Sense and Sensibility in Simla of the Sixties….Kaajal….homemade ….pure and ingenuous

Sense and Sensibility in Simla of the Sixties….Kaajal….homemade ….pure and ingenuous

Amma would tilt a Kansa thali on the Diya that lit our home on the Diwali night!!! The light of Diya would simmer through the reflection of reddish golden surface of the thali and fill our home with a soft hues of golden light through our the long Amavasya night of Diwali.

In the morning Amma would very cautiously scrap the carbon soot deposited on the golden surface of the thaali and put that in a small dibbi. She would melt a few drops of ghee in a spoon and add just a drop of melted ghee to the carbon powder. With the backside of a matchstick she would mix both and the Kaajal would be ready to use. She would say while we watched over her shoulders, “You have to be careful while adding ghee drops….a little more and the Kaajal would run down your eyes….down your cheeks…!” and would add giggling, “making you  look like a Bhootni!” As Amma’s finger would be smeared with newly made Kaajal …she would apply Kaajal to our eyes, saying, “Kaajal made on Amavasya night is so auspicious. I don’t know whether it was true or Amma in her prudent and frugal ways made use of the pooja lamp to make kaajal!!!

This Kaajal dibiya would find its place in the Tikka Bindu dabba of Amma. Kaajal was an integral part of Tikka Bindu dabba of Amma. She, too, would put a little of kaajal on the tip of her middle finger, stretching the skin under her eye downwards with her other finger and glide a fine line on the inner side of her eye!!! Eyes would come to life with a touch of fine line! I would sit watching her closely and she would rub the same finger on right side of my tample and say, “Ab nazar nahi lagegi!” She would put a little of it in our eyes if we happened to run around her while she opened this dabba during her makeup session! I would be around her most of the time….

In the Simla of the Sixties….eye makeup consisted of simple Kaajal and that, too, in a much simple form. Kaajal would be applied only to the inside of an eye…a little extension outside the eye would make one seem fashionable. Just a small tail attached to the eye and you were labeled much fashionable! “Poonchh” it was called…though some daredevil girls would apply one or three dots to the “poonch” of the Kaajal!

Bhenjji was very fair with round face and chubby cheeks…. I would sit close to her when she would open her Tikka Bindu dabba. When she would apply Kaajal in her eyes…her eyes would sparkle with a beauty which no eye makeup can match. She would find in me a great listener and would say, “When I would apply Kaajal in my eyes, I would keep my eyes downcast while talking to Bauji!” Bhenjji lived in her natal home and talked about her Bauji, the Vakeel babu. I would be surprised as what was there in applying Kaajal to your eyes. But that was how life was in the Forties when Bhenjji must have been young in a young Simla of the Forties!


It was in late Sixties that we came to know about “Eyebrow pencils” …. And how we craved for it. It revolutionized the freedom of eye makeup. One could carry it in one’s ba if she so wanted! This pencil would be used to darken the eyebrows and some girls would use it as Kaajal to be put to magnify the shape of their eyes! A few would use it on the eyelid as well….just a thin line extending to the outside! What ingenuity we would have with the humble eyebrow pencil.

The Fancy Store in the Lower Bazaar, D.R. Vohra’s show windows and even Gainda Mull Hem Raj displayed eyebrow pencils in neat rows held with an elastic bank on a thick paper!!!  Eye makeup was revolutionized by this small black humble eyebrow pencil!

Amma’s Kaajal Dibbi, perhaps,  suffered some inferiority complex by the advent of Eyebrow pencil but all the women of my humble mohalla used only Kaajal in their eyes! This Kaajal would be sufficient for whole of the year and on next Diwali….once again Kaajal would be made! Kaajal dibbi was a very essential part of Tikka Bindu dabba. Though I never noticed it at that point of time but looking back I remember that almost all women in our neighbourhood would apply Kaajal in their eyes! Akhrot ki Datun would colour their lips and a big bindi on the forehead and that’s all!!!

Eyebrow pencils were a rage with the growing up girls but true to the dictum “Old is Gold” Kaajal is still a rave with old fashioned people like me.

Treading the footsteps of my Amma, I, too, make Kaajal every Diwali and put a little thin line in my eyes in the morning when I make Kaajal. When I look at the carbon deposited on the plate and scrape it on a paper ….I travel back to the lanes of Lower Bazaar where we watched it prepared.
Every Diwali night, just like my Amma,  I would put a thaali tilted at a particular angle on the Diya and would collect carbon soot and would make Kaajal from it! Later on, after my marriage, I found another interesting way to make Kajal more effective by women iin my village. They would put the kajal on banana leaf and wrap it up. This would be put in some banana stem by ripping it a little, just a little so as not to harm the plant. after a day or two the Kajal would be brought out and stored in a dibbi. I was told that this Kajal, when applied to the eyes, would give such soothness to one’s eyes! Some innovative ideas our ancient wisdom practices had which we have lost in the quest for modernity.


Though my daughters grew up watching me make Kaajal but I am not  sure whether they would ever make it on their own. In our times….in Simla of  the Sixties the poor Kaajal had to compete with an eyebrow pencil, eyeliner and mascara but these days the humble Kaajal has to defend itself from an army of eye makeup products invading the market. But it is the purity of the Kaajal that has made it survive despite such an onslaught on its very survival by the new products.

During those days there was not much of eye infection or the one caused by Kaajal. Every newborn baby would have a steak of Kajal out in her eyes and a small black for on the eyebrow or tample!! But these days all such things are old-fashioned and obsolete. My kajal dibbi would lie neglected in one corner as no one wants to make any use of it.


Women buy Kajjal dibbis only to be put in Suhagi to be given on Karwachauth….these dibbis are never opened and I am glad that no one opens and applies them as who knows what kind of carbon these are made up of! 
I wonder that the soot collected in almost 12 hours is just 2-3 grams so how much oil lamp one would need to burn to fill one dibbi of kajal!

I am still following the traditions and practices and making a little of Kaajal every Amavasya night on Diwali as I still believe that it has the power to ward off any eveil eye cast towards you. It has proved its mettle….Amma would put a tiny dot of Kaajal on one side of my forehead even though being “Kalo” I didn’t need any!!!!

I wait for Amma to put a dot on my tample sayinh, “Ab meri Kalo ko nazar nahi lagegi!:

Long live the purity of home made Kaajal!  
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