Monday, 27 February 2023

Pinning everything



I’d spend more consciously, much less profligate

with time, deep dive into each day, every night

to bring up their treasures, feel their sheen and weight

in my hands and heart, against the watertight

tautness of existence. I’d spend less time on

making a home of walls, an address of roads

and cities, instead make a home of my own

within my ribs and skin and veins. Slightly odd

to be frugal with time and building when there’s

more of it. Nine would mean more time to value,

each like your ring, never mind the gems or rare

metals, just the shape of the vow and the true

worth of timelessness. Each one vermilion red

grace smeared in my hair, love shined on my forehead.



And every single day I’m given, I’d pin

more of my heart, and other parts, on my sleeve

nothing much of the fabric would show, more skin

more raw flesh, more wounds, blemishes. I might leave

off sleeves altogether, on bare arms pin them

instead. Or maybe like stacked bangles I’d wear

them on my upper arms as northern women

do, they’d jingle, make themselves known everywhere.

Or like lace up espadrilles, strong sinews nine

times around, years winding up from my ankles

halfway to my knees. With all the extra time

you might just get better at straps and bangles.

But whatever - on sleeves, straps, bangle or shoe

I might pin in nine lifetimes, I’ll pin for you.

These are the last two of the series of nine and they conclude the posts for February. 


Traditionally, marital jewellery is a huge thing in Indian culture. Not just jewellery, colours and cosmetics also. What a married woman should or shouldn't wear has been specified and prescribed and hotly debated. Not just married women, what any woman can or should wear is up for discussion by all and sundry at the drop of a hat. Anyway, let's keep that for another time,

A married Bengali woman is supposed to wear vermilion in her hair part - first put there by her groom as a part of the wedding rituals, and also as a 'bindi' or 'teep' on her forehead. The colour red is associated strongly with auspiciousness and married ladies, widows aren't supposed to wear it. 

Then there's the loha, an iron bangle worn on the left forearm, slipped on the bride's wrist by her MIL as she enters the new family. There are the conch shell and coral bangles one of each worn on either side. Apart from that, it is frowned upon to leave ears, wrists and neck 'bare' for a married woman. 

Other communities have other marital symbols - some have special necklaces called mangalsutra (lit auspicious thread) or thali which the groom fastens round the bride's neck during the wedding ceremony and which she's never supposed to take off again in her husband's lifetime. Others have special kinds of bangles and so on. If anyone ever asks why, these are all worn to ensure the good health and long life of the husband. Taking them off jeopardises the whole lot. 

In short, a Hindu married woman wears her marital status like a beacon, useful no doubt in a traditional patriarchal society where it's important to be able to tell which women are 'taken' and which not.

On the other hand, the bride in a Hindu ceremony does not put a single thing on the groom, not even a tilak. Some gift of gold is made to the groom traditionally by the bride's father. Some men choose to wear them, some do not - as per individual taste. But men are not required to wear a single item, not a ring nor a dot nor a distinctive hairstyle or beard, to show they are married. You couldn't tell an Indian married man by looking at him - 2000 years ago and also now. 

It has always seemed a tad unequal to me, not to mention the cumbersomeness, the sheer monotony of having to wear a ton of jewellery day in day out. Fine if you want to, many women wear them as a marker of identity - these traditions go back solid unbroken for some 3-4 millennia, so that weight can be an anchor for some, something that pegs their place proudly in the world - I totally get that. I admire and value that long history. But I was never a fan personally. I know quite a few women who followed all the conventions and wore everything they were required to, yet were widowed heartbreakingly early.  So much for the bangles and bindis ensuring good health and long marriage. 

Live and let live, love and let love. Wear whatever the heck you want if that's your own choice, don't be blackmailed into wearing a bangle or a chain because of social bullying. Or conversely, give up wearing anything because of it. 


  1. Hari OM
    Hear! Hear! Loved these two stanzas and your post reflection. Indian society certainly takes the marking of the wife seriously - but it does happen in almost all other societies to varying degrees... in UK and similar culture, the engagement ring is of prime importance - almost more than the wedding band itself, for so much is dependent (apparently) on 'the stone'... YAM xx

    1. In the West, a married man usually wears a wedding band, same as the wife, though engagement rings for men are not common. And women/wives are certainly freer to make choices about their wardrobes without societal judgement from what I have seen. It may not be absolutely perfect but a tad more gender equal imho. <3

  2. I think you're right. Pretty much anything goes over here, societally speaking.

  3. Yes, men here wear a wedding ring. But outside the engagement ring, not much else marks a married woman. Sadly, not much marks a married man and wife here anymore,

    1. So long as the marking is not one-sided, I'm okay with it. It's the inequality and the social pressure that's saddening.

  4. Your poem wording is just so perfect, it makes my heart ache. You paint a picture of life, culture, etc. This one is SO good. wow! Just wow

    1. Thank you, Joanne. I'm so glad you enjoyed the poetry.

  5. You nailed it Nila, with poem and prose. I was fascinated by your discussion under the poem. I've wondered about all that gold jewelry etc that Indian women wear. I was stunned to read that all these are all worn to ensure the good health and long life of the husband. What say you? Really? Every culture has their rituals but I'd like to see the men honor the wives openly seeing the women are required to. In Western culture, there' s not much to mark a married man/woman.

    So what do you have for us in March?

    1. Second that most heartily - about the men honouring their wives as openly. I think some do, nowadays, but it's mostly restricted to the urban middle class. Women have it hard in most cultures from what I can see, and Indian women have it harder than many others, barring a few places in Africa.

      No clue about March as yet, I'll have to get back to you on that one! :) <3

  6. And every single day I’m given, I’d pin

    more of my heart, and other parts, on my sleeve

    nothing much of the fabric would show, more skin

    more raw flesh, more wounds, blemishes.

    I'll remember these lines for a long time to come.

  7. The verses are beautifully written Nilanjana..looking forward to more such gems

    1. Great to see you here. So glad you enjoyed the verses.

  8. Hi Nila - what an interesting post ... I've loved the learning you've given us - so much is paternal ... but understand the culture. Excellent series - I love your take on life ... cheers Hilary