Written by: Pragya Thapa
This is my first ever Coachella party. It’s been an hour since the festival started and I’ve already had enough. Why did I think it’d be a good idea to come here alone? I wish I had someone to hang out with.
“Did you forget to bring the henna tattoo kit? That’s a bummer. You can share mine. Coachella isn’t complete without henna tattoos”
Next thing I see is a bunch of girls painting designs with henna on each other’s backs.
I head over to the group of girls.
Why did I just walk up to these girls? Should I start a conversation? Should I tell them that henna has a cultural significance? But what good will that do? They’re just having fun and experimenting with things anyway. But it just feels wrong. It feels wrong to see my culture reduced to a festival activity. One of the girls is looking at me.
“Oh, do you want to get this body art too? This is called a henna tattoo. It’s really cool because it is temporary. It is pretty much a compulsion for Coachella”, says the girl laughing.
Right. Out of all people here, I need to be told what henna is.
I went to school with my hand adorned in henna on Cultural Day in 6th grade. The entire day, I had classmates telling me my hands looked like they were covered in mud. I was told my hands looked ugly. Now that I think of it, it wasn’t that big of a deal but my 12 year old self, who thrived on validation from others, didn’t like that. I felt ashamed of my own culture. I stayed away from henna for the next few years after that. I even refused to participate in my cousin’s Mehndi ceremony. If I had applied Mehndi on my cousin’s wedding, my friends would make fun of me the next day. My cousin looked disappointed and it hurt me. But I wasn’t one to risk my social life for someone else’s feelings.
“We can’t share henna with you because we don’t have enough. You can have this bindi though. It’ll bring out the boho in you”, another girl in the group says handing out a red bindi to me.
Well, at least she knows that it’s called a bindi.
Is-Is that a nath she’s wearing? A girl in my school was bullied throughout middle school for wearing one on Cultural Day, the same day I started associating henna with mud.”?
Is-Is that a nath she’s wearing?A girl in my school was bullied throughout middle school for wearing one on Cultural Day, the same day I started associating henna with mud.
“What’s that you’re wearing?”, I ask the girl.
“Oh, this?”, she points at the nath on her nose.
“This is a nose ring. Kendall Jenner wore it to Coachella last year. Beautiful, right?”
Beautiful when it’s on your nose.
Beautiful when it’s used to “bring out the boho in you”
I feel sick.Am I overreacting?Am I trying to gatekeep henna?
And nath, or should I call it the nose ring Kendall Jenner wore to Coachella last year?
It hurts.It hurts seeing people embracing things I was made to feel ashamed about.It hurts seeing people cherry-pick parts of my culture.
I should’ve said something to the girls back there.And to the girl wearing a nath.I should’ve spoken up.But today wasn’t the right time and place to accuse people of appropriating my culture.I wonder when the right time is though.This is not the first time my culture has been appropriated. I wonder if I’ll lose a hold of my culture by the time I figure out when the right time is.
Why was I so scared to speak up?What’s the worst that could’ve happened?
Undoubtedly, I would’ve been labeled as too sensitive.I would’ve been told henna was simply a form of body art and not something to be taken so seriously.The girls I met would probably defend themselves by saying they weren’t the first to use henna and nath in Coachella.They’d probably say that they were just trying to have fun.Needless to say, those girls would get away with it anyway.The bottom line is that my feelings would be invalidated and my claims would be dismissed.
It didn’t feel right to start an argument solely because my feelings were hurt.Even though deep down I knew it was the right thing to do.But again that would do more harm than good.
Anyway, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.Just like those girls weren’t the first to appropriate my culture, I wasn’t the first one to let such behaviour slide.
Maybe next time I’ll speak up.Maybe next time I’ll stand up for my culture and my people.Maybe next time I won’t let fear stop me.
Maybe next time the time will be right.