I close my eyes and lower my head as she lightly taps the tip of her reddened ring finger in between my eyebrows. It feels cold – but only for a second – and quickly adjusts to my body heat. I open my eyes, smile and walk away with the sensation of her fingertip lightly pulsing on my forehead.
When I was a child, I used to rub it off with my sleeve in case anyone would ask why I wore a “Paki dot.” I felt ashamed. I wanted to hide the red dot and everything that it tied me to. Little Indian women in chiffon saris who had long hair down to their toes, who smelt of cooking and didn’t speak good English. Faceless Indian women who were kept under the thumb by their husbands and families.
Tilak. Kunkuma. Bindi. In different regions it goes by many names and comes in different sizes, pastes and colours. It’s amazing how something as small as a bindi has survived centuries and holds feminine power, energy and intellect but also enhances South Asian beauty.
Despite its deeply beautiful and spiritual meaning that roots us to a vibrant heritage, we choose to shun it and silence that part of us. We smudge it with our sleeves, ask for a teeny tiny bindi that no one will notice because we want to show that we’ve integrated and have settled in. After all: we’re not one of those God-awful brown people who smell of curry and probably came here for a passport!
There are many bloggers and individuals (of all ethnic backgrounds) who naively say: “Oh it’s not culture appropriation! I’m appreciating it!” – I hate to burst your bubble but you’re not. It’s an unequal exchange where a dominant Western culture presses itself onto cultures and taking away symbols which are deemed precious to that minority culture.
It’s an imbalance of power that still remains between cultures that have been colonised and the ex-colonisers.
While many think that Selena Gomez and wide-eyed festival goers who wear bindis is a sign of South Asian culture being “mainstreamed” and “accepted” in Western culture please consider this. Do they even know what a bindi means? Have you ever stopped think why they can wear it without any issues but Indian women can’t? It’s not a mainstream fashion accessory to wear on your forehead and say: “Oh my God Becky! We’re so exotic and trendy!”
To those who think that I’m overreacting: non-Hindu women and popstars who choose to wear the bindi do so because they are universally accepted and idolised. They don’t get weird stares in the street or given side long dirty looks or get asked: “Are you wearing that dot because it’s a special festival?” How many Indian women – including myself – feel confident enough to go out into the City or to parties wearing a bindi or their traditional dress? Is it something that we would even dream of doing? Probably not which is a shame because we have so much to be proud of.
It’s also quite shameful at how many South Asian women don’t know the symbolism of a bindi but buy multi-pack diamonté bindis from Green Street for weddings. So how we can get angry and feel offended when we see pop stars and non-Hindu women wearing a bindi when we ourselves don’t know what the bindi means? Have we really moved so far away from our heritage that we ourselves have forgotten why we say/do/believe certain things?
So whilst I think that South Asians have bigger fish to fry (femicide, acid attacks, forced marriage, honour killings and educating our girls) I will not sit back and allow a piece of my heritage, which I hold close to my heart, be mainstreamed by the majority who won’t accept the minority groups who created it. I will stand my ground and let my voice be heard before that gets turned into a fashion accessory.