~By Anu. Today, I was lying on a massage table in my bra and underwear, one woman spreading hot wax on my legs and wrenching the hair off.. and a second woman simultaneously doing my arm. Their hands manipulated my ankle or knee or elbow or face into position with a natural ease, brown skin on brown skin. Often, I’d feel hot, sticky wax spreading on my leg, while a cold, wet towel rubbed my arm, raising goose bumps on both. There was an old Hindi film tape playing over the sound system… “O Saathi Re…tere bina bhi kya jeena… tere bina bhi kya jeena,” and suddenly I felt myself smiling warmly. Part of me was home again.
In India, beauty is a birthright. Most girls can afford to have their clothes tailored, their eyebrows shaped and their legs waxed. Sisters and cousin-sisters often get together to put gobs of green, slimy henna paste in each other’s hair to give their jet-black locks a reddish lustre. I watched the two women waxing me. One had full lips, an expansive smile and large, pretty eyes. The other too, had smooth, unmarked skin and a clearness to her eyes. They looked intelligent, quick, warm, and caring.
I thought about the girls in London, wearing ragged, unpressed skirts in neutral colors, their hair either shorn elf-like, or carelessly knotted behind their heads in ordinary elastic. Tank-tops, flip-flops, big belts and platforms. Smart, free, single and dressed like cargo. I do it too when I’m in London. Socializing is drinks in a dark bar or dinner in a pasta place. Ceremony is dead. Ritual passé. There’s no earthly reason to dress up, except for a wedding or funeral… or a London party—but even then, only so much. You’d be seen as fussy if you turned up in anything elegant or pretty. Dress code: jeans, boots, spangly top. No make-up unless it’s exaggerated eye-shadow. A parody of pretty. Everything is discussed, chewed over, analyzed, picked apart. I actually love the British capacity to be uber-rational and unisex… just not everyday for the rest of my life!
I would like to go back to the beauty parlor for a robust, head-slapping, almond-oil head massage. And a manicure where the little man -- de-rigeur in an all-female salon (him and the guy who styles hair)-- doesn’t shy away from scraping the dirt under your nails. They will also freely offer advice: “You have that pimple because you must be eating bad oil.” “Gooseberries are good for strengthening hair.” “Warm milk with almonds at night will help you sleep.”
But there is also a raucous underbelly to the all-pink salon. Most of the beauticians haven't seen a raise in ten years. The 'lowliest' cleaning girl who swabs, sweeps, fetches and serves six days a week still makes only 2400 Indian rupees, £30 or $45 per month. My hair drier cost more than that. The manageress is a socialite with the IQ of a doorknob, and has the telephone manners, and dress sense to match.
My own beautician is caught in a loveless marriage, had an affair that went nowhere, desperately wants to emigrate, even to the Gulf, where she knows the Arabs will mistreat her... and is trying to convince me that I should have a Caesarian if I want to save my sex life!
Meanwhile, at the swanky new Loreal salon a few doors away, metrosexual men dressed all in black style hair surrounded by white and chrome walls. The music is techno or house and they look at me funny when I say, "Please don't put that toxic gunk in my hair." But the cleaning girl there too earns the same dollar and a bit a day.
Whichever the salon, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel fabulous every time I stepped out, my hair (gunk-free) straight and shiny...my body smooth, my nails painted, my head tingling... and my wallet only $25 lighter...!