I got a pedicure yesterday. It isn’t that big a deal in the current world of persistent groomers, but given that I get it twice a year at best, it’s a big event in my life. Also we have a puppy nows so even small things like pedicures need to be fitted into schedules. Just to clarify, I’m not anti-grooming but I must admit, I do see people who are willing to embrace themselves as is, embrace a version of grooming contrary to popular culture as super cool. That they can step away from stereotypes and yet remain whole, intact and secure in their self-appeal. I’m envious of that solidness. I finally decided to get my feet scrubbed by a stranger only because they had a lot of cracks and I don’t really share Sheldon’s views on exfoliating, I’m just lazy. Thanks to Mumbai’s rather unusually cold weather; this winter left me with cracked lips too. (Yes, we had a winter this time. The temperatures dropped to 12º or lower, which is very unusual for sweltering Mumbai. And while many people were rejoicing I was scared. The impact of climate change has indeed truly come home and we cannot escape from it. But I wander about in circles so let’s get out of this aside!)
Parlours aren’t my favourite place. In a culture that has always supported fair skin, being as dark as I am, I had two ways to go… work all my life on becoming multiple shades fairer or kick it in its face and let my skin soak in all those things deemed bad for it… sun, dirt, sweat and everything. I’m sure you must have figured out which one I went with. With that came an self-cultivated, well nurtured disrespect for salons/parlours. In their very existence, they symbolised all that I disliked about society, the emphasis we give on something that is as fleeting as looks. As I grew older I began to dislike waxing, though I still did it, I refused to thread my eyebrows or get rid of my moustache ‘upper lip hair’ (Fortunately I am not that hirsute so can get away with such grand statements) . It isn’t an feminist statement. I think if a woman truly wants all that, then by all means. But I do believe that we have been cultured into thinking that this is the only way to look presentable and once that holy grail is achieved we can aspire to be thought of as beautiful. Every time I visit a parlour/salon – even at this age with minimum exposure to sun and thus way less tanned skin – I am told how I must get a bleach done. The minute anyone tells me my skin looks tanned, I tell them, I was born that dark, I ride/walk in the sun and I’m fine with it so they should bugger off. To top it all, I even have really curly hair (But that’s another story all together). People at the parlour look at me and think here is a problem case that we must take care off before we send her back into the world. And they always get onto my case.
So, there I was on a Sunday morning getting a pedicure instead of chilling at home with yet another coffee in my hand. I would usually surf through those old glam and fashion magazines… flipping through images of dolled up women in clothes I would never wear, staring at make-up I would never use and going through magazines like they were children’s picture books – quickly and with scant interest. I sound so cynical and clichéd in my anti-establishment views but so be it. This time, lo and behold, I took a book I was reading along. I was set. I had great company while yet another arbit stranger scrubbed my feet. You see, since I hardly ever visit the salon I never know the people. And most often, the people I’ve met tend to have quit or been transferred by the time I go again. Attrition rates are high in that industry for sure! A confession to make: When it comes to parlour treatments I always go for the cheapest. Why? Because the basic treatment meets the main reason you wanted to do it, the rest are all minor additions to the process and not the final result. For someone this switched off to the process as I am, the faster and quicker the treatment the better. And that means picking the cheapest option!
The young man waved a machine in front of me, and told me how I would have super smooth feet if I went for their ‘newly launched’ treatment. My resolve melted. Smooth smooth feet… the sight of a machine with a sandpaper that would make all those cracks dissolve into dust and the past. I nodded, let’s do it. He had a whole speech planned, but that was cut short. So he shrugged and got on with it. I didn’t ask him how much it would cost, and on hindsight, I should have, if I had, I wouldn’t have opted for it. Added to that what would normally be a 1 hour treatment went on for almost 1.5 hours. He put a range of products on my feet and legs, kept smiling at me and saying, you just see how soft your feet will be. While I wondered why he was so enthusiastic about it and also why in most parlours I visit it’s men who give pedicures. Why not women?
As the gel, scrub, oil, and other ingredients made their way from bottle to my feet and legs, I walked around Kashmir with Roohi and Faiz (The Book with the Gold Leaves by Mirza Waheed.) And at one point, I looked up to see that he was plucking at my toenail with a determination usually reserved for a very tough stain on a white shirt. Ah well! I did have feet that deserved that kind of determined attention so I disappeared back into my book. There were conversations that floated across the salon. One woman who had recently straightened her hair was insisting that she wanted to do something ‘different’ while the poor hairdresser wasn’t able to please her with any of his suggestions. She ultimately got her hair layered, since ‘with curly hair I could never get layers as it wouldn’t show but now I can.” And another woman wanted to recolour her hair, asking repeatedly if she needed to do it, or could wait. And she wanted them to give her a discount. Her treatment would cost her more than 6000-7000. I wondered why colouring had become that expensive! Or maybe she was doing something special ultimately! (Yes I sport a lot of grey hair but I won’t be colouring anytime soon unless inji (my dog) says he doesn’t want to be seen with someone with so much grey hair!)
My attention wandered from books, to conversations around me and those inside my head and back to my feet that were getting scrubbed, nails that were getting cut and filed. After a while when I looked down, the nail of the right big toe looked deeply cut. Too deeply cut. I mentioned that to him but he assured me that this was important and that was how they did it. I didn’t choose to argue then. But let him continue. On hindsight, stupidity on my part. I thought maybe irregular pedicures meant a half-baked knowledge. I paid a bomb for it, put on my dirty floaters (I always think I should take new footwear for pedicures but forget!) and walked out. Having forgotten about my short nail in the wake of the huge bill that hurt me more than that exposed skin bed. Hours later, having complained to my husband about parlours in general, I went about my routine. By evening, or maybe earlier, the throbbing had begun. I put a bandage on both my big toes and walked without putting any weight on my toes. After dinner, conversation and some reading I crashed by 11, wondering how I would manage my yoga class with only 3/4th of a toe nail. Google had also been unkind saying how I might now have an ingrown toenail, and as with all my online reading ‘might’s often become ‘will’ in my worrying head! I fell into a disturbed sleep with an ingrown toenail nightmare waiting to arise from the depths of the darkness.
At 12.45 am I was up, not having sweated out a nightmare. It’s usually our puppy who attempts to jump onto our bed waking us up but this night it was a throbbing pain in my big toe. I tossed around, fought the pain, told myself it was all in my head and I would conquer this physical weakness with mental strength. But by 1 am, unwilling to continue further I retired to the bathroom to sit out the pain. The bathroom is the best escape with my puppy. If you go into any other room he wakes up and comes there… and one can never predict if he might then want to play or persistently jump onto our bed. So the unsaid rule of the house: sit in the loo if you wake up early and make no noises. (We also walk around in the dark!) I went back to google and asked around. I realised I hadn’t put the band-aid properly and my delicate skin bed was exposed to cold air. I discarded the old one and put on another, then went back to bed. But the pain persisted so I finally succumbed and had a pain killer. The late night insomnia meant I chatted with a few friends and my cousin who lives in other time-zones. I even joked with my cousin in the U.S.A that I could have sued and made a million bucks if I lived there. This is probably the only time I wished I lived in the U.S.A.
Morning rose fast with the alarm clock chirping at 5.45 am and reminding me it was time for yoga. Class was painfree as it was a breathing class and not an asana one. I counted my good fortune and made my way home an hour later my big toe neither better nor worse for wear.
This experience made me wonder if I would ever go for another pedicure. The manager of the salon called and some other people too. My toes, which are now feeling better, thanks for asking, seem to be telling me that they won’t be seeing the insides of a salon anytime soon. I’ve decided to be more proactive. I’ve looked up pedicure machines online, decided will always cut my own nails before a pedicure, if and when, and ask only for them to be filed, never cut. Paranoid me might never let anyone near my nails again. One nail cut too deep and I’m twice shy. I have always nagged my husband he cuts his nails badly and thus has in-grown nails, but now I might be headed for that myself. Yes, at no fault of mine but still.
The Universe has a way of getting back. Sometimes when you are paranoid about things, experiences and people, keep thinking they won’t work, specifically for you, then they seem to suck suck up all that negative energy, swell up into large bubbles and then come hurtling back at you. And then, in the face of disaster, how do you still maintain a positive outlook about yourself, your future and life. Mistakes happen, shit happens, to all of us. How do you pick yourself up and walk forward with the assurance and confidence that nothing will hit you in the face this time! And even if it does, it might go away with a few nights of sleeplessness like a niggling toe pain?