At the Beauty Parlor in Udaipur, India
On my first visit to Udaipur, in 2008, I took a photo of a wall. Not just any wall, but one advertising the specialties of a beauty parlor. I stared, silently amused by the words written in shades of purple and green, while I tried to decipher what exactly were “Puming, Straitling, and Fecials”. I didn’t venture inside. Now, eight years later, the paint on that wall has faded to a barely visible script. There is a saying that in India, anything is possible, so I thought that even at age 65, I could be transformed into someone worthy of being an extra in a Bond movie. You see, the lake city of Udaipur was the setting of the 1981 James Bond movie Octopussy.
As everywhere in India, a gathering of cows blocked the entrance, which I deftly maneuvered around. Once inside, the owner’s greeting was warm and friendly and just a bit aggressive, in the manner typical of someone hoping to make a sale. An Indian woman was having her eyebrows threaded without squirming or screaming, which seemed to me like a good sign.
Shalina, the proprietress, approached me purposefully. “You want facial, manicure, pedicure, threading, massage?” I decided on an herbal facial. Shalina–with her youthful, dusky skin glowing with good health–looked at my pallor with pity. “Skin tightening facial, good for wrinkles, face tight, tight!”
“How much extra?” I asked, meekly, already feeling cornered and overwhelmed.
“Only 200 rupees (about $3) for special VNLC cream. You know in your country this cream?” No, I didn’t, but what the heck; at that price it was worth a try.
There is a saying that in India, anything is possible, so I thought that even at age 65, I could be transformed into someone worthy of being an extra in a Bond movie.
Shalina told me that she is 30 years old and divorced, something almost unheard of in India. When I ask if her husband was a bad man, she replied: “No, but mother-in-law a dirty witch!”
In Indian culture, the wife commonly lives with her husband’s family, and usually has to bow to her mother-in-law’s whims. Shalina told me that it took seven years to get the divorce and to have her dowry money returned. She and her sister opened the salon eight years ago, just two months before I first saw the sign. She proudly showed me photos of the “inauguration”, in which the priest made offerings to the deities, to ensure that the shop would be prosperous. From the number of customers enjoying her services when I visited, she seemed to have selected the right gods (of which there are six million to choose from in India).
Shalina’s sister is 26, and works alongside her. They are both very proud of their independent lifestyle. Khushbu has a fiancé (arranged by her family), and is looking forward to marriage. Shalina told me that she is also a part-time teacher, and the children offer her all the love and affection she needs. No more marriage for her.
I probably paid too much, but I’m a sucker for women taking the initiative and making something of their lives, as these sisters obviously were. And my skin did look and feel great.
Shalina looks like a model and is a good advertisement for the effectiveness of her treatments. She proudly told me how foreigners like to take her photo, and insisted that I take several head shots of her and her sister. If Octopussy had cast beautiful Indian women, they would have been perfect for the part.
The facial itself consisted of a vigorous massage with several different creams (whether or not she used the “expensive” VNLC cream or the cheap stuff, I have no idea). Her hands were strong and as she massaged my temples she asked: “You like music?” My positive response was met with a blast of Bollywood music from two loudspeakers aimed directly into my ears. Her hands slid from my face when I jumped. All around me, women were coming and going, chatting and laughing, in the characteristic way of Indian women when they are not around their men.
As I lay on the table with my legs bent in an uncomfortable position, with creams oozing down my face, I reminded myself to relax. This is supposed to be a rejuvenating experience.
As a parting gift, Shalina gave me a “special face pack”. I wrote down for her the correct way to spell the services she offered: “Perms, Hair Straightening and Facials.” I probably paid too much (Rs 750/$12), but I’m a sucker for women taking the initiative and making something of their lives, as these sisters obviously were. And my skin did look and feel great. Maybe now I can try out to be an extra in the next Bond movie. The name is Huth; Deborah Huth.
Beauty Parlor in Udaipur, India