Tale of a bindi
The day was very bright and for some reason, looked very positive. Things were falling into their place after almost 3 months of chaos and constant tension, triggered by health issues. Over the past 1 week, my daughter and me were at the start of a new journey for her. We got ready to set out to tackle another of those errands that can influence our daily life in a big way. We hoped things would work well today based on which my travel plans back to Bangalore could be finalised.
We were in Chennai, a city that I always felt, had one foot in a modern cosmopolitan world and another foot rooted in traditional (read conservative) lifestyle. The place we were, in Adyar, also represented a similar dilemma. On one side of the street we had all the supermarkets, unisex salons, spas and what not. And on the other side we had boards announcing the festival at the nearest temple, small shops selling dosa batter and women in turmeric colour laden faces selling garlands and fruits.
We turned a corner and reached a small roadside temple. I loved the sight of the roses accumulated in front of the lady selling these outside the temple. I remembered how both of us took shelter at this flower shop last evening when there was a sudden downpour. We ended up waiting there for a good 15 minutes. While passing the temple, I turned around to see if there were lots of visitors. I was surprised to see the temple priests standing at the entrance, watching people on the road.
That is when I observed the senior priest signalling to me. For a moment I thought it was someone else and I was assuming it was me. I looked either side and looked at the priest again and he confirmed he was signalling to me and asked me to come aside. This was new to me. I had never been to this temple and had not seen this priest before. With quite a bit of surprise, I moved towards him and then I heard him say something and also point to his forehead. I didn’t get it and asked him what he was trying to convey. That is when he said this aloud - You are not wearing your bindi, he told me in Tamil!!
I immediately felt my forehead and realized I had forgotten to wear it. I cursed the absence of a mirror in my daughter's new accommodation. I acknowledged and started walking. But then, a ton of questions started pouring out, to the accompaniment of my daughter's natural reaction of shock.
How can a random person who doesn’t know me call me aside and tell me I am not wearing a bindi ?
And that too, when he is much younger than me!
Does he get this right because he is a priest ?
Because he is a man ?
He is a complete stranger, he doesn’t know me and my preference. What gave him the power to call me aside and give this instruction ? Did he see me yesterday waiting for the rain to subside, wearing my bindi? But then, do we remember people's faces to such an extent to conclude yesterday's bindi as normal and today's absence as abnormal ?
As priest in a temple, was he watching people outside to this extent instead of doing his duties in the temple ?
By the way, my daughter was not wearing a bindi either yesterday or today. While I am happy he didn’t call her aside with the same instruction, was the question reserved for a married woman, as is customary ?
I am very much aware that even today, many women face odd remarks from the people around them if they choose to wear the bindi after they become a widow. So, wearing a bindi or not, is in fact, a delicate choice for a woman, which should be her choice alone. But being asked about it is an even more delicate situation, usually avoided by people, unless they don’t care about being very rude. So, this question from the priest meant he was violating some basic code of conduct around women. Especially in a society where the notion of wearing a bindi or not has many dimensions.
Is there anything that a woman can point out to a man and that too a stranger along these lines!!
While all the above questions came to my mind, I also became aware of my reflex action - to check if I have a spare bindi available. And then I started asking myself another series of questions
I have always loved wearing bindis and am quite used to wearing them. Even now when the current trend amongst my friends is to not wear a bindi, I love buying different types of bindis. But, how conditioned am I to this wearing bindi ? I do not give any thought to the society's views of me wearing a bindi on a day to day basis, but by wearing it, I am encouraging this kind of mindset! And that is not intended...
If ever I am without a bindi, it is because I have forgotten - my own people are aware of the same and they tell me that I have forgotten. For me it is the same as stepping out of the house having forgotten to comb my hair, it is such an integral part of me getting ready. But then, I wonder.. I wonder if all those instances when people reminded me were a repeat of what the priest did. I hope not
I think of the men and women in my family who have reminded me and who are likely to remind me….and what my reaction to the same would be. I realize I will see it as innocent reminders from some who have got used to my face with a bindi. But I do realize from most, it would be for the same reasons it came from the priest..
What if in my place it was a widow who owing to circumstances in her family context has decided not to wear the bindi? Wouldn’t the priest's question make her feel sad and remind her of all the negative circumstances around her ?
Then I started wondering how the priest would have reacted to my response of nodding and proceeding without doing anything. Maybe he expected me to step in into the temple and use the kumkum kept there, maybe !! He may have felt I was being rude. But then, I asked my daughter, what if I told him, I am not wearing the bindi today since it is the death anniversary of my father in law(which incidentally it was!!) - I told her how his respect for me would grow in a split second!! What if I told him - I forgot(which is the truth) and he may think it a despicable act! But what if I asked him, why are you intervening in this private matter - yes I should have - but I did not. But why ? What prevented me from asking him ? I am still wondering..