Make-Up And Music In The Mumbai Monsoons. August 2016

At present, it is monsoon season in Mumbai. Yes, it really is a whole season. All of three months and quite an experience. Not necessarily something to put down on a bucket list but definitely one to check out given the chance. Like most other natural phenomena such as wild fires, volcanic eruptions, blizzards and even earthquakes, the monsoons are disruptive, destructive, life giving and life affirming. While the others are not cyclical or predictably regular, the rainy season is. It’s annual arrival is forecast and tracked closely. Its strength and duration determine the success or failure of a nation’s crops and hence, its very economy. So while at times flooded streets make passage a huge challenge and everyday of this period is a bad hair day, one generally accepts the rains as a gift.

When I set out to visit Mukta Jeevan a week ago, it was raining but not too intensely. The normally parched vegetation that I’d grown accustomed to seeing at other times of the year was now luxuriantly verdant. I took that as a good sign.

This would be my first visit since Sr Barbara’s transfer to another mission and Sr Meena had taken over from her. Over the years Sr B and I had become good friends and I was going to miss her intensely. Change can be difficult. However, a brief phone conversation with Sr Meena to confirm my visit put to rest any apprehension. Sr M sounded warm and friendly. I was undoubtedly on my way to making a new friend.

Unlike previous trips, there was hardly any traffic to contend with. Good omen number two.

The skies cleared up as we approached Mukta Jeevan. No puddles to step into and my hair had not abandoned all sense of decorum. Good sign number three.

Arriving ahead of schedule is never a problem at Mukta Jeevan. The Sisters will greet you with warmth and smiles no matter what. The sort of place that makes you feel special even when you know you aren’t the only one to be treated this way. I can live with that quite happily.

Sr Meena was no less delighted than the other familiar faces. It felt as though we’d always known each other. There is something about this place and the people you meet that puts you at ease. I think its that wholehearted acceptance of everyone. No judgment. And that in turn frees one up to simply be oneself. There is no one or any need to impress. What a priceless gift to give a visitor.

Now, that’s a lesson for us all. And one that I’m determined to pay forward. Keeping heart and home open, inviting and without reservation.

A simple breakfast and quick catch-up was the first order of business. Always a pleasant start and this time, a chance for Sr M and I to get to know each other. Its funny how quickly friendships can get established when neither party has any hidden agenda or ulterior motive. Lesson number two of the day and the day had only just begun!

I was so pleased to give Sr the check for another year of music lessons for the children. Once again, friends back home had come through generously. I’m constantly aware of how blessed I am to have such people in my life.

Sister reported that the children were doing quite well at music – does my heart good to hear news of that sort. Reaffirms a purpose and commitment.

At my last visit earlier this year, I had given the girls an assortment of basic make-up essentials. Turns out that as excited as they were to get them, they actually didn’t have a clue about how to apply it appropriately. At her initial arrival, Sr Meena had been greeted with some rather garishly made-up faces that caused her to wonder about this new position she’d been assigned! One of the other Sisters had sent me photos at that time and I could well imagine her consternation. With nobody ( the sweet Sisters hardly qualify as beautyicians) to guide them and not having access to YouTube tutorials, one can hardly fault the children.

This visit, I came bearing much more make-up supplies. It was a generous gift from Glamour magazine. A friend had told her daughter who is a senior photographer at Glamour about my make-up “project”. Since the magazine receives tons of make-up from many of the manufacturers, an offer was made to send the girls some cosmetics. And thus, I was given a fairly large stash of fine goodies to give to the make-up mad girls. I also came with my daughter Mira who, at eighteen, pretty much relates to their need to glam up. She was going to play “beauty parlor” with them.

Shortly after greeting the girls, we got down to it. Mira started applying make-up on her first ‘victim’. The others watched keenly. As it happened, on this particular day, a group of mostly college students was also visiting. They typically visit the children a couple of times a year for a day of fun games and loads of laughs. It was wonderful to see how both sets of young people were engaged with each other. A couple of girls from that group asked if they too might participate in applying make-up on the girls. Of course they could! It was entirely my pleasure to have so many beauty experts at work.

The beauty salon was humming with activity. Having watched enough Bollywood movies, the girls’ taste runs a bit on the ‘more is better’ side. Subtle colors are not liked so much. And they love a nice helping of glitter. Mira had to adapt to that preference if she was going to please them. With the girls crowding to watch and their consultants demonstrating, it was so much fun to watch all the girls being girls. Even the savvy make-up artists were clearly having a blast.

After a while, some of the older, newly made-up girls got into the act of transforming their friends. And so it went. Somewhere in all the make-up madness, the nuns had disappeared. They had wisely let the ‘civilians’ do their own thing.

Like a mother having pulled off a rather swell party for her girls, I watched with delight and took loads of photos. Lesson learned – for a successful party, keep it simple, let people be themselves and allow for spontaneity.

After a long morning of such merriment, it was time for Mira and me to return to Mumbai. Our schedule was tight so our usual routine of having lunch with the Sisters had to be skipped. But oh were we full with the joy of playing with cosmetics! No matter what age, a girl loves to play dress up.

And so ended yet another typical MJ visit – where I leave with far more than I have given. Life lessons for make up and music lessons.

See below the beautiful faces transformed to beautiful, thrilled faces:

The parcel of make-up goodies from Glamour magazine

The parcel of make-up goodies from Glamour magazine

A small sampling

A small sampling

Mira gets to play oops! I meant work

Mira gets to play oops! I meant work

The children with the collegiate visitors enjoying sing-along

The children with the collegiate visitors enjoying sing-along

All made up and pleased.

All made up and pleased.

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The older girls at MJ having now learned the new application tricks, work on the younger ones.

The older girls at MJ having now learned the new application tricks, work on the younger ones.

Thank you Glamour indeed! Look how pleased the girls are!

Thank you Glamour indeed!
Look how pleased the girls are!

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

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