Return to India, Part 8: henna, to highlight her beauty and deepen the love between bride and groom; a moment on the way to the train
Come next morning, I got up just a little bit after six to discover the henna painting (mehandi) had already begun. According to my limited understanding, the application of the henna painting serves two purposes - to beautify the bride and to signify depth of love in the marriage. As the tattoo darkens, so too does the strength of love between the couple deepen.
The mehandi artist had started her work just below Suji's permanent tattoo, which also symbolizes depth of love - that of Sujitha for her late sister and her husband, and that between the couple whose portrait waits to be added into the frame of love tattooed into her skin for it.
Kruthika had shared Sujitha's bed through the night that has just come to an end - a bed that in the past was often shared by Suji and Soundu.
The design on the paper lying on the bed was drawn by Soundarya. Suji brought it to the session so that the artist could include its patterns in her work.
The session was expected to last for three hours. I knew that if I stayed in the room for the entire three hours, I would wind up with an overwhelming editing task, so I would shoot a few pictues and then leave the room and wander about for a spell.
The bride, of course, had no choice but to be present for every moment of the session. To help her through it, Ravi, her father, brought her a cup of very excellent coffee. I have been home now for close to four weeks and have not had a cup of good, South Indian coffee for longer than that, as we were about to leave South India.
I still miss it. Everyday I think about it. Everyday I want a cup of South Indian coffee. I can make it, too, and I have, but it doesn't turn out quite the same as when Bhanu or Vasanthi makes it.
On Suji's right hand: a portrait of the bride.
As the work progresses, Suji sips her coffee. As I have noted before, coffee cups in India are much smaller than here in the US. Coffee is often served in stainless steel cups with no handles. Still, if you hold the cup along the edge of the flange that flares out from the top of the cup, your fingers will be fine. You will not burn them.
Suji takes a break to check out the progress.
She returns to her place. Before starting in again, the artist surveys the work she has already done.
Dad could have used a little more sleep, but for his daughter he is happy to sacrifice.
Kru had briefly risen, but the hour was early and the need for sleep had not gone out of her. So back she came to get a little more.
The application of henna mixed with oil continues.
In time, Kru arose for the day. Soon she was up and outside, making the flour drawing that women place as a blessing in front of each Hindu house each morning.
Back inside, the artist has just outlines a portrait of the groom on Suji's left hand.
She returns to Suji's right arm to do some touch up work.
Then back to Sujitha's left arm.
On one of my trips outside the henna studio, Bhanu showed me an elephant puppet brought home by Soundarya. Bhanu animated the puppet and had it speak a sentence or two. To the far right is the portrait of Sandy draped with the garland. By now, I had spent four days in the house and still something in me resisted the message of the garland.
The artist works on Sujitha's ankles and feet.
Bhanu brought out this portrait of Anil and Soundarya to show me. A narrow beam of light from the open door fell upon it. I did not pose Bhanu or ask her to stand in this, the one spot where the light would fall just right upon the portrait of the couple in such a way as to symbolize the light they brought into this world and the dark they left behind when they departed it.
She just happened to step into the one spot that would create such a true effect. Nor did I darken the background. In fact, I lightened it just a touch. Although I did not want to change the message in the picture at all, I felt a need to lighten the backdrop just a bit.
The henna is activated with squeezings from a fresh lemon.
The bride and groom, left and right - which is right and left. The henna cannot come off for a few hours. After it does, the pattern will be light, but will soon darken - just as the love between the couple is expected to deepen.
Sujitha steps out the door to let the fresh air waft over over her newly painted arms, hands, ankles and feet. Oscar is there. If he is like most dogs I have known, he probably doesn't care much for the smell of lemon and has no appreciation of the art work or the significance of it, but is happy and delighted to see Suji.
Ganesh slept through most of it, but now he is up, ready to get his shower and go to work - but first to admire the new art that now adorns his sister. Some viewers will undoubtedly notice that the time on this clock reads earlier than it does on the clock atop the bookcase in two earlier pictures, but the order is correct.
The other clock had stopped.
Now Suji must sit very still for awhile as the henna dries - but not for that long. Soon, she will board the train for Pune, to meet up with her groom and join him in the Hindu ceremony that will put the seal of their native faith upon the love that has long bound them together.
Sitting with her is her uncle, Krishna Kumar, who owns an internet cafe. Sandy would sometimes end a chat session with the announcement that her uncle was waiting for her to finish so he could close the cafe.
On the way to the train station, I noticed two of the gentlemen in the rickshaw traveling alongside of us gaze intently at Sujitha. I wondered what caught their eye? Was it her beauty? Was it something in her interaction with her aunt, Dr. Bhuvaneshwari, who recognized a moment of deep pain in her niece and so sought to comfort her?
Or was it the lone tear that slid from Sujitha's eye onto her cheek as she thought of the second of the two people with whom she had most wanted to share the joy of her upcoming wedding?