The day before my wedding, I had my hands tattooed with henna by an amazing girl who share the same name as I. She had only one arm but her work was, without a doubt, flawless. My hands bore the same beautifully elaborate design as any other bride. It’s quite common to find the bride and groom wearing henna on their hands and feet at a Malay wedding. The practice is derived from the mehndi ceremony, also customary in Indian culture, where the couple is decorated with intricate patterns before they wed.
But weddings are not the only reason to get henna tattoo. Since it’s painless, non-permanent and most notably beautiful, anybody can wear it anytime just like nail polish. So last weekend, I made my way to Little India to get some henna art action for a mere RM 5 per hand. Soona, the artist with a humble stall by the street, had a portfolio of the most ornate designs you could think of. She was a warm soul too. The only thing I had to do was to choose the design and decide on the red or black-colored henna paste. My sis-in-law used to tell me that black looks more sophisticated and lasts longer but I settled for the red one since it’s cheaper. Soona painted my hand as if she was icing a cake, and she did so in a quick precision. She was done in less than a minute, or at least it felt like so.
While waiting for the henna paste to dry off, N and I took the time strolling down the main street of Little India’s Brickfields. The neighborhood stood out in the corner of KL with its signature row of purple-colored pre-war shophouses and spiral lampposts that line the street. You could never miss the place as you’re driving towards the city. How could anybody? It’s purple throughout! And here’s a little secret: it was my first time there, officially speaking. Despite being born and having worked in the valley for several years, I’d never walked around the area except to have tosai for breakfast once.
To get the essence of the place, one really needs to spend a few hours venturing into its hidden temples, old churches and vegetarian eateries. Unfortunately, we didn’t have such luxury. The afternoon hours were waning as the sky darkened so we stayed on Jalan Tun Sambathan instead, eyeing the goods that the shops had to offer. You could easily find gorgeous Indian sarees, ombre bangles and other traditional garbs here. While browsing, I couldn’t help but to notice the beats from some Hindi hits echoing down the street. There was a record store, an Indian-version of High Fidelity to be precise, that actually sold cassettes from the 80s and 90s. We went in and found old copies of Doreamon soundtracks. Amazing!
Once done with perusing the time-worn store, we headed to a nearby curry house to gorge on banana leaf rice. I had two epiphanies while eating— one) it’s been ages since I had curry or eaten off banana leaves and two) I love Indian curry more than Malay, Thai or Japanese ones. In my (tongue’s) opinion, curry just tastes better with actual cow’s milk than coconut milk and it shouldn’t be sweet or sour.
After the meal, we checked out the flower market next door. It’s the perfect place to get cheap flowers but the choices were limited to daisies, jasmine and lilies. Taking a whiff was heavenly— the market smelt of rose water and jasmine in every corner.
Strings of flower garlands decorated the stalls and more flowers were grouped in giant pails of water. The Indians have a fantastic way of braiding jasmine into their hair. They also use the garlands to hang in their doorways and the remaining flowers are meant for prayers. I was particularly drawn to the blue-colored daisies. The florists taught me a simple trick that works best on white daisies. Place a few drops of food coloring into the water and let the stems soak up. The petals will change color in no time. Just brilliant.