Paromita Vohra: Come into my parlour
Last week I crossed a major milestone. Alas.
For years, every time I've gone to a beauty parlour, yaniki, what fancy folks now call salon, one of the ladies there will ask me in that characteristic beautician tone — yaniki, terrorism masked as concern — "eyebrows nahin karaate ho?" (don't you 'do' — thread and shape — your eyebrows?). Depending on my confidence levels (usually low, an unavoidable side effect of entering a beauty parlour) my 'no' might be uttered with giggling diffidence, false hauteur, or bland deflection. The response of the beauty parlour lady is always the same — "accha?", yaniki, "fine, be that way." It's on your head. Don't come crying to me afterwards. I toh have done my due diligence by asking." Sometimes, feeling a little bold, I would ingratiatingly say, "The natural shape is pretty nice na, so why get into one more jhamela." The beautician will give that sweeping, sarcastic glance at my eyebrows and say, "Haan, vaise toh it's fine", yaniki, pity and disdain, bechari thinks natural is a thing.
This has been a consistent question, of course, but as any random or regular beauty parlour visitor knows, there are others, spoken in a special voice designed to decimate your ego and turn you into a trembling supplicant, begging for beauty treatments. "Last clean up kab kiya tha?" (When's the last time you had a facial?). "Feets ko bleach nahin kara na? Bahut tanning ho gayi hai." (Don't bleach your feet? They're very tanned).
It doesn't matter if you by-hearted The Beauty Myth when you were 15, you will be engulfed by that doomful self-hate and self-doubt start, like a seventh grader in the principal's office. The crushing stereotypes of advertising are laughable wannabes compared to the beauty parlour interrogation.
These questions derive part of their potency from the fact that you are trapped in electric chair type furniture, usually with a giant plastic bib tied around you as if you still cannot be trusted to eat properly, leave alone look presentable, and several other people getting their eyebrows done, or doing others' eyebrows around, who will come to a cinematic halt and stare at you when you admit that you are not one of them.
This potency is only slightly reduced by the advent of app-based home beautician services. To the usual litany of questions they also add, "Ma'am, braazil karalo na, sab karate hain" (Ma'am, everyone gets a Brazilian wax now). You can answer coldly or pretend to be immersed in your phone, like teenagers do with parents. But dude, these are young women who magically produce footstools and pedicure tubs from a backpack. They are not so easily daunted.
With the passage of time, the questions have dwindled. I've relaxed slowly into the truth that as you approach the out-point of the conventional marriageable age zone, the beautician, like the world, starts to expect less conformity from you. The eyebrow question now comes at me only once in every five times.
It was obviously too good to be true. Last week as I submitted to the plastic bib, the beauty parlour lady looked at me with that familiar intent look. "Hair colouring nahin karate?" she asked, checking out my now no longer tentative greys. "Nahin," I said, stoically, preparing for a couple of decades of this now.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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