As an adolescent, I used to watch the contraption that Ma used at home to make my Kajal. She held the contraption called the kajolota over a Diya that burnt to its embers. One uses organic ghee to light it and hold the kajolota lovingly over the dark smoke to make my kohl or Kajal that I used with a brass stick to apply in my eyes. Ma moistened the smoke with the ghee. It was an immediate transformation to my bland underdressed face.
I never saw her use that ever. Ma was of darker complexion and said the Kohl wouldn’t look nice and that moment in time I didn’t understand that she had been conditioned to believe fairer skin was better at carrying any beauty product. For her, even a lipstick was a no-no.
I was young without too much disruption in my accepted ways and attitude towards beauty and women.
I took it in without questioning what being dark had done to her. In hindsight, I realize she was frightened to question the beauty diktats that society coined. I used to watch her apply Fair&Lovely to no avail.
I asked her as an adolescent if I could use. She always lovingly looked into my eyes and said you are not like me. Thank god!
Over time I found out different kind of kohl pencils, that wasn’t cumbersome to make anymore. Also found a Pakistani surma that I used too. Today the array of colored kohl is so many. You have the dark turquoise and the light blue and the browns, reds, purples etc.
I still love my kohl-rimmed eyes. On that day when I want to cry out loud but have that muffled cry, tearing and searing into my being over the cruelty that’s meted out to women in the name of tradition.
I just recall those wet roads of my childhood Shillong, where the accessory you carry is an umbrella and your kohl-rimmed wonder eyes of adolescence. Because the rains and the women of Shillong are considered the most unpredictable part of that matrilineal society.