Dot and the forehead

The bedroom door creaks,
as her pottu runs cold,
reaching speeds of estimated tax returns;
she shakes her fists at the world,
screaming “turn me into a porcelain doll
before my private parts start to burn”.

A pottu or a bindi is a little coloured dot that Indian women wear on their foreheads. It is more of an Indian tradition than it is a part of Hindu mythology. Given how non-secular my country is, I can’t really tell the difference.

I have heard from many elders how a pottu can help a woman sharpen her focus while thwarting evil forces. It never quite seemed that way to me. It only reminded me how society expects women to reconsider their priorities once they are married. She has to wear a pottu to symbolize that she belongs to someone else. A sign that she probably deals with menstruation as quietly as possible. That she might have been forced into ceremonial copulation. Motherhood. Confused into thinking that she has to lose weight.

Coppersmith Barbet, Vedanthangal

It’s just my perspective though, as I am sure many wear it with pride and without coercion or cultural conditioning.

One time I asked an unmarried colleague why she sometimes wore it . She said that she only would whenever it matched her ear-rings. That made a lot of sense. Pottus can be aesthetically-pleasing accessories. They can highlight the gentle slope of the bridge of a woman’s nose. The adorable misappropriation of her eyebrows. A darling of a pimple on her cheek. But I wonder if they make women feel empowered. Capable of telekinesis. Or at least strong enough to deal with having their bodies tattooed by patriarchal societies.

Coppersmith_barbetThe idea of an empowered woman is subject to such loathsome debate in India. Our pop culture has so often reflected so poorly on what constitutes a strong independent woman. Blaft, a publishing house in Chennai, helps creatively repair this image. Read about some of the wonderful work they do here.

Also, go to Indiegogo if you would like to help fund their latest collection of Tamil pulp fiction stories.

The featured bird is a Coppersmith Barbet. I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I spotted a couple. I wanted to gently pull them by the tufts of their feathers and ask them just how pretty they intended to look. It is unnerving how loud they are given their sizes and considering they don’t always open their beaks while calling out to their mates. These photographs were taken in Chennai and Vedanthangal.

23 thoughts on “Dot and the forehead

Add yours

  1. Interesting blog you have here! While I’m certainly no bird-afficionado, I like the part about the pottu. As someone who wears it only when I feel like it is aesthetically appealing to me, I hate the drivel doled out by the elders. To be fair, I’m not hating on tradition, just some of the justification, as you rightly mentioned as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm. That’s a interesting view of it. Myself I’ve only worn pottus for marriages, etc., though living in a liberal Indian community overseas I’m definitely biased. My grandmother wears them, and I think they’re just another symbol of the emphasis Indian culture put on marriage, by prioritizing it and ‘rewarding’ it a bit with the pottu – whether or not that needs to change is another matter altogether. (Also, coppersmith barbets are beautiful – though, and this is a bird on my bucket list, I hesitate to compare them with red-crowned barbets.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, exactly like you said it. Seems like too much symbolism to avoid!

      Just googled red-crowned barbets, gosh such princesses. The coppersmiths are common in Chennai too, especially near the beach sides.

      Liked by 1 person

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