Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Coming of Age

She is about 14 years old, dressed in a dark green sari of very fine silk. On her head she wears a crown of flowers, jasmine and small orange blossoms I have yet to name. Her hair has been slicked back to within an inch of its life with coconut oil, and on it she wears glittering jewelry, Huge earrings that are connected to her headdress with chains of rhinestones, a belt of rhinestones, armlets and bangles of rhinestones, even her braid which falls far below her slim waste is heavy with hearts made of rhinestones stuck in it at small intervals. She glitters from her head to her toes. Placidly, looking down and careful not to smile, she is calmly allowing all her female relatives to apply the orange turmeric and then red sandal woad to her forehead, the back of her hands, and her feet. Occasionally another young woman steps out from behind her and wipes off her hands and feet so the next female relative can apply more spice, but her forehead mark must be an inch thick. Around her feet are bowls and platters of silver, laden with gifts. Coconuts, Mangoes, Bananas, Silk for new saris, lentils, jasmine, even a bottle of powder deodorant. She stands to accept more, touching the feet of the giver first, then pausing to hold one side of the tray while they hold the other and the cameraman snaps a photo. Today the girl has become a woman, the "flower has bloomed".
Poor girl, there is a rather tall American girl sitting in the front row who didn't get the "wear your best sari" memo taking up much of the attention. Don't blame me please, I didn't want to sit on the front row and I honestly don't know why your photographer is taking as many pictures of me as he is of you.
Suddenly someone is pushing my head down and I feel them messing with my braid. When they let me up again a woman is smiling down at me, my old string of Jasmin in her hand and a new one in my hair. Oh, uh, yes thank you that is my forehead--wow lots of red and orange powder on my forehead, okay sure why not. Oh! My neck to eh? Well, in for a penny! Slather it on my good woman. Eat that? Looks like a ball of white play-dough. Huh, tastes like playdough too. Another one? No I couldn't possibly...or you could shove it in my mouth like that. Yes thank you, lovely dough balls, I'm completely full. Oh, we are going in to eat now? Right well I'll just stand up then...you know you really don't need to hold my hand...but you're going to anyway. Smile, head bobble, keep walking.
Have you ever seen an Indian line? Well, imagine sheep filing into a feeding area and you have it. Sydney is plastered against a wall half laughing have gagging on her dough ball and a woman with bright yellow hands (she's been cow-dunging her house) grabs my arm and in we go! I think I stepped on someone back there. Sorry! No, not sari, sorry! Yes, your sari is lovely, and I am wearing a dusty salwar kamiz. Banana leaves on the table and the host is being sure we taste every dish. What the heck is that? I don't know but it tastes like condensed milk and looks like baby up-chuck. Smile, eat it! and fold the banana leaf quickly so they can't give you seconds.
Outside the proud father is telling us it is his daughter who has bloomed today. Isn't that nice? Don't you wish your dad would have thrown a party and invited the whole village when you had your first period?

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