Beauty Routines by Ram Mohan Poluri

A lasting memory I have of my boyhood in South India is watching my mother getting ready in the afternoon. There was sunshine and greenery outside the window behind the dressing table. Amma washed her face first and then dotted her cheeks, forehead, chin and nose with silver spots of Lakme' vanishing cream. She rubbed them in gently till they disappeared leaving a pearly sheen.

She dusted her face and neck with fine face powder from a round pink box. Finally she made a round red mark in the middle of her forehead. The dressing table had two small drawers on either side of the mirror, a source of constant interest to me. They held hairpins, fine black nets mother slipped onto her chignon, eyebrow pencils and plastic grey curlers my big sisters used.

I always wanted thick dark eyebrows that met in the middle just like the thieves in the Ali Baba story. I darkened mine with pencil one day before I went to school just as my sisters did. After the assembly Mrs. Pereira our head teacher drew me to her bosom asking, ' Ram Mohan, what have you done to your face?' I felt exposed. ' Mother did it.' I lied right away and worried all day that she would tell my mother.

' Come here. Let me look at you---.' Mother summoned me the moment I came home. She started to laugh as did every one else. I cried. ' You do look good. We should have a picture taken. ' Mother soothed me. I did have one taken dressed up as my mother's favourite deity Lord Krishna with a velvet crown and a peacock feather. The photos when they arrived looked terrible. Nothing like my cousin sister's taken in one of her dance recitals. But they made it to the family album providing great amusement to everybody till I ripped them out in my teens.

Over the years I envied women their beauty routines, their access to colour and fragrances not knowing my turn was yet to come. I developed a lasting interest in drawing but did not dare touch the eyebrow pencil. At least until now.

I have had vitiligo for fifteen years and now that I have patches on my face I too have a beauty routine of my own. I use aqueous cream as a soap substitute followed by Dove Summer Glow tanning lotion to tone down the vitiligo patches on my face. ( A great tip from Dispatches.) Then I bring out the eye brow pencils. I have two. One a dark chocolate brown and the other a charcoal black, given to me by my big sister. She herself was given those after her chemotherapy for breast cancer. As advised I use fine strokes over my left eyebrow which disappeared and returned gray under an inconvenient patch of vitiligo. Then there is the sunscreen lotion.

Sometimes I catch my partner Martin watching my artistry and I laugh. It is ironic that when I was in India we all wanted fairer skins and now it is the other way around. I envy the even tones of South Asian complexions, one that I had before and did not appreciate till I lost it . A loss I live and struggle with and have come to manage well. I do have to remind myself that when people stare at me it is not all down to my looks. Well, it is in a way really. I am still waiting for someone to draw me up and question the perfect left eyebrow. No lies this time.