change With The Times

“Hair unclasped and cascading down their backs,” my aunt said to me. “But who am I to pass judgement?” My mother’s 78-year-old sister was talking about a recent betrothal at which most of the young south Indian girls had not worn their hair bunched up inside barrettes or braided or coiffed up in any way. 

I told my aunt that the times had changed. She chuckled and waved the stubby fingers of her right hand and continued to talk about the mores of the present day. My breath caught in my throat. Once again, after eleven years, my mother had waddled into the room from the land of the dead. She was looking askance at the trend of the times, pulling a face at girls who did not apply coconut oil in their hair anymore and, instead, used this vile fragrant syrup called “shampoo” which left their hair unprotected and all “paraparaaa” while seducing them with voluminous promises of fragrance and body.

“But who am I to say anything about today’s girls?” my aunt wondered, laughing, even as her deceased sister dissolved into the walls. Then she went on to tell me how, in the sixties, my grandmother had lamented to her husband that three of her married daughters had begun draping themselves in six-yard saris. 

“Why won’t they wear nine yards as per Brahmin custom?” my grandmother had asked. To that, her husband, a man who often fed scores of the poor in his outhouse (while flinging colorful epithets into the air when people of a certain community walked down his road) had only one thing to say: “You must change with the times for this is the modern way.”

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Ticked Off By Liftick

Yesterday, I noticed that my lipstick was eroded to a stub of coral red. It hurt when I ran it over my lips.

Today I was at the drugstore to replenish my trusted color: “752 Classic Wine” by L’Oreal which ranked sixth among the best lipstick brands in the world. Who knew that someone out there cared to rank lipstick? How did they rank lipstick? By its staying power? By the marks it left on wine glasses? By its gloss? Its wet look on the lips? By the way it felt to the kisser or to the kissed? Or to both?

A man will never understand how a woman of today may never be seen anywhere without lipstick in her purse and on her mouth. My mother could not grasp the fashion statement—or pronounce fashion-related words—until the day she died. She fussed over grooming but she looked askance at lipstick.

In the India of the 70s and 80s, especially in conservative Chennai, lipstick was a sign of wantonness. At the sight of lip color on me, my mother’s mouth curved downward. I remember how she used to watch me from her designated spot on the sofa as I flitted about the house, a girl of 21 with a red stain on her lips.

“Come here,” she said. She didn’t broach the subject of coquetry implied by my mouth, not yet, anyway. She told me to turn around so she could take in the shock of my hip-length hair held by a barrette. She whined that it was windblown. “Why don’t you braid it?” she asked. “It looks like hay. No coconut oil. That’s what all this new-fangled stuff called shyamboo does to beautiful hair.” Then she got up. She walked around to examine my face. “You need more talcum powder on your nose.” Finally, her eyes swooped down to my lips. “High society lady,” she tsk-tsked. “Look at you! Liftick and all.”

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