My own encounter with mehndi started in middle school back in Dubai, where I was surrounded by muslim girls, many of whom were (or at least, considered themselves to be) mehndi experts. I have had them work their magic on my hands, as well as, those of the other girls in my class. Watching those 12-13 year old girls deftly handle a mehndi cone to produce designs out of pure imagination was an act of sheer wonder.
Years later, I am here again, at a family friend’s wedding—at the mehndi ceremony. The henna design artist is a young girl who is a fourth year student at University of Toronto. I hear many sceptical exclaims (in hushed tones) around me: “She is the henna artist? So young?” The disbelief is ripe in their voices.
The aunties are silenced, however, once their eyes rest on the henna designs on the bride’s hands and feet.
Soon there is a line of aunties and kids alike waiting to get their hands, feet, arms and (in one lone case) back painted. The excitement is palpable.
“How long will this last?”
“How should I remove it once it dries? Should I wash?”
“How can I make the colours come out darker?”
There is a deluge of unstoppable questions, while some in their carelessness, end up smudging their designs while they are still wet.
“Oh no, can you fix this again?”
At first, I try to stay away. Pretend to be unruffled. Yet, something magnetic pulls me towards the phenomenon.
“Fine,” I admit it slowly. “Paint one hand only.”
Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur