Dreaming of owning a Red Vanity-box…


My Amma had a little tin box, perhaps an empty  butter cookies box, which she used as her “Tikka Bindu” box.  For us it was a magic box and we would sit around her when she would open it after taking her bath. Amma had her own guiding mantras; “every suhagan must put Bindi on her forehead the first thing in the morning.” she would speak these words to no one in particular but these were meant for us, her two daughters. It was her way of transferring traditions and practices to the budding women in the family. Ignoring  what she would be saying, we would be more interested in the whole ritual of opening the box, putting the lid away, and revealing what lay inside the box. And would eagerly wait to see the transformation the mere application of bright red Bindi, on her fair forehead, would bring to her beautiful face. The box had a liquid sticky bindi, a small talcum powder, Afgan Snow creme and a home-made kajal. She would pull open, delicately,  the cork stopper used as a lid to the glass bottle of red Bindi and with that cork apply a round Bindi on her forehead! Ah!!! She looked beautiful. My only access to makeup was what I had seen in my Amma’s tin box. 

So, it was  bewildering to me when one of my class fellows, a pretty girl, let’s call her Miss S, while describing about arrival of her aunty via train, said,” Aunty handed over her vanity-box to the cooley.” Now this was a new word for me.  I didn’t know what it was, this Vanity-box. I wanted to ask her about this damn thing Vanity-box but it would have shown my ignorance as I was in class Tenth and was a class topper as well. How could I show my ignorance about the meaning of the word Vanity-box? Someone else in the group, naive as me, asked innocently, “what is a vanity-box?” The know-alls in the group had a big guffaw of laughter at the expense of the poor girl. The guffaw followed by Hawaaas and Hawaaas. I was relieved that I had not put this question in the group. Once the cycle of laughter was over, Miss S explained what it was. And also catered to our inquisition that smart ladies keep it close by to refresh their makeup when they travel. Now this was a news to me as Amma would open her Tin box only once in a day. We were more curious, and wanted to know more.  Miss S provided a lucid description about all the make-up items that it contained. That day a lot many words were added to the database of my vocabulary–foundation, rouge, maskara, eyeliner,eye shadow, blush on, lipstick, lip gloss, eyebrow pencil…literally all the arsenal that a lady must have, ever ready in her hand, to kill…sorry use!!

That day my awareness and vocabulary increased but the charm of my amma;s tin box decreased, almost gone.

The girl-in-question made many more friends, Everyone wanted to listen to her, she had become famous. She had not only introduced us to a new world but had opened up a whole new world of vain women carrying a vanity box!! She confided in us that she was participating in some beauty competition. We were shocked. Now was our turn to produce Howaaaaas!! Once over with the girls’ way of showing disdain, acclamations and wonder, we waited for more to come. I was all ears, every pore of my being had become so very excited to know more. Ye dil maange more kind of a situation. That was news to us, a big scintillating news.  Suddenly she became an icon to follow, and we all became her faithful followers. Everyday, whenever we would be free, we would crowd around her to know about the preparations being made. We knew about the finest details of the saree she would be wearing,it was a black saree. The matching jewellery she would be adorning herself with. the high heeled sandals that she would be putting on to dance on the wooden floor…and the makeup items that she would be using out of that vanity-box on the evening of the competition. We, too, were on fire. 

The girl, in our class, who had such informative updates about the Vanity-box, crowned Miss Simla 1970 or Simla queen perhaps.  We looked at her photographs that adorned the show windows of many studios on the Mall. She was famous. But neither us, the girls, nor the school ever made any comment about it except in hush-hush tones. No one said that the Dayanand School was proud of the feats of her student. We, too, only talked rather gossiped about it.

But there were some undercurrents of changes taking place at all levels. The girl brought about a strange transformation in the aspirations and dreams of the girls of Lower Bazaar as Miss S, too, happened to live down a few stairs from the Post-office in the Lower Bazaar. We all started having a second thought about our potential in these areas which we thought were the prerogative of the girls from the Mall area. Ah… she was such a game changer for me too, would write another post about that.

But I started paying a little attention towards my physical attributes but that was not possible as there were only two mirrors in our home. One which was hung on a wall where you could see full body image but only if you knew how to mould and bend your body at perfect angles to fit the mirror and the other was in the shaving kit of my father which my Amma alone could get hold of when she opened her magic tin box of “Tikka Bindu” for her daily makeup!!! But her “Tikka Bindu” magic box had lost its charm for me and my “vain” self  was dreaming of a red Vanity-box!! But carrying forward my Amma’s self mutterings, I, too, have a “Tikka Bindu” box, using my Amma’s jewellery box…my very own Vanity- box!!!!

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