Mumbai's Henna Girls
I've always had a weird fear of henna art. The idea of letting dye seep into my skin until it disappears just never really appealed to me. But then I arrived in India, where so many of the women had intricate henna, or mehndi, patterns on their palms and feet (the color stays the darkest there). It seemed like an accessory, just as common as a bracelet or ring. Traditionally henna is applied during wedding ceremonies or festivals, but lately it's become a bit of a fashion trend.
In Mumbai, the streets are dotted with henna girls. I passed two young girls near the Taj Mahal Hotel who waved me over to watch as they applied floral henna designs across their palms. As I observed, my wariness turned to curiosity and suddenly I found myself agreeing to let the girls squeeze tubes of henna paste into a paisley pattern down the side of my ankle. After a few hours the hard top layer peeled off to reveal an orange stain, which eventually darkened from oxidation. A few days later my new "tattoo" was a reddish brown color. The girls wouldn't let me pay for their work (they were too amused by how nervous I had been about the henna) so instead I bought a henna kit from them as a souvenir. I have yet to use it. Somehow the moment only seemed fitting in India.