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By Heather Riccio

June 2009

Dear Mrs. Davis,

I write this paper because you asked me to, but also because I need everyone to understand where I come from and what I was torn from. I need people to understand me. Not the image they see before them, but "me" in every sense of the word. I wasn't happy in India, but I was content. I was finally trying to find my own voice and now I am forced to find it all over again.

I am what the men called unattainable. Unavailable in every sense of the word. In India, I would have been ridiculed for my practices. No one is allowed to show their shoulders, and if I showed my knees, I would be in trouble with the law. That wouldn't be my only problem, though. I speak my own voice. I let my tongue ramble even when it's not supposed to, and I never realized I have consequences until it's too late.

"We don't use hot wax," my mother always said. "That is an atrocity on our culture. Think, Indira, think."

I was thinking. My thought was why thread when waxing was easier and took off more hair? And it wasn't really an atrocity. It just wasn't tradition, and my mother hated that. She lived for tradition. Her mother was all about tradition and so was my mother, and I should be. I don't know if I am.

We moved from Pune, India when I was only ten years old. I am almost seventeen now. My brother is now thirteen. Atanu was six when we left Pune. His name means cupid. He was a regular ham around the girls at his school. He put my parents to shame. He definitely will never be about tradition, at least not now. Maybe he'll change his mind later on. For now, put some wings on him and give him a bow and arrow and call him the LA cupid. My mother and father had obtained green cards to work in the States and my brother and I moved with them. We didn't have a choice. We have since become citizens of the United States of America.

I wasn't always this Americanized. There was a time where I was all about Indian culture. I am Hindu. I believe in the devas and devis I was brought up to believe. Lord Shiva was the form of joy that pure consciousness took and Parvati was the supreme mother. I believe in the holy trinity, the Trimurti. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva: the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. I wrote in Sanskrit. It was never spoken, but still used especially with people in the yoga community within the Hindus in India. My mother was and is still a yoga practitioner.

Pune has always been a bit different, though. We had a McDonalds and Starbucks while I was living there, and many Americans and foreigners travelled to Pune every year just to practice Iyengar Yoga with BKS Iyengar at the institute he and his family run in the downtown area.

Sometimes, when I was bored or had a really pressing question, I would walk into his studio while he was drinking green tea. He didn't mind. I once walked in there after school. I took the long way home.

"Gurji," I asked. "How can I become great?"

"Practice, and let go of all consequences," he said. He was sitting crossed legged in meditation.

"One more question," I asked.

He nodded.

"Do I have to do everything the same way my parents do?"

"Don't ever feel like other people's practices are forced on you, but at least give them a chance," he said.

As long as he wasn't practicing, he would share his thoughts with anyone who came for his knowledge. Many would ask how anyone can quiet their mind, if just for a moment.

Iyengar always said, "Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah," or "yoga is the cessation of the fluctuation of the thoughts in the mind." It was eternal peace and bliss and we all needed to learn how to stop thinking so much. In India, I was at home. I was a part of the culture. Here in America, I have to work at it. But I made it work.

My family and I moved from the City of Virtue to La La Land. At least we didn't move to the City of Sin. I was never one for gambling or strippers, so Vegas would have been an eye opener to say the least. We moved to Los Angeles because there was a call for a new pediatrician at Cedars- Sinai Medical Center and my father was honored to receive the job offer. He had been working on some new treatments for children who were fused with their twins. We had been to the United States once before. He had been featured on Oprah with Dr. Oz.

My dad was one of the doctors who worked on the medical miracle child in India. The success of the procedure made everyone working on it an instant success. Lakshmi Tatma was born with eight limbs. She had a conjoined parasitic twin, one who hadn't developed fully. Her twin was a body without a head. They were fused at the torso giving the two year old four arms and four legs.

My mother was against my dad working on this child from the start. Like so many religious people in India, she believed that the baby was a deity and should be left alone. My dad, while religious, saw a child who was suffering. He listened to my mother's arguments, but in the end, helped save that poor child. My dad was part of a team of thirty who spent over 27 hours in surgery to remove the parasitic twin. The twin was taking away all the nutrients from
the living child; if the twin wasn't removed, the girl would die. She still required additional treatments for her feet and hip problems, but my dad said despite everything that had happened, she might still be able to have children of her own one day. My mother barely spoke to my dad for days. She only opened her mouth up when she needed to answer an important question. Other than that, she kept her mouth shut. She still believed that the baby should have been left alone.

My dad was a miracle worker, and after that show, everyone wanted him on their staff. He turned everyone down, but couldn't turn Cedars-Sinai down. They offered him too much money and he wanted us to have a better life than the one we had in Pune. He knew some English, but said for a couple million, he would learn it completely. In India, they had spoken Hindi and English, but the English in India is not the English used in America.

We lived in Little India on Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia, California for awhile because my dad had a friend who lived there. Little India, it turned out, wasn't for us. My parents had enough money to live anywhere. We have since then moved off of Beverly Boulevard so dad could be closer to the hospital. Our new house is gigantic and could rival some of the hottest celebrities' houses. It has a pool all of its own and the rooms are huge. I even have my own walk in closet and my mother's closet is twice the size of mine. My mother is a housewife who still believes that no matter where we were, my brother and I have to stay true to our Indian culture.

I wasn't allowed to wear short skirts and god forbid go to a spa to get my eyebrows waxed with my friends, Candace and Lacie. I was thirteen when my mother let me get my eyebrows first threaded. My eyebrows were too bushy and I didn't fit in with the other girls.

One of the biggest bullies at school, Rose, wasn't only popular, but mean. She made me cry. She called me a "big-boned unibrow girl." I ran into the bathroom, tears staining my tan and white uniform. That's the first time I met Candace and Lacie. They were the really popular girls; more popular than Rose. They said Rose was pseudo-popular, but they were "all that and a bag of Lays." They said not to listen to Rose. They said I had one of the most gorgeous figures they had ever seen. I had curves in all the right places. They wished they were as lucky as me. I should thank my mother. I have her figure.

When I discovered waxing though, I decided to go with my friends instead. Most of the time, I had to go with my mother back to Little India and into the House of Beauty to be threaded by a professional. She loved going to that one beauty parlor. I was never quite sure why we never went to the one closer to our new home. I am sure my mother had her reasons. She always had one for doing the things she did. Everything made sense in the end.

Did I mention I went to an all girl's school back in India as well? I suppose that's why I am at an all girl's school now. My mother didn't like the public school system out here and didn't want me with boys. I became a student at the Allen School for Girls. I entered as soon as we arrived in America. I was entering the 6th grade. She sent me here because it was a nonsectarian academy.

Most of the other private schools were either Christian, Jewish or Catholic-based, and my mother didn't want any of their nonsense clouding my judgment. I was raised Hindu and she wanted to keep it that way. That didn't mean I didn't push the limits. I know I said it before, but I am now sixteen going on seventeen, and I am a bit of a rebel.

Remember when I told you that Rose called me a "unibrow freak?" Well, with the help of Candace and Lacie, I was able to get Rose back. Lacie had a sleepover at her house that weekend and invited Rose and me. We ate so much junk food that Rose got sick to her stomach. After she was done throwing up, Lacie's mother gave her some medicine to knock her out. She fell asleep. Rose's parents were gone for the night, so she had to stay at Lacie's. Anyway, while she was asleep, I drew a huge line in between both of her eyebrows with a black permanent marker. It took her several days to get it out. If you're wondering why she kept calling in sick, that's why. No one makes me cry and gets away with it, not even my own brother. That's just between you and me, though. Please don't tell anyone.

I know you gave me this paper to keep me occupied, but I felt it was a challenge. It helped me grow as a person. I am finally finding my voice here in the U.S. I am glad you're letting me write a paper on Traditional versus Modern day hair removal practices. I wonder why you gave it to me in the first place. I suppose it's because you know I am down to write about anything to do with beauty.

I could be my own magazine, Indigirl. I love watching The Hills, but hate Paris Hilton. Candace and Lacie hate her too. She may be an heiress, but she's too ditzy, even for the likes of me. I am glad you let me research this paper more. I want you to understand why I do the things I do. Not many people can, but I am hoping you do. I have a fondness for your teaching. I went above and beyond and decided to explore everything. I experimented with different techniques and I researched different meanings on the internet and in books. My mother hated it. Like I said before, she is all about tradition, and experimenting is so far from tradition. I thought for sure I would be punished. I usually was punished when I did something my mother didn't approve of. I threw tradition out of the window and this is what the paper has become.

There is no truth in threading or whining in Waxing:

By Indira Lahiri

Pain and pleasure reporting for duty. It seems in every beauty regime, we, women, might have both pain and pleasure involved. The reality of it all is that you can't have one without the other. In order to have beautiful eyebrows, you need to rip hair out to give you that beautiful arch. In order to have plump lips, they need to be injected with collagen. In order to have a perfect stomach, you need liposuction (the easy, but painful way out) or endless hours at the gym or those weight machines (still painful, but at least some quack doctor isn't behind your accomplishment).

Awhile back, one of my good friends, Lacie, sent me a cute email: She wrote: "I want to be a bear in my next life. They can sleep all winter, growl at their mate when they're in a bad mood and he'll back off, walk away and not start a fight ,plus you can pack on the pounds and blame it on the winter."

Yeah, with life like that, no worries about what people think of us. No need for clothes or plucking your hair because that's what keeps you warm; I'd have to agree being a bear wouldn't be so bad.

To say you need pleasure and pain is like saying an eye for an eye to me. Honestly, there are some (very few) pleasurable pains; for the most part, pain is pain. Nothing more and nothing less.

So here I sit, experimenting with different hair removal techniques, trying to remember everything so it can go in my paper. My leg is propped up on the counter in my bathroom holding the paper strip in one hand and hot wax in the other. "Here I come, pain," I think. "Pleasure, please follow!" I now know that I would never wax myself again. That hurt way too much. I hesitated when it came to the quick rip. I should have ripped it off like I was ripped off a Band-aid, but I didn't.

The very next day, I tried tweezing. Just the thought of tweezers made me cringe. They are supposed to help rid you of hair quickly, but not painlessly. It hurts so much to pull each and every hair out carefully without ripping more out than you desire. Sometimes if you're not careful, bits and pieces of the skin go with it. I'm not joking, but this time I wish I were.

Tweezers are literally "any of various small metal instruments that are usually held
between the thumb and forefinger, are used for plucking, holding, or manipulating, and consist of two legs joined at one end." At least that's what Webster's Dictionary said. Used for plucking? Plucking is meant for chicken's feathers, not human hair. And manipulating? What do they mean manipulating? Last time I checked, we weren't coaxing our hair to fall out or giving it stage directions, like grow this way, fall out, play dead, Grow, grow, grow. People, please focus.

I know it's hard, but the way I see it, there is tweezing, waxing and shaving, and tweezing is deceptively nice.

So here I stand in front of my magnifying mirror, hoping that tears don't roll down my cheeks from the ripping off tiny little hair up above my eyes. It's ok, I'm sure, where there is darkness, there is light, so tears, you may fall as long as a smile follows.

My mother continues to knock at the door, wondering what I am doing.

"Mother, go away. I am fine." I shout through the door.

"Please leave me alone."

She knocks some more and says "Indira, you better be down here in five minutes for your piano lesson."

"Yes, mum," I say.

She seems really angry, but I am doing this for a paper. I'll tell her later while we are outside practicing sun salutations. I know I shouldn't talk during them. It's all about meditation, but if I talk, she won't stop me. She will just tell me not to do it again. We made practicing sun and moon salutations outside a daily ritual. I am sure the neighbors think we are loony.

Sometimes we go practice on the beach, which was all my idea. That way my mom can practice and I can keep an eye on the hot surfers.

A few days later, ready for more torture, Candace and I headed off to the spa to get waxed. I have to ask: have you ever gone to a spa for a regular bikini wax? I have. They make it as painless as possible, if that's possible. But the one thing I noticed is that you can barely move. You do this little shuffle to get up off of the bed they have you laying on. I've only seen it in movies where the cowboys spread their legs out wide and walk out for a showdown.

Mrs. Davis, I am sure you are probably laughing by this point, but please continue

reading. You won't be disappointed.

They don't do it because it hurts, though. We walk like we have a watermelon in between our legs because we don't want the rubbing of our thighs together to intensify the hurt already pulsating throughout us. It's a noun-waxing, that is, - that means the process of removing bodily hair with a depilatory wax. The word was used in the 15th century. I love how they say removing bodily hair, they can't say it's a horrible process of forcefully ripping hair out of a woman's body. Because let's face it, most men would never wax.


I am sure you want to know more about tradition, though. Don't worry; I promise I am getting to that shortly. I know I should have something on threading since it's huge in India and my mom seems fond of it. Almost too fond, which makes me want to research that even more. I'll find out for you and for myself. My mother did ask to thread me when I first had my unibrow. She said we didn't have to go anywhere. She could do it, but I wanted a professional. I think I might have hurt her feelings, but I don't know what kind of training she had. If I went to a spa, they had waxing certificates up on the walls of places they went like the International School of Beauty, Inc. or Champion Institute of Cosmetology.

As you know, my mother had to come in to the classroom several times and meet with you. I had pushed the limits. I didn't mean to throw that wad of gum at your desk. It was meant for the back of Rose's head. I just wanted it to stick to the middle of her ashy blonde hair. I wanted her to have to cut it out. I wanted her to cry some more. My poor mother had to beg and I apologize that she had to do that just to make sure this didn't get to the principal's office. She didn't want me to be expelled so close to the end of the school year. She didn't want to have to explain any of this to my father. He was extremely busy. My mother would punish me on her own. And she did.

The last time I was in trouble, I had to scrub every single tile on the floor with a toothbrush and go over it a second time to make sure all the dirt was out of the grout, as well. She left for a bit, but I never knew where she went. She told me she would be back in a couple of hours and that every single piece of tile should be clean. Wherever she went, she came back calm and at peace with everything.

My punishment didn't seem as horrible when she came back to check my work. I was fine that she left every time she punished me. It didn't make me as nervous as I was when she would stand over me the couple of times she did stay. I still can't help but wonder where she was going and if she and my father ever got into an argument over this. I imagine they would, but if they did, I never heard it. Indian women are supposed to be subservient and do whatever their husband want. I know if my father knew my mother was leaving me alone, he would object in a heartbeat, but I don't think he knew. I don't think he knew half of what my mother did when he was at work. If he did, he never showed it.

The day you assigned me this paper, I had looked up at the clock. It was already 2:58 p.m. I watched the second hand waiting for it to reach the 12. The hour hand was on the three. Ring, Ring. Thank goodness it was Friday; I had the whole weekend to work on the paper.

Stuck on tradition, I humored my mother and said I'd get threaded one last time. She said she would take me the next day. She had too much to do that day. She said I could help my brother with his homework or help her make dinner. She was making Palak Paneer; the spinach and cheese is so delicious. I was learning how to make it, myself. I loved the spices my mother used; the cumin seeds and garam marsala powder gave this dish extra flavor. It gave the dish its "Indianness." If there was such a word. If not, it is now my word.

Lacie came with us to the House of Beauty on Saturday. The outside looked like a palace you'd see in Egypt and the inside had the most beautiful shades of purples, reds and golds. My mother said we could go to the Delhi Palace for lunch if I didn't whine. My mother got up out of her seat and talked to a friend in the back for a couple of minutes. They called my name,

"Indira," and I got up and sat in the seat. Many other women were sitting around me either being threaded or waiting to be threaded. Some were reading Star or People India while others were reading the Upanishads or the Vedas that they had brought from home.

I leaned back in the seat and relaxed. The practitioner told me to close my eyes and relax and so I did. I felt a shift in hand texture and realized it was not the same person. The first set of hands felt smooth and untouched. The second set of hands felt worn and wrinkly. They felt like they had gone through inner turmoil, through war and through peace. I had felt those second set of hands before, but where?

I heard the swish swish of the cotton thread moving throughout the hairs of my eyebrows and my upper lips. It is a twisted piece of thread moved rapidly back and forth across clean skin. Eyes still closed, I felt my eyebrows. They were soft and smooth. I opened my eyes and to my surprise, my mother was the one who had done my threading.

"Where did you learn that from?" I asked her.

"Tradition is important," she said. "I learned from my mother and she learned from her mother and if you would like, I can teach you. I tried before, you know, but you shunned it. Tradition isn't so bad."

She was right. I do now vaguely remember her trying to show me once when I was in the bathroom tweezing my unibrow when we first moved here. I didn't listen though. I told her to leave me alone and that I could take care of it myself. I ended up with many little bumps and Candace and Lacie had to fix my botched up eyebrows. Today, my eyebrows looked perfect. I should have let my mother thread me when she first agreed to show me. I was too proud and threading was too much of a foreign practice to me. It was my old life in India and I wanted to be American. I now knew it was alright to mix tradition with America.

I was still trying to wrap my mind around everything that had just happened. I knew my mother would leave the house a couple days a week, but I never knew where she went. I knew there was no way she was at the grocery store or running errands all the time like she told me she did a couple of times. Now everything made more sense. My mother was doing something she loved a couple of days a week. It wasn't for money. My parents didn't need it.

My mother told me my father knew. At first, he was upset. He didn't understand why she wanted to thread and so far away. My mother had to explain herself, but I guess my father was fine with it. He knew what she was doing but no one ever told me. No one ever asked what I thought. Then again, I don't know if I would have listened. It was so she could get out and do something she loved and something she was familiar with. I never knew my mother could do anything outside of being a good mother.

And my father, I was never as close to him as I was my mother. He was always working. He took care of us though. He wanted a better life for us than we had in India. I felt more betrayed by her that she kept it a secret this long than I was that my father knew and it was their secret that they never told my brother or me.

Up until that point, my mother had been a boring religious woman who insisted I worship the gods and goddesses with her every morning in the makeshift altar she has over the fireplace in our house off of Beverly Boulevard.

We prayed; well, she prayed to the gods every morning.

"Oh Babaji, please help my children have careers like their father."

We would kneel at the altar and she would bow her body up and down towards the earth. I would fold my hands and bow saying, "Namaste," when she was done. I wanted to own my own spa. Maybe I could open up a medical spa. It would make me happy and I could explain to my parents that a medical spa is like being a doctor. It was a stretch, but I could make it work. I would give these American women new faces with Botox or Microdermabrasion.

I had forgotten she was once a young girl just like me. I had forgotten she had a life before my brother and I. She had another life before she met my father. She was a nurse at the hospital my dad worked at in Pune. That's how they first met. He would make up any excuse to run into her. He would even follow her into the break room and ask her if she knew how to brew a perfect cup of tea. When my mother first told me that, I thought my father was a borderline stalker. She said it was sweet and took courage. Even if what he asked her was silly and not normal.

My mother's parents passed away when I was young, but my dad's parents are going to come and visit us this summer. I think they might move out here. I wouldn't mind. I have so much I want to ask my grandma. If my mother knew this much, imagine what my grandma knows.

Still, tradition is very much a part of me, no matter how much I denied it. I wanted to know what my mother knew. I would figure the rest of my life out later. I didn't want to be my mother's clone, but I wanted to be closer and I wanted to know a little more about her. I wanted to bond. I think I found my way. Yoga was one way. This was the other.

"I would like that," I said to my mother.

Lacie sat down in the chair and was up next. I stood next to my mother and watched her fingers move back and forth quickly, but not too quickly to remove all of the hair. Swish, swish was all Lacie remembered. Our skin was a bit itchy, but we left it alone and admired our new found appreciation for tradition and threading. Before I thought it made me foreign, but now I realized it brought me closer to one of the people who mattered the most, my mother.

All I knew at that moment was that my paper now has more depth and I have a better understanding about tradition. Mrs. Davis, I hope you are happy with this. My mother was ecstatic that I had learned the true meaning of family and tradition, and I have a feeling I will end up with an A.

The paper's new title? "Threading."

Heather has been professionally writing since she was 19 years old. She is the Career Editor at Hilary Magazine. Previous to working at HILARY Magazine (www.hilary.com) she worked at Teen People, while writing for Beautiful Girl magazine, the Desert Post and Palm Springs Life magazine. She is a self-proclaimed spa enthusiast who loves moonlight walks on the beach and a healthy dose of challenges. Bring it on! One of her metafiction pieces can be found online at www.mettafiction.blogspot.com/ and some of her shorter fairytale pieces can be found in Future Earth magazine's Issue #2 (www.futureearthstudios.com). She also has her own website, www.heathermriccio.com. She hopes to have her first YA novel published shortly after graduating from the MFA program from the UCR Palm Desert MFA program in December 2009. She holds a BA in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in English and Creative Writing and a BS in Anthropology from University of California, Riverside.

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