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FRESH OFF THE PLANE: The mark of a newcomer

Anyone watching Indian television soaps these days would see women sporting long bright red lines of sindoor (vermillion powder) in the parting of their hair. Most of them continue on to the forehead.

Seeing this proud declaration of their marital status, I can’t help but wonder what mainstream Canadians would make of it if I decided to walk down the street with such a mark emblazoned on my forehead.

I am reminded of the time we came to Canada a quarter of a century ago, when I used to wear the sindoor in the parting of my hair, too. Not like the women in these soaps today, but still, pretty clearly visible. I had done so since my marriage.

Obviously, in India, everyone is familiar with the practice but even in our years in the Middle East, no one questioned me about it. But here in Canada, I had several people in a lineup at the grocery or as we waited for a bus stare at the red mark. They were polite and looked away immediately when I caught their eye, some smiled sheepishly.

It was only when another parent I had become friends with at our children’s kindergarten asked me about it that I caught on that my sindoor was causing all that curiosity.

“What’s that on your head, Rajani?” asked Antonia. “Did you hurt yourself?”

I touched the spot she was pointing to and realized she was asking about the sindoor.

 I explained its significance and she was very interested to learn about all the other symbols of marriage that Indian women wear. The mangalsutra, the toe rings, the marriage bangles in some cultures, etc.

“Much like our wedding rings, but more fun!” she said. “But do the guys have to wear these too? Men here wear wedding rings.”

I had to tell her that only the women did so in our culture. I continue to wear the sindoor, but as a discreet dot.                 

– Rajani Pandey


What’s your story? Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada. Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at canadaboundimmigrant@rogers.com.

Posted: Sep 30, 2018

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