The other day, I read an article in the Indian Express about the modern female eyebrow and how this generation is tending towards low, masculine brows. Rather insulting to someone like me who has flat and very mildly arched eyebrows. Or perhaps I should see it as a compliment to my great (and accidental) sense of style and high fashion. The Huffington Post has a whole gallery of famous over-plucked eyebrows, which have apparently been getting less arched since the 1960s. The word ‘high brow’ means to be intellectual or elite or representative of high culture and society. Fancy-pants, to put it simply. So perhaps our generation is getting simpler with its low brows. Or so I hoped until I got into the bus yesterday.
It was a relatively empty bus and I plonked myself into a seat right at the front. A hand tapped my shoulder from behind. A very powdered nose in a limey green sari said almost accusingly to me “mudilai pencil irruku” (there’s a pencil in your hair). I tried to explain that I didn’t have a clip, and that’s why there was a pencil in my hair. Two eyebrows shot skyhigh into her well-oiled hairline. A few stops later, I was marvelling at the bright maroon sari getting into the bus, pushing past all the old ladies in her rush to get in. “Excuse me, thalai ilai pencil irruku” (there’s a pencil on your head) I heard a minute later. It was maroon sari, who hadnt managed to get the coveted seat, and was standing over me, staring at the top of my head. I naively tried to explain. Couldnt find my clip, or hair sticks, so I used a pencil to hold up my hair. Again, eyebrows went shooting up. Not just maroon sari’s, but the ladies on either side of her as well! By this time, I was getting a little worked up. I hadn’t really thought about it in the morning when I grabbed the first thing possible to tie up my hair. Thank goodness I hadn’t grabbed a pen. A pencil is the lowliest in the hierarchy of writing tools (something I’ve always disagreed with as I like writing and doodling with pencils). Graduating to pens in grade 5 was seen as a growing up ritual, despite the splotchy ink stains on fingers and white shirts. So imagine the shock if I had stuck a ball-point pen in my hair. Reynolds probably wouldn’t approve either. So this never-ending bus ride went on, and I kept mumbling ‘no clip’ to the various straining eyebrows who were helpfully pointing out to me that I’d gone crazy and left a pencil in my hair. “You’re lucky no one tried to pull it out and make you put it back into your pencilbox”, was all my aunt had to say, when I finally got off the bus and grumbled to her.
So much for eyebrows getting less arched and becoming equivalent to the male brow, so much for fashion and the peak of the arch moving away from the nose. The Indian eyebrow is still forms the highest arch when a woman does not conform to the norms society has set out for her. When she uses one tool for another equally useful but not so obvious purpose. When she forges her own path and leaves the beaten track. When she has the courage to be different, to stand out. And it’s going to take a mightly amount of plucking and shaping before we get anywhere close towards an open, accepting societal brow. Hopefully the pencil is mightier than the eyebrow!
Today, I found my hair stick. The pencil I used to write this post.