Madras on Rainy Days

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Madras on Rainy Days is a novel by Samina Ali that tells of a woman torn between two cultures, that of India and that of the United States. She spends almost one half of each year on each continent, and while her parents are Indian, she feels like she has strong ties to the U.S. As the novel begins, she is brought back to India for her arranged marriage to a man she does not know. Yet, while in the U.S., she did the unthinkable and had sex with a man named Nate, and now she faces pregnancy and the consequences of her spouse and father finding out she is no longer a virgin.

Marriage is the focal point of this story, and thus I chose to do Mehndi drawings on a pair of hands, as Mehndi is central to bridal decoration at Indian weddings. Though I used wedding designs as inspiration, I created the final designs for my roommate’s hands on my own, incorporating flowers, dots, and abstract lines to make her hands both interesting, and, in a way, hidden. The characters in Madras on Rainy Days have many secrets. The mehndi represents this in two ways. Firstly, the interweaving designs are like secrets in themselves, as it is difficult to try to unravel their meaning. Secondly, the mehndi works to cover up the hands underneath, and it is hard to see the truth without being distracted first.

I liked working with the mehndi because it required very careful forethought, as any mistake would last as long as the design (~2 weeks). This permanence also reflects the idea of marriage as an institution of life, which is challenged in this story with the marriage of Layla’s parents. However, even they pretend to still be married in India because it is too shameful to not follow tradition. The mehndi represents the binding oath that the marriage will contain; the oath that Layla wants to avoid. Yet, she must wear it and follow the preparations for the wedding because she can’t let anyone know what is hidden underneath.

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