Born of Punjabi stock, I've inherited the following traits:
1. An innate urge to use made up words which are almost always superfluous. For example, kee laoge? cha, sha, ya paani, shaani? What would you like? tea/shea? or water/shawter?
2. An involuntary impulse to dance-- anytime, anywhere -- the body takes over even at the slightest hint of a beat.
3. Ample child-bearing hips. "Kuddi healthy honi chaideeyee" My match-making aunts would often advise each other. No size zero would wed their munda (boy) Naa jee! NO WAY!
4. And bounteous facial hair. Yes, you read it right -- dark and lush facial hair, especially on the upper lip.
Now. not all Punjabi females are adorned with all of the above attributes. You will come across the chubby ones with hairless chins and cheeks. And there are the super slim ones who don't like to dance. Or the quiet ones who make do with, 'roti khaa lo.' Eat your food. Instead of Roti, shoti khaa lo. Have food, shood. Not all Punjabi girls have to worry about their upper lip threading/waxing/bleaching schedule before accepting a social invitation. Not all are so bountifully blessed.
I, however, have been bequeathed with ALL of the above.
I remember my aunts advising my mother to use ubtan (a face pack made with chickpea flour and other icky ingredients) to get rid of the fine growth that had started appearing when I was about eleven or twelve. My mother didn't push me and anyway she always used to say, 'kum saariyan nu pyaara honda hai, chum nahin'. What you do with your life is more important than what you look like.
Her Teflon words kept me safe from worrying about what I looked like all through my school days till that fateful day in grade 9.
He was my second serious crush. It was a Science lesson. We had been asked to copy a diagram from our text books. His desk was two rows behind mine, diagonally to my right. So, I kept turning around to talk to the girl sitting behind me for a chance to see him. Crushes were top secret business in the mid 1980s in Dehradun in India. You only shared this secret with your closest girl friends. Then they would keep you abreast with any voluntary or involuntary actions made by your love interest that would suggest that he too liked you. Even an innocent offer to share a text book/ notes could be read as a serious move. Valentine's Day hadn't yet knocked on India's door. But, Mills and Boon had planted enough romantic notions in our hearts to fall for the TDHs of our school -- yes, the tall, dark and handsome guys.
On this fateful day, while I was busy shading in the chloroplast within the cell membrane of a plant cell coming to life on the page of my Biology exercise book, my love interest, I had been informed, was sketching my portrait.
All the sitar strings of my heart and soul were jangling sweet music. He LIKED me too. Life was perfect.
"Zaara sa turn karna, tumharee muchhoon ka style copy karna hai." Hey, turn a bit so I can copy your stache properly.
His cruel words cracked through my mum's Teflon coating and crushed me a little that day.
I didn't stop liking him. In fact, his bad boy remark made him even more attractive. But I started covering up my upper lip with my fingers or hands when I saw new people or attended weddings and I avoided being photographed at all costs.
Visiting a beauty parlour to get the whiskers waxed or bleached didn't surface in my middle class Punjabi home. At fifteen. I was supposed to focus on getting straight As and that was enough. It didn't bother me either. I was my mother's soni kuddi (pretty girl). In grade 12, I ended up as Miss ISC- the photo shows me in all my glory, clad in my mother's favourite wine-coloured Banarasi silk with silver butis (motifs) and a woven silver border, oh! and my darkish upper lip stretched in a Colgate smile, standing next to Mr. ISC.
Next year, I ended up in Delhi University . My college friends introduced me to Fem bleach. I would sneak into my local guardian's bathroom and apply the white mixture, leaving a trail of stinking hydrogen peroxide that lingered on long after I'd washed the stinging souffle off. Armoured with a blonde stache, I was ready for Delhi's hip crowd, or so I thought.
One spring morning, my dear friend, Asha, and I were hovering around the college library door even though our work in the library was done because the college hunk had made an appearance. We just hung around to gawk discreetly. Spring mornings in Delhi are painfully romantic.
"Oye, toone apni moonchen kub mundwayi?" Oye, when did you shave your stache?
The words were fired by my dear school friend who was training to join the Indian Army. He had dropped by to say hello. His words shot through the long, cold corridor and shattered my armour into tiny smithereens.
My friend had to feed me samosas in the canteen followed by noodles by the U-special stop, before I begrudgingly forgave him.
Bleach was followed by that very Indian practice of making us Punjabi girls pay for our genes-- threading. This is where the practitioner uses a thread to create a knot and skillfully pulls each hair out of its root. Does it sound painful to the uninitiated among you? It bloody is. And if you have sensitive skin like mine, the newly cleaned upper lip skin goes red in protest- swollen and red- like an angry toddler whose favourite toy has just been taken away from him.
College days ended. I started working.
This time, for the first time, at the age of 21, the boy I liked, liked me back! Hooray!!!
No, don't go singing duets in the sunset just yet.
Wait. Ponder on the plight of people with upper lip hair issues. I couldn't just dive into my first kiss when the hormones were raging. No, sir! I had to stop US! My threading was due and I didn't want him to notice the little blighters poking up when he came close. I couldn't risk it.
So the first kiss, like any other social engagement like lunches with friends or official dinners or business trips had to be timed perfectly around the threading schedule. Not too soon or I'd be sporting the red Hanuman lips and not too late for obvious reasons.
One of the first things I had to look for when we relocated to London was an Indian threading parlour. Unlike these days, they weren't many of those around in the late 1990s.
If any magazine had asked me what I'd need if I were ever stranded on an island, my answer, without any hesitation, would be: WAX-STRIPS. They are a life saver...thank you Nad's and Veet...I owe you one. xx
I've just turned 45.
As I examine my reflection in the mirror, I realise that I'm at last getting comfortable with my Punjabi heritage. I've had a couple of laser treatments this year. As melanin is a scarce commodity for patients of Vitiligo, I was advised not to use laser hair removal therapy. But I am almost pigment-less now, so I gave it a shot. I'm glad to report that the weeds of the upper lip land seems to be responding well:)
45 and free! Yippee...I can boldly accept lunch invitations without first checking the upper lip status.
Free at last!
Hey, what's that? Those fine lines in between my forehead....they weren't that deep last year, were they?
Methinks, it's time to inhale...exhale...:)
Have a lovely week all.