The day I left for Madurai, I went to the beauty parlor across from my hotel (The Hotel “Gimme” Shelter in Mylapore) to get mehendi on my feet. When I went there to make the appointment, the ladies were fascinated by my tattoos — I have one on each ankle, flowers with OM symbol on my right wrist, plus big ones on my left shoulder and lower back. They only saw my wrist tattoo when I made the appointment.
I went for the mehendi and while I was waiting, all the customers and employees gathered around me to look at my ankles and wrist. Then the owner walked in with her entourage — she wore a beautiful sari, was loaded down with gold jewelery, and had a “big” personality to match. I loved her loudness! She shoved her way through the crowd, “I want to see everything!” She announced, “I want to learn this!”, as if learning the art of tattooing is the easiest thing in the world!
I said I had a tattoo on my shoulder, which of course they all wanted to see. I was not planning on taking off my clothes in the reception area of a beauty salon, but the owner said “take off top, BE FREE, BE FREE!!” — how could I resist? I had a skimpy camisole on underneath, but I removed the top of my salwar kameez. The women ooohed and aahed at my tattoo — it’s a flower vine with a butterfly that has a yin/yang symbol, very bright and colorful.
Then they caught a glimpse of my lower back and two women began to pull down my salwar! By this time, there were about 15 women gathered around — workers and customers and no work was getting done. The tattoo on my lower back is a large sun/moon combo (representing hatha yoga) with a Tibetan OM symbol. A beauty instructor who was from Nepal loved it so much, she kissed her fingers and touched it — the moon has eyes and she kept saying “the eyes is talking to me (KISS-TOUCH), the eyes is talking to me (KISS-TOUCH), the eyes is talking to me…”
After about 30 minutes of this inspection — they took pictures of all my tattoos — I finally got the mehendi started, and the Nepalese lady started to draw my tattoos in a sketchbook. She told me that she loves tattoos and wants to become a tattoo artist, but there is no good place in Chennai to learn and/or get a tattoo, maybe in Bangalore she told me. They asked if I wanted to get my nose or navel pierced, so we started discussing that, and the Nepalese lady said Indian women get their nipples pierced. “But only married ladies after one baby,” she said very seriously. I thought it was great that she would tell me that, a westerner, it was no big deal…
I loved the commaraderie I felt in that salon and the owner’s command to “BE FREE, BE FREE!”
…and I love my mehendi.
remember to be free…