This will be my last post from Bombay (for this trip).  It’s been a wonderful month.  For me personally, it has been the best India trip so far.  Mainly because I have learned more of the language (Punjabi with my family and Hindi for around town) and found the courage to talk as much as I could with my family and the Bombay locals.   This is a big step for me as for the six years I’ve spent on and off trying to learn Punjabi and recently a bit of Hindi, I’ve always shied away from speaking in public.  However I had nothing to worry about.  People always seem impressed that I was attempting to speak the local language and overlooked my child-like speech. One of the best experiences and yet most challenging was spending the first two weeks of the trip along with my in-laws as Hubby was away working.  This forced me to be immersed in Punjabi and unable to use English.  The result was learning more Punjabi…and gaining more confidence…than I have in the last six years.   

For the last three days there was some issue with our internet service provider’s servers because of which the internet was way too slow and so I was unable to post some of my most recent activities.  Most of which included shopping.  We arrived in Bombay with only two suitcases, one of which was empty except for our pillows.  We are now leaving with four hefty suitcases and still struggling to find room to pack everything.  Hubby and I save our whole years worth of shopping for our India trips.

A ride in a rickshaw is very windy. My new approach is to cover my hair with my scarf so it doesn't fly all over the place. Then I cover my mouth to avoid breathing in too much dust. The resulting look is somewhere between Disney and "I dream of Jeannie"

Besides the shopping there were two things I wanted to get done on my current India trip. A traditional Indian eyebrow threading and Indian mehandi.  Indian eyebrow threading is pretty popular in the US and I believe even more so in the UK (do any of my UK readers get eyebrow threading?), so you might already be familiar with it.  

Eyebrow threading is running two pieces of thread across each other to create a cutting edge.  The thread is rolled over any untidy hair and the hair is pulled away.  It’s wonderfully precise and yes, it’s painful.   Though I feel it’s much less violent on the tender skin surrounding the eye than eyebrow waxing.  Threading is not just used solely for the brows but can be used to trim any unwanted hairs.

There are plenty of places back home in San Jose to get my brows threaded but you can’t beat Indian prices or Indian talent.  If you want to try out threading, seek out someone who is well recommended.  Threading in the wrong hands can leave you with a  surprised expression or worse.

After the threading we started on the mehandi design (pronounced meh-ndi).  The mehandi artist asked me if I preferred an Indian design or an Arabic design.  I had no clue about the difference between the two but after doing some googling I think Indian design must use more flower and paisley inspired designs while Arabic designs are a bit tighter and more architectural.  I would be curious if any readers know the difference between the two.

There are a wide range of styles you can choose from when it comes to mehandi.  You can do small and simple or full and elaborate.

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My first experience with mehandi was for my Indian wedding, I am partial to the elaborate and stunning bridal mehandi. Bridal mehandi covers the entire forearm, hands, feet and calves.  It’s very intricate and though anyone can wear it, the dark fully covered arms and feet typically signify a newly married bride.

This was the mehandi design for my Indian wedding.  The mehandi artist was a young 20 year old girl who took great care in doing this design.  The whole process took over six hours.  It was a test of focus and perseverance for her and for me.

As a fun tradition, Hubby’s name was placed into the mehandi design, where he had to try and find it.  Can you spot the name in the design?

Can’t find it?  Let’s take a closer look…

One of the things I hadn’t thought about when having my bridal mehandi was that I wouldn’t have the use of my hands until the next morning.

As my feet had also been done, I couldn’t get up and go anywhere.  Definitely a hassle but a worth while experience none the less.

On my second time around with bridal mehandi I decided to take a few short cuts.  I didn’t bother with getting my feet done but I did want full “gloves”, just without the three hour time commitment.  So I had two ladies do the mehandi, one on each arm and the whole thing took only about an hour and a half.

The artists were so skilled that they could do the designs without thinking.  In fact one of them got a phone call about ten minutes in and finished my full arm while clutching her tiny cell phone between her ear and shoulder, and it still turned out to be a stellar job.

“You make it look so easy” I told her admiringly.

“I do so many every day” she said with a smile.

After the design was complete the ladies had their daughters hold hair dryers over my arm to dry the henna on my skin, which took only ten minutes.  As the young girls lost their focus the dryers kept drooping away and I struggled to keep my hands under the stream of hot air that was gradually making it’s way farther and farther from my chair.

I was told the dried henna needs to stay on overnight to get the darkest shade possible.  We blotted the design all over with a mixture of lemon juice and sugar to help the clay stick. I was told the clay would naturally fall off during the night.  However I didn’t want specks of dried henna stuck in my hair.  So I wrapped my hands in plastic bags.  However, when I woke up, the bags had made me sweat a bit so the design had become a bit smudged.  The design was still clear but a bit of the detail was lost.  The first time I did mehandi I had wrapped my hands in some spare turban cloth I borrowed from my brother-in-law and I think cloth will not cause sweating like the plastic did.

To get the clay off is a bit of a painful process.  First I rubbed oil all over the clay to soften it up a bit.  Then, I took a kitchen knife and using the dull end I scrapped off all the clay.  It makes quite a mess so I scrapped it off in the shower but did not use any water as I needed to seal the dye.  The ladies at the beauty shop told me to rub Vicks VapoRub all over the design, leave it on for ten minutes and then shower as usual.

While the whole ordeal was a bit high maintenance and certainly painful near the end there, getting a traditional Indian beauty treatment always reminds me of my first trip to Bombay. I also think there’s nothing like a day of pampering to make make you feel a bit more special.  While a typical trip to the salon back home might be a manicure and pedicure along with a brow wax; an Indian salon will treat you to threading and mehandi.  If you’re even more adventurous ask them to do some Indian style bridal makeup which is full of color and darkly lined exotic eyes.

I cannot wait until Hubby and I can come back to Bombay.  It’s an annual trip for us but we may need to find a way to get back more often.  It’s a sweet experience being in Bombay, surrounded by a warm and joyful family who have taken me in and made me feel so welcome.  I’m constantly amazed with where my life has taken me.  From a small town in Santa Cruz, CA to a whole new family across the world, culture, new language and many, many friends.  It’s a wonderful experience yet always difficult when we have to leave.  Hubby and I are spending every second we can with his parents.  I know Hubby will struggle for the next few weeks with strong waves of home sickness.

After one month, I am armed with a hard drive full of cooking tutorials and new recipes and will be testing out everything I’ve learned.  Hopefully I can soothe Hubby’s yearning for home with a few daily reminders of Mummy-ji’s home cooking and street food favorites.

For now, I’m off to join Hubby with his family until we leave for our twenty-two hour flight back home.

Farewell India, till next time

Did you find Hubby’s name?

…it’s in the palm of my left hand (on your right side)…and it’s misspelled.

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