I belong to that age when Swaroop Sampat was considered the epitome of beauty and Yeh jo hai zindagi (Yeh zo hai jindagi to South Indians) the height of fun. Swaroop’s tees and topknot were very popular but we children were more interested in the Shingar Kumkum that Swaroop (Miss India, 1979) endorsed.
While the boys tussled for Shingar pack with Swaroop’s pretty face on it, we girls sparred for the kumkum inside. Elders of the house often wondered how and why the liquid kumkum should disappear so fast especially when we girls preferred to wear bindis the size of “ant’s droppings” only. What adults failed to note is that, in lieu of the banned lipsticks and eye-shades, we cousins resorted to smearing the pungent red chaandu on our eyelids and lips and keeping our eyes closed and mouths open to flies and mosquitoes until the red dried, giving us wild demonic looks. We nevertheless felt gorgeous and even called ourselves, “Roop, Swaroop and Swarooop (with three O’s)”.
Yet the name Swaroop and its variations proved hazardous as the lips had to touch to say the deadly “pa” endangering the precious red on our lips. So we switched our names to Roofa, Swaroofa and such, so that our ‘lifticks’ did not smudge or smear. Despite all the precautious ‘fronunciations’ we still emerged like Krishnas with red butter on face.
While the chaandu flowed between lips, lids and generously into stomach too, elders worried about the vanishing fluid as much as our contempt for the bindi. For, not wanting to wear decent-sized bindis amounted to licentiousness in a Tambrahm household.
“I am going to smear dung on those blank foreheads,” grandmom used to shout. The threat was real for we had four cows in the backyard which shat aplenty. If, for uncles, lack of bindi was a security issue — “Without bindis, black magicians will access your aagya chakra and hypnotise you girls away”, for aunts it meant character flaw — “Hindu girls not wanting to keep bindi indicates interest in boys of other religion, blah blah.”
When we did wear a bindi, we could not place that precious dot in between the eyebrows like actresses Sumalatha, Sridevi or Sripriya but had to keep it a little higher like Anjali Devi, Saroja Devi or K R Vijaya (all ancient relics and our aunts’ style icons). Adding to our ire, the oldies got super-inspired by the long column of colourful bindis made famous by singer M S Subbulakshmi. What if we couldn’t sing like her, we could damn well copy her dots and dashes that could have well been a song notation.
If a good girl was one who wore her bindi without fuss, a very good girl was someone who sandwiched her red bindi with white vibhuti on top and yellow sandal on the bottom. It did not matter that a very good girl’s forehead would resemble a tri-coloured shelf or Shiva’s third eye or Doordarshan’s logo.
Now in retrospect I feel instead of going up in war about the bindis, we girls with a little creativity could have written a Morse code saying “I love you” or something with those dots and dashes and made two kills with one stone — pleased the elders at home with a crowded forehead and also made our amorous moves silently. Dit-da-di-dit-dot-dash-dot.--..--.
Recently I was pleasantly surprised by my daughter’s interest in bindis (too young for the Morse code idea though). So I generously bought an 11x1 Shingar, which is 11 tiny vials containing 11 different coloured kumkums. And guess the model on the packet? Swaroop Sampat!