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My First Mhendi

First Mhendi

My First Mhendi

So I am now typing with my left hand delightfully decorated a yummy shade of sienna. It looks so pretty I just keep staring at it... it's almost hypnotic!

I had gone to 3 Indian stores Thursday but wanted to go to the one a couple of minutes away from my home... so did that this morning. I found the most gentle woman working there... one who took over an hour showing me around the small store, describing the different foods and such... and then, sharing her knowledge of mhendi with me.

Her daughter, who lives in New York now, did mhendi for local women... her ad still describing her techniques and prices on the store's bulletin board. She charged $51 a hand (not sure why the extra $1) and the picture of her work showed lovely, intricate "lace" gloves on a lucky bride's hands.

The owner of the store listened as I explained what I had already learned via the 'Net and she nodded, interjecting the way she does the mhendi paste, how long she lets it set, etc. One of the things I have learned in my short study of mhendi is that every person who makes the mhendi paste makes it differently. It is as variable as making homemade soup. Some women I asked made faces when I mentioned almond oil in the recipe... others said, "no lemon juice until after the dried paste is removed," and still others said, "put lemon juice on before the paste is removed." I listened to everyone I spoke with... and took what the posts had said and knew I would be making my own concoction... it probably being different each time.

One thing concerned me and I am glad the shop owner was friendly enough that I could ask such a potentially sensitive topic. I had been worried that mhendi might be a religious ceremony... and it seeming disrespectful for my wanting to partake in the beauty of the art. She immediately allayed my concerns by saying mhendi was a joyous act... and it would bring happiness to Indians (her word) everywhere to see others enjoying its beauty, too. I was so relieved... and pressed forward on my quest to learn more.

A woman at another store is going to copy pictures of mhendi for me and this store owner will also bring in books for me to see... and some stencils she has, too. Can't wait to see all that! The store owner also offered to show me her style of mhendi and I happily agreed! I am to meet her Monday afternoon so she can decorate my right hand. What a gracious woman :)

Okay... details. I bought a box of mhendi powder, almond oil, rose water, cloves, and black tea to make my own paste. This store also carried the mhendi in tubes with a screw-on tip (it was the only store that had the tubes) so I bought three tubes (the instructions saying to store them in the refrigerator). I then went to a craft store and bought a small plastic bottle that also came with a snap-on metal tip attachment (I had seen a woman on tv use the small bottle with a plastic tip)... their being sold next to the puff paints and stuff to paint tee shirts with. In the same place, I also found 2.5 x 2.5 inch square plastic stencils with tiny hearts, leaves, dots, and dashes that, joined together, make large hearts, flowers, wreathes or teddy bears. I have 19 different stencils (3 packages of 6 and one long one with a row of small hearts) that I know I can use to make great individualized designs.

Once home, I re-read the posts I had collected... read the instructions on the boxes... scrubbed my hands and began to paint/stain :)

I used the tube first because I was too antsy to make a paste from scratch. The first oozes were watery so I squished some of the paste into the plastic bottle I bought. I was glad I'd lain down newspaper because I wasn't very coordinated with the stuff at first... mooshing it out the side of the bottle... trying to get the tips unclogged (use a needle!)... and trying not to use my left hand at all during the process. Once all the preliminaries were under control, the actual drawing was a delight. I really had a good time creating designs on my palm and fingers. The shop owner also gave me the large box the mhendi tubes come in, its having a different picture of the mhendi drawing process on each of the four sides. It was inspirational!

I drew commas, dots, tear drops, scallops, squiggles, and a menorrah-like design that all revolve around a simple dot flower in the center of my palm.

Each person described the drying process with as many variations as they described making the paste... I, once again, playing it by ear (instinct) figuring out how long to leave it on so it would soak into the skin. Some said to keep it moist because the wet paste is what soaks in. Others said to let it dry "like the clay in the desert and as it cracks, allow it to fall off." Most included instructions saying that when heat is applied, the stain will be deeper as well. Through my one small testing... keeping it moist made a huge difference in how the color took. The points where I let it dry without re-wetting were barely visible while the rest of my hand that was wet once an hour with, alternately, sugar water and lemon juice, developed into the nice brown color.

Each women I spoke with said to lay the hand in sugar water before washing the dried paste off... put lemon on at some point (many said in the paste)... and then apply oil afterwards. I had a hard time deciding what to do when so thought I'd just do the sugar water and lemon during to keep the paste moist. To apply heat, I used my blow drier on low heat to dry the liquid applications.

After 4 hours, I used a toothpick to lift a couple dots so I could see how dark my skin had gotten and was pleased with how deep the color was (and really eager to get on the computer!) so I used the toothpick to peel the semi-dried paste off. Next time I will be more patient and let the paste dry totally (although it had been dried and re-wet 3 separate times). I tried wrapping my hand in seran wrap (a suggestion from an old rab post) to keep it warm and moist, but that didn't work, kinda smearing the thicker dots and squiggles of paste.

Once I peeled the paste off, I rinsed my hand gently in cold water, then took a cotton ball and dabbed the almond oil all over my newly decorated hand. I let that sit for about 20 minutes, then used a kleenex to soak up the excess... and wallah! I have a cool looking hand :)

I can't wait to show it off... going to go to an Art Festival tomorrow. Already, several family members are wanting it done... my own mother asking for a design on her shoulder!

I know this was long, but wanted to share my pleasure in doing mhendi. I am unable to tattoo or pierce at this time because my health has been precarious for the last year (plus). I am unsused to not piercing or tattooing when I want to... so had to settle for coloring my hair in lovely shades of fuschia or purple.. Once I heard about mhendi, I knew that this was something I could do to express my happiness about how well I was doing... getting my diabetes under control... losing over 100 pounds (so far)... not to mention all the pain control techniques I am learning through bio-feedback and hypnosis (I have severe nerve damage in my right ankle and lower leg... it causing icky non-con 24/7 pain).

For me, mhendi isn't a replacement for piercing or tattooing, but an additional way for me to express my Self to the world... a way to make me smile even as the pain overwhelms my senses. Thanks for letting me share that smile with y'all.

Barb aka gardenia ...who will describe her making mhendi paste from scratch when she does it

Orlando gardenia@magicnet.net through exquisite pain comes exquisite joy

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 01 Jan. 1997
in Ritual

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