I’m forgetful, and sometimes I’m a mess. I don’t spend hours in front of the mirror before I leave the house, most days I don’t wear make up. Often my chunni doesn’t match what I’m wearing. I am no fashionista. I am however an ‘Indian’ wife now, and it’s become clear that this shouldn’t be the case. Some things which are regarded as “fashion accessories” in the West, are in fact important marriage symbols in India.
A traditional Hindu wife should be embellished and adorned from head to toe, showing off her marital status, she should look like Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth) around the clock. I already committed the greatest faux pas by wearing hardly any jewellery on my wedding day, there was lot’s of gossip and I was called “plain” (which wasn’t too pleasant, but, I’m over it). The traditional Indian wife can be found daily wearing a saree, her mangalsutra (a necklace which acts as a wedding ring), sindoor, earrings, a nose ring, silver toe rings, bangles, silver anklets with bells on (so people can keep track of her around the house) and a red bindi.
Without fail, you’ll find me wearing my mangalsutra (because I never take it off), my silver anklets with bells on (another item I never take off, because I can’t, they are practically welded to me) and my sindoor (because it’s my favourite tradition and I wouldn’t be found without it). The other marital symbols can be forgotten and if someone from the older generation sees me without a bindi or bangles, they will ask why and try and rectify the situation.
Several aunties have come at me with a bindi from their purse, their emergency bindi stash which every Hindu woman seems to have. Several months ago I popped downstairs to the nearby restaurant to buy some samosa, as I waited for them to be packaged, a priest appeared with a small pot of scarlet vermillion and a stick, without saying a word, he poked me with the stick, right between the eyes. Apparently horrified that a married woman wasn’t wearing a bindi.
My grandmother-in-law gets upset if she sees me inauspiciously bangless, and always asks why I’m not wearing earrings. When she found found out that my husband was going to marry a ‘foreigner’, the first thing she said was, “but what if she won’t wear a bindi?”. I love wearing jewellery and I think that the symbolism of the bindi is beautiful, but I’m forgetful. It’s interesting how uncomfortable people can get if I am forgetful, it shows how important these things, which would be considered ‘just fashion accessories’ in the West, are in Hindu culture.
I think about the women who cannot afford bangles and silver anklets and how they may be perceived by the community because of that, should such importance be given to appearance and things that sparkle?