The Story Behind The Mendhi

We’ve heard of major situations that help a woman become who she is now. We read about how women work twice as hard as their male counterparts for an equal amount of pay. We read about women being mentally and physically abused. We read about women getting raped. We read about women losing their close loved ones, yet they continue to live the next day, as if their world hasn’t changed over night. These events are not a rarity; females have to deal with this on a daily basis.

My name is Gurpreet Kaur and I am 26 years old. I was born in Chandigarh, India, and currently reside in Kent, Washington. I lived in India for the first 12-13 years of my life. Being a female in the family, especially in India, I was brought up around a lot of judgemental people. Gender based stereotypes such as, “a girl needs to dress a certain way, needs to learn how to cook and clean at a young age….” only continued to grow.

I came to Kent, Washington when I was in high school. Here, I was exposed to a lot of different cultures around me, something which was not present in India. Living in a desi household, life was always about going to school and getting a degree. After obtaining that degree, you moved on to a stable 9 - 5 job that had great pay. A stable job showed that you’re ready to start a family and so it was the age to get married and have children. The moments to savor, the days to have fun, and the dreams to pursue were far and few between the hectic lifestyle of education. Happiness and life was, and would continue to be dictated by our parents because if we were ever to go out of the planned path, “What would society say?”. That is where the problem lies for our people. Rather than thinking of what we desire, our parents look to society to send us on a path that we don’t agree with. You’d be lucky if the dreams that you see for your future align with that of your parents’. Ever since I was exposed to various cultures in Washington, life had been very different. In India, people would judge you for being you or even smiling at them. In Washington,

however, strangers actually returned your smiles and didn’t judge you without knowing you. One thing that stayed the same was the mindset of “boys will be boys.” Boys can do whatever they wanted no matter what ethnicity they were, but the girls were always restricted. That brought about a change in me; I started dressing like a tomboy and acting like one just so I could also do whatever I wanted. It was still difficult because the rules placed upon you don’t change just because you decide to change yourself. A woman stayed a woman and the restrictions always remained. I didn’t have a voice for the path I could lead in my own life; instead I had to choose out of a range provided by my parents, and that too was very limited. Because of this, the depression kicked in and it kicked in real hard.

My happy place was art and painting. It was an activity that gave me peace and it was one that I never knew could become a potential career path; being an artist never crossed my mind. There was this one time I was devastated because I was unable to attend a friend’s mehndi. Who knew that because of this, I would be appraised and find my passion. That night, I took a henna cone and inked my own hand in mehndi which earned praise from my friends. They even went as far as telling me to become a mehndi artist, but the thought of my parents even knowing that I’m giving this a second thought scared me. That mentality has become so integrated into our minds that we cannot even simply consider the idea of doing something that makes us happy, without feeling like we’re letting our parents down, somehow. But then one day, I got invited to do mehndi at an event. Not knowing how to go about it behind my parents’ backs, I came out with it to them, and unsurprisingly they were livid.

Their response was overwhelming; filled with verbal abuse and harsh names. That didn’t stop me, in the end, and I ended up going, and earning around $400 - $500. The end result of my hard work elicited such delighted emotions from within me that I, myself, was surprised. This was my first event where I mixed passion and career and the outcome was amazing. I showed this to my parents, leaving them speechless. They were supportive, but their intention was for me to finish up school first. The support encouraged me to grow my passion of being a henna artist alongside getting my degree in college. It helped that I was making some money on the side to fend for myself because it was one thing I hated asking from my parents. Being fired from my job, didn’t really help the situation, so to know that I have a stable support system for the time being lessened my worries. I got practice and a reward as I did henna on different clients at various events.

One time, an aunty saw a lot of cash in my purse and went to my mom to question what I do in my life. Knowing the negative thinking, it was pretty obvious my mother assumed I was performing inappropriate tasks such as prostitution to earn this money. Nobody is accustomed to a woman being a breadwinner in a household, and so if she does happen to earn it, it most definitely cannot be because of her talents that do not regard her body. I was honestly blessed to be around open-minded people who appreciated my art, and continuously inspired me to do what I love doing. After gaining more interest in henna, I decided to officially become an artist.

If you have an interest in something, practice and make it your passion! If you have dreams, work to make them come true! No one in this world will care more about you than your own self. To get inspired, encouragement and immense support to follow through, surround yourself with positive and open-minded people that love you for your own individuality and originality. After all, they are your friends for a reason. If they don’t uplift you, then they aren’t really your ‘true’ friends. Believe in your talent and your passion more than your need to breathe. Passion comes with consistency and love. Depression will kick in, but it’s okay. You need to uplift your mind and soul and you will grow to find internal peace, I promise you. Go out there and do what makes you happy. It is okay if your parents don’t support you at first, they will eventually once they see progress. Now, it comes to the point that my parents go on to tell relatives and others that their daughter is a very talented, successful, and known mehndi artist in Seattle. It’s not at all embarrassing, honestly.

My name is Gurpreet Kaur and this is my Project Why.


© 2023 by Infamoussingh.

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