India - Putting On Appearances

India has provided a few moments of deja vu, which is rather remarkable given how truly foreign this country is to me. One of these examples happened not 24 hours into my stay here.

Last Monday morning after the stroll along the bay I came up to my room to get ready for the first day on the job. Suitcases were unpacked and the bathroom was stocked with all tools and implements to get done up for the day, including six new power adapters to manage critical things like hair flatteners.

There is no usable outlet for such appliances in the bathroom, despite this being a fancy hotel, so I sacrificed the reading lamp by the bed in favor of my coiffure. As per my usual, I got out of the shower, dressed, and went to plug in my flattening iron so that it could warm up while I dried my hair. It turns out that this order of operations was likely fortuitous.

In the time it took me to turn my flattening iron on and spin on my heel to walk back to the bathroom, sparks flew, snap, crackle, and pop were audible beyond the cereal bowl, and my entire room went black, save for the purplish glow from the Central Bank sign bearing down next door.

First thought: thank God it wasn't the hairdryer!
Second thought: when I call housekeeping to tell them what I've done, it's going to sound like amateur hour up in room 2109.
Third thought (and flash of deja vu): I did this exact same thing on my first day of work in Chicago when I started working for Cannon Design the first time around. Am I not meant to have a decent 'do at Cannon?

Electricity trumped pride and within minutes a feeble old man was in my room cracking open a service panel to restore power. Oh, the shame.

So here we are, day 1 of me and my circus act of "they sent me here because they think I know how to do stuff," and what's my priority when meeting the Mumbai staff? Who can show me to a drug store/electronics shop to get a new flat iron?

The vanity train didn't stop there, though. It didn't even take a break. Tuesday morning I go to cover up my very dark under eye circles and discover I am out of concealer. No big deal? Maybe not in a pasty town like Chicago but this is Mumbai and people here have melanin. I drag my tired looking self into the office and ask again for directions to a shop selling make-up.

No one is willing to let me venture these streets alone quite yet so Purvashri, a colleague I actually met in Chicago a few months ago, takes me out. She likes to shop so I don't feel too bad about this and I'm too tired to care much, either. We go to a total hole-in-the-wall (literally) that is a few yards from our office. No dice so we push on.

We then step into what looks like a mini CVS. (Sidenote: The contrast between one shop and the next here is off the charts. Shacks share walls with high-end shops pushing pashminas for $2000 USD. I'll try to get pictures.) In about 300 sf there are three cashiers and seven make-up ladies staring at me with no attempt to disguise their eagerness. And I thought the perfume gauntlet at Macy's was bad. I learn that this is not really eagerness to help so much as it is eagerness to experiment. Next thing I know everyone is trying to find the magic make-up match for the pale girl.

My hand is covered in swaths of orange and yellow within seconds. This is only because I kindly ask them to refrain from painting my face. As it is, they've already rubbed make-up remover on my eyes and cheeks to get a fresh surface, thereby killing the little bit of my perfectly pale concealer I had left. Purvashri tries to help out. She goes back and forth between Hindi and English, hand gestures and pointing. I fear I will walk out looking like a cast member of the Jersey Shore.

Enough is enough! I gently - or not so gently, I can't guage my social skills at this point - tell Purvashri to tell the make-up lady that I'm not just white. I'm PINK.

Make-up lady: PINK?

Me: Yes, PINK.

(quizzical staring)

A new but slightly dusty tube of make-up is presented and I quickly grab the test applicator to manage this process. Success! A pink-hued tube of concealer, just as I said. The make-up lady looks back at me with caution then declares, "OOOOOH! She is PINK! Ahhhh. Pink."

And that's what it's like to be not only white but pink here in India.

Parting shot: today's cab fabric. It felt a little fall-ish to me, like leaves on a sidewalk on a gray Chicago morning.

1 comment:

Meigan said...

Ah the makeup counter experience! Love it! I've been there. Wise move bringing a translator. :)

Can't wait to see what happens next. :)


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