The Green Leaf that turns Orangish Red

Update as of  14 December 2009

Even in difficult times, occasions that demand festivities are thankfully, still celebrated. Weddings are made up of quite intensive celebrations; with a very important start to it – the henna session. This is a must in all weddings, cutting across religions and regions. The methods of putting together the paste vary from state to state and even between the urban and rural areas. The beginning to this is always the henna leaf – which is a perennial shrub that grows as hedges across the entire country – including the drier areas of Rajasthan and Haryana. These leaves are picked and dried in shade so that they retain their olive green colour. They are then powdered on stone grinders and carefully sieved before being packed for sale. The specialist henna applicator selects the “best” packet and on the day of the “henna” session soaks it in a brown concoction that may include various tanners like tea, tamarind pulp and caramelized sugar syrup. The green paste takes on a brownish hue and adorns the bride-to-be’s palms. The designs get intricate in Northern and western India while the southern and eastern counterparts stick to geometric patterns, typically dominated by the circle. And since the intricacies are given a pass in the south, most the applicators prefer to use the fresh leaves. So they collect it in a basket and crush it on the grinding stone till it can be scooped into a ball. Then little balls are pinched out of it and applied on the palm in a chosen “design” (which is usually a large circle surrounded by smaller dots). And to cap it, little henna caps are made and stuffed onto each finger to completely cover the nails; this will add to nail colour as well. And when the henna dries (which usually takes about half a day – or in these circumstances, overnight), they are carefully scratched off the palm and then the palm is rubbed with some warm oil to “deepen” the colour and the bride is ready for the wedding with the reddish orange hennaed palms and feet!

This is wedding season in India and D Street members decided to join in the “henna” sessions as they opened in the green. They remained green all day, until they heard of some Gulf state helping out its brotherly neighbour. They were overjoyed by the news, and scratched off the green designs on the palms – revealing the reddish orange patterns. The SENSEX took cues from the D Boyz behaviour and started the day green till about 2 pm when the Gulf news poured in and it then went into the red. Of course, the D Boyz looked for good news from elsewhere, and saw a surging European market, but forgot that the SENSEX was attuned to the hennaed palms; so even though the close was flat – it was negative 21 points, ending the SENSEX ride at 17097.

I used to know this middle aged Rajasthani lady, who used to make intricate henna designs using her fingers only – no henna cones, or sticks – just her index finger and thumb – her trick was to use the juice of a few ladyfingers / okra, which would give the henna paste some viscosity and allow for “threads” of henna to appear as one pulled apart the index finger from the thumb after dunking them into a bowl of the henna paste. And she was really deft – but such arts are dying out. If you have an interesting henna story, do share it.



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