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After six or seven days in India, I was beginning to grow accustomed to this Indian village. It no longer phased me to be woken every morning at 5am, as random speakers in the village would blare out the morning service from a nearby temple. I was also getting used to bathing myself with a bucket, since my uncle’s place didn’t have any kind of shower (not that I was complaining…I was happy enough to have a functioning toilet).
In terms of digestion I was riding high, with not a single day of sickness in the books so far. My sister hadn’t been so lucky, as she’d recently finished puking an entire stack of pancakes on the ground outside the house (my parents always smuggled pancake batter from Canada, for it was a rare commodity and our cousins loved it).
Today there had actually been a reason for the 5am wake-up call. We were headed to Amritsar, to visit the famed Golden Temple. I didn’t know much about this structure, at least not beyond the mini-model that existed in our living room at home. I did however know that it was THE historic temple of Sikh temples, with a dazzling golden look to boot.
I chose a rather plain and standard Indian suit for the excursion (bluish with muted pink), as no one attempts to look flashy on a pilgrimage. Except for the occasional pilgriming slut.
Our cousins didn’t come this time, so it was only the eleven original travellers (my family and extended family), packed in our vans for a three-hour journey. No stops…
…At 10am the sunshine glimmered on a boxed-in lake of sorts. It was a stunning sight, but nothing compared to the epic Golden Temple that sat on the middle of the lake, practically floating or so it seemed. I pressed my face to the window for a better view, but we turned in the other direction and that was that.
We were now in a standstill of traffic, as tourists and locals were inching their way to the temple. We parked our vans a long way off, deciding to walk the rest of the way.
Once we were only minutes away from the outer entrance, things got a little crazy. It was a sea of merchants, running around with armfuls of wares. From Golden Temple replicas to salty snacks to religious symbiology, they had it all for a price you couldn’t miss. By the time we’d made it past we were minus a fair amount of rupees (but plus some trinkets to hang on the rearview mirror).
At the outer entrance we took off our shoes as is custom, and headed to the sub-temple. Here we payed our respects, listened to some readings and at last made our way down the marble steps for a meal. To me this was the most important part, ’cause even though I’m all about worshipping (oh wait, no I’m not), a girl’s gotta eat!
Twenty minutes later, our stainless steel cups and compartmentalized plates were empty (and our legs were a little sore from sitting cross-legged on the ground). All of this meant that the time had arrived to step inside the Golden Temple. No wait, first it seemed that the men had disappeared down a separate marble staircase. The women led us down a similar staircase in the other direction. As I adjusted my eyes to the absence of sun, I became aware of a startling sight: women in their underwear (right up to the granny age) and some of them even naked, bathing themselves in a shallow pool of water.
This was the very same water from the lake surrounding the Golden Temple. Holy water I was told. My mother told my sister and I where to take off our clothes (so we could be a part of the holy action too). But of course, that was not going to happen. We refused. My mother and aunt were extremely displeased, and in the end they could only convince us to roll up our Indian suits to our knees, for the purpose of wading around for a bit.
I felt no guilt at shunning this religious custom, nor do I feel that now. Today I’m sure I’d disrobe with little issue (maybe), but as a self-conscious teen completely repulsed by my own naked body? Not on this trip!
Once my posse of women had dried their flesh and clothed themselves again, we were back in the sunlight waiting in line with hundreds and maybe more. The sun beat down on our heads as our queue inched forward..
…Three hours later we were sitting inside the opulent Golden Temple. Id’ love to describe the glorious feeling of being inside the temple at age fourteen, but to be honest I can’t exactly recall it. It’s more the awkward bathing with ladies that I cannot seem to forget. That’s certainly not the type of “memory ranking” one strives for, but I was only fourteen afterall…what else could I expect from my self-involved memory?
Nevertheless I’ll give the Golden Temple the “two thumbs up”, so please check it out if you’re ever in the neighbourhood (and don’t worry, I observed it properly in 2006).
[This post is another in the series of my first family trip to India in '95. Here is the next installment]
Getting a hair-cut hasn’t always been easy.
Not because of money or a general dis-trust for stylists, but because of religious requirements.
This was a common issue for me, in an on-again/off-again way (my mother had a habit of being righteous on a random schedule). An issue because, in the Sikh religion, people don’t cut their hair (neither boys nor girls). No one could say that my family was all “that devout” (since my brothers had never worn a turban or had long hair, and since my dad always kept a short-haired perm (ya, that’s right)), but still it was a problem for me.
It seemed to happen at the crappiest times, like at age fourteen when all those girls had the “Rachel-Do”. I wanted layers too, and since my mom was the one who performed all my cuts ’till the age of seventeen (true story), I needed to have her approval.
Her approval I did not get, since Indian girls should wear their hair real long, in a nerdy braid if possible.
Nerdy braids? I don’t think so…and that’s when I came up with the operation “loop hole”:
-An at-home perm
It might not have been the “Rachel Do”, but the curls would make my hair at least three inches shorter.
When I proposed the plan to mother, I spun it around like so: “But I want to look just like YOU mom!” (my mother who’d been getting perms for the last ten years)
It worked like a charm, and before I knew it I was seated in the basement, five feet away from the furnace, ready for my at-home perm…
…As the rollers were fastened one-by-one, I envisioned the look I wanted. And that’s when Michael Jackson started dancing in my head. I was well aware of Michael Jackson’s flurry of bad press, but who could deny the popularity of “Black or White” ? And the way those shiny curls bounced around in the video? That was the look I wanted…
…The hours passed, and at last it was time to reveal the curly tresses.
And there they were: glistening bouncy curls!
Before I could really admire the precious curls, my mom sunk my head in the sink, and vigourously started rinsing.
This was odd, since the box had clearly stated not to wash it for a full three days…you were only allowed to rinse it once with the rollers in!
I explained the rules as the evil H2O drenched my hair. My mother responded with her brand new made-up rule: my long thick hair had soaked up way too much of the perming juice. I was far too toxic for the general environment.
…So my hair dried up, and surprise, suprise, the Michael Jackon look was gone. Instead all my hair was frizzy and tangled, with intermittent crooked waves. I considered washing the entire thing out, but my mother insisted that the curls would find their shape.
So I went off to school for three whole days with ghastly hair (but with an added layer of grease each successive day). It was also the very first time that a boy ever gave me a nickname. It was not an affectionate one, but it was actually, officially, this:
-The Wicked Witch of Southwestern Ontario
It sounds a little strange, but if you’d seen my tangled mane in conjunction with my pointed nose, you might’ve understood.
From then on I only wore my hair in ponytails (which of course was a last resort, since my left ear sticks out badly in a monkey kind of way).
As for the hair it slowly grew, with the lower half remaining frizzy and tangled. It was only when it got to the point of items getting lost in the damaged locks (i.e. combs, sunglasses, a shoe), that my mom at last caved and cut it off.
After that I was off “home perms” for good, and by the time I turned eighteen, I got myself a job, which meant my very own “paid for” hair-cuts. It marked the end of the wretched “furnace salon”…
…My only curse these days is the common one; I want long hair soon after I cut it off (like now), and I want short hair when I start to get annoyed by the longer stuff.
I suppose I could always keep the shorter hair, and attach extensions when they’re needed, but extensions give me the heebie-jeebies. I mean I’ve never actually tried them myself, but I get the chilly feeling that once you start with hair extensions, you’re only one step away from acrylic nails…then body glitter…then the stripper pole…
I have never been religious, but I’ve managed to stay somewhat “spiritual” for most of my life.
There was a stretch of time though, when I didn’t believe in God or spirituality or aliens or anything.
This era spanned for several years, and utterly crushed my faith…
…I was getting older, become taller and growing awkward hair.
But my boobs, they refused to come along for the ride.
I know what you’re thinking: “Boo-hoo! Everyone goes through things like that! Suck it up Sally!”
Well as it happened, everyone else wasn’t going through it at all; the other girls were dealing with the opposite effect, meaning that the net-effect was smothering (quite literally)…
…It was the end of Summer ’93, and the beginning of Junior High. I was coming off a Summer filled with bicycle rides and baseball with the neighbourhood kids. This would’ve been fine if I’d been aiming for a shot at boyhood, but that wasn’t the case at all.
So how come I didn’t do what the other girls were doing?
How come I didn’t spent a Summer getting jacked up on estrogen pills?
‘Cause that’s what all the girls had done, in case you didn’t know.
Do you think I’m lying? Well…how else would you explain their up-and-coming chest mounds?
Oh yeah, God…God and his preferential treatment.
These children of God were now getting used to their ”chest extensions”, with an utter look of whimsy on their glowing faces. As they began to embrace their newfound bodies (and I mean literally, like they would hug their chests in class), I began to respond by looking down my shirt. Then I would look to the heavens, repeating a favourite phrase:
“What the frick God!??!?!”
But there was no explanation. My mother herself wasn’t lacking, with her personal busty look (a look that had always been ample, even before having kids).
I wondered if God had gotten it backwards for me. Like here I was with a very sculpted set of “washboard boobs”. A very desirable look for the stomach, but not what you’d want in a female chest. So what if things had gotten switched? Was I only days away from growing a couple of ”ab sacs”?
I was worried.
As the months went on my stomach retained its flatness (phew), but so did the chest.
In the meantime these girls I knew were attracting wide-eyed man-boys, so excited by the prospect of touching a “non mom” boob.
As for me I’ll be honest: I considered the idea of stuffing. But for that I would’ve needed a bra, and my mom equated bras to being a common slut (it’d be years before I’d shake her out of that belief).
So I went about my days in loosely fitted solid-coloured t-shirts. I had lots of these shirts, since my mom had developed a sewing fetish, to the point where half my clothes had the “Made By Mommy” label. It was a lucky time for those big-ass shirts, since they happened to be all the rage (but only when nicely tucked into slim fit jeans).
So it was fine for a while, but as high school began, spandex tops and ”baby-tees” were taking over. I was far too physically deficient to get involved…a deficiency that wasn’t my fault, and one that lead to a hate for all religions.
It was hard to share this hate with my parents, as they were floating on a high from the “Hindu Miracle of Milk”. It was an unforgettable night, one in which my parents (who aren’t even Hindu, by the way), had carried a single aim: to feed a Ganesha statue a spoonful of milk. So they dragged us to a tiny Hindu temple in the downtown area, on a cold rainy night in Autumn ’95. I can still remember waiting in the longest line, and coming face-to-face with the Lord Ganesha himself. He sat there beaming, waiting for another disciple to feed him some milk. I was handed the milk-filled spoon, and urged to feed it fast to the god, so the line could keep on moving. I fed him his milk alright, but I didn’t feel the same sense of wonder that showered all the others. I simply glared at his stone-made thirsty face…
…These days I don’t hate God anymore. I believe in something again, though I don’t really know what it is. As for my chest it is no longer actually “washboard”, and I’ve learned to work with these (very) modest slopes. I owe it all to the bras with magical properties, bras that can literally spin your straw into busty gold. In the back of my mind though, there is always the fear of getting too over-zealous with futuristic bras…like how “enhanced” do I really want to look?
I haven’t decided yet, so I continue to be as deceptive as I please, waiting for the moment when the futuristic beau screams out ”farce!”…