As soon as I though of this title, it reminded me of the cartoon, Clifford – the big red dog. It was one of the few feel good shows I had watched as a child. Coming back to the topic, my journey with the bindi began the moment I chanced upon an old photo of my mother wearing one. The picture was taken right after her wedding. I was astonished as I had never seen her wearing a bindi. She looked gorgeous in the photo.
When I asked her, she just said that she lost the habit as she grew older and life went on. That got me wondering if I will ever wear one. Growing up, I’ve never been someone who accessorized, not even a bit. The big red bindi came into my life during the farewell of my post-graduation. That was the first occasion where I’d graced myself with it and the multiple compliments I got left me blushing.
However, the perception associated with it changed when I came to work in rural areas of Odisha.
What local community saw
As a fellow at Swasthya Swaraj, when I started going into the villages to work on improving the quality as well as the access to health and education, I would usually don a small bindi. After a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, if I remember it correctly, I switched to a bigger one. That is when people starting noticing it and commented about it. The first one that reached my ears was, “Is she married?“.
This never occurred to me that it symbolized sindoor, which is worn by married Hindu women in India. Religion, caste or creed were not in my thoughts when I chose a bindi. I just liked wearing one.
Although we have office vehicles, I preferring taking public transport whenever possible, to commute to the villages. It’s usually a bus. This allows me to meet and understand people more closely without any specific agenda. During the rides that are typically 2-3 hours long, I get to hear about the latest news in the region, issues that are on priority for people, and how accommodating they are, irrespective. There is always enough space for someone to get on, even if the bus is jam packed.
Also read: A Model Sarpanch And Red Bindis
Because of the bindi, I started getting recognized distinctly. A man, with a giant grin, said in Odia, “Ohh I just saw this woman in the bus today morning, she works here huh”. What’s more!? Women have given me bindi orders, to be delivered to their doorsteps, the next time I visit them.
The dress code
I dress conservatively at work, mostly in a salwar kameez with a dupatta. This is because it helps me connect with people better, and is a good reminder of why I’m here. Above everything else, I find it comfortable and it makes me happy to dress this way at my place of work. It has become a way of life.
Now I resonate with people who say how and why it feels good to dress well, or in a certain way, to offices. I had never given it much thought earlier. As a former software engineer who has worked in an MNC, Indian wear was never my first choice of attire at work. This changed when I went to Christ University, Bangalore, for post-graduation.
Dressing conservatively was the code my college followed as a part of their policy because students from different socio-economic backgrounds attended the university and there, it was a belief that our dress is the first give away to a major chunk of our identity.
Adding a touch of the big red bindi gives me the feeling of walking barefoot, which is an extremely grounding experience allowing us to connect with Mother Earth as well as with our femininity. When I find myself feeling concerned or clueless about what is next at work, I just wear the big red bindi and close my eyes for a few seconds. The answers reveal themselves.