the art of henna…

 as a little girl my love for henna awakened me and all of my senses in a way that has never left me

 even now the smell takes me back to india on the floor at my nanaji’s (grandfather’s) flat surrounded by the women and other children of the house as they prepared the food, readied the house and bride for the wedding to come with spirited conversation, singing, and eating that only comes when women gather to participate in the celebration and ritual of henna as they embrace and let go of one of their own

 it is this feeling, i realize, that i look most forward to whenever i go back to india the feeling of being a part of something bigger than me a family bigger than i ever imagined, ancient rituals and art passed on for generations and the earth itself

 for the art of henna starts with the henna plant considered auspicious the leaves of the plant are ground into a fine powder, which is mixed with water, made into a paste, and then applied with an artistry and beauty that still mesmerizes me

 as i boarded the train from the gateway of india to santa cruzfor my first class with zarna, who was to be my teacher for the next two weeks i work hard to quiet my nerves as my family’s concerns about me commuting alone invade my head and the “what if’s” start

 “what if” i am not good enough “what if” the art form i so admire eluded me “what if”

 but as the train pulled out of the station, and the streets, smells, and people of mumbai passed me by i felt exhilarated i did it i was here in mumbai on my own and about to completely immerse myself in my art and in so doing, my roots

 zarna lives in the same ‘suburb’ as my family in a building similar to theirs concrete, broken down and dirty on the outside but painted with color by the laundry hung out to drywith narrow, dark stairwells and windows that let in very little light, protecting residents and visitors from the often oppressive heat of india

 as i climbed the stairs i realize that for the next two weeks i will become a part of her daily routinein the home she has grown up in

 she invited me in her mother offered me chai we sat cross-legged on the couch in their living room and we began

 with a hand-made henna cone and a board to practice on i shyly put cone to board and draw a straight line as she instructed

 almost immediately she stopped me it was all wrong the way i was holding the cone the thickness of the henna the line itself

 so i spent the whole first day drawing mostly lines letting go of my pride and everything i thought i knew about the practice of henna to start over

 we spent the next two weeks progressing from lines, to circles, to shapes and shading she imparted her skills and knowledge about the different styles of henna—indian, arabic, and rose all the while sharing personal stories her joys—she was to be married her grief—for the loss of her brother and many other details of her life

 we had conversations leaning over the balcony as she collected mail from a bucket attached to a make-shift pulley

 we spent time in the kitchenmixing the paste adding eucalyptus and clove oil and making the cone

 she shared her sketchbooks her mother’s hand-made jewelry her dreams

 it is this intimacy that i now realize made this experience even more profound

 it was a gift to practice and explore this art that i have loved since i was a little girl to better understand and appreciate its nuances, complexities and hidden secrets

 and to feel so connected to the women who came before me and the ones now who continue to honor it perfect it make it their own pass it on

 and now as i reflect on my time in mumbai in zarna’s home, learning and practicing i am profoundly grateful for the art of henna

 it is my east meets west a visual representation of my life story one that reminds me that i am not alone that we are all connected to the earth, our past, our ancestors and each other… Read the rest “the art of henna…”