For years I’ve worn the jeweled ones. Colorful ornamental drops that nestle between the eyebrows. The first time I even thought to do so was after seeing a White woman wearing one at a party. This was years ago. Though the bindi is of Hindu derivation, and comes from ancient tradition, and I’ve obviously seen Indian women wearing them since I can remember, I was struck by this non-Indian woman daring to be brazen enough to do this tradition that was not of her own culture (the truth is, I have no clue what this woman’s background or experience was). The point is that it opened up something in me. I realized that most people, at least that I’ve ever observed in life, attach themselves to rituals, causes, and agendas based upon very compartmentalized associations.
How many people march in Gay Pride parades that aren’t gay? How many African-Americans associate themselves with Jewish causes? How many Caucasians walk around sporting African kufis on their heads as a simple matter of fashion and personal taste? Of course the answer is never none. There are always those treasured jewels who believe in a world beyond their own personal demographic, who embrace that above all else this is a human culture, and not just a racial one, or a gender one, or a sexual preference one, or whatever. The movie Cloud Atlas dared to challenge that notion by its very casting (an Asian woman portraying a Mexican. A Black woman portraying a White woman. A woman portraying a man. A White man portraying a Chinese man). But the bottom line is that in most cases, because we belong to a certain culture, race, gender, etc., we must know our place.
I’ve always been someone who’s done ODD. It’s been an inadvertent skill, not one I particularly chose, but one I’ve been sort of stuck with, as a kind of dubious blessing.
One example that is a complete tangent from this discussion of the bindi, but will set the tone for you of my proclivities toward being otherly, and is just one, among the many things, that branded me for life and set the mold for quirky. Quirky has been with me since childhood, for better or for worse, much of which ended up being for worse, as adolescence defiantly insists on an adherence to conformity. And the example that rings loudest is the time as an early teen that I picked up a dead bird and brought it home. I found it lying in my path as I walked the grounds of my junior high school on my way to class. It was beautiful. A perfect blue jay. So beautiful in fact, and unmarred even in its death, that I was drawn to pick it up. It had a warmth to it, and I placed it in my purse. I carried it there for the rest of the day, precariously aware that if I moved this way or that, I could accidentally squish it and squirt guts all over my wallet and tampons. When I got it home, I placed it in one of my mother’s Tupperware bowls and put it in her freezer. When my parents asked me why I would keep such a thing, I told them I planned on having it taxidermied some day. I truly wish I could go back in time and notice their faces at this out-to-lunch pronouncement, and have to give it to them; they were always great sports for my idiosyncrasies. And there my bird stayed for years, nestled between the rib-eyes and the popsicles. It eventually saw its fate when Mom and Dad separated, and as my dad was preparing to move out of our house he unplugged the garage freezer (the extra one in which we would store pounds of meat), forgetting that my frozen bird was in there, and Birdy was maggot food before anyone discovered it. I’ll let you sit with that one for a minute.
Here’s one more. I promise we’ll get back to the bindi thing, but I just can’t seem to resist a circuitous route. While in college, I decided to start writing my first novel, and I actually spent the next eight years writing its first draft. I’m a Black girl from Compton. Yet my story was not what you might expect from that demographic. Mine was not an urban tale of encounters with Crips, or what have you. I decided to write a book about England in the 1930’s. I’d never been to England, or any other place beyond my sheltered Southern California upbringing. But something in me was compelled to do that which would never have been expected of me. I had a very specific agenda to be the opposite of predictable.
I think it’s probably fairly deep-seated. Perhaps steeped in a childhood of being severely outcast. When ostracization is your childhood, you tend to simultaneously and paradoxically try to blend in AND steel yourself by going the exact other way. And today I realize that this has been my engine my entire life. Associating myself with rituals, agendas, causes, even fashion that are beyond my own cultural background.
After seeing that White woman sport her between-the-eyebrows jewel, and being enchanted by that, I started sporting them myself, as much for the statement of otherly as for the beauty mark that they give any woman. What’s a Black girl doing wearing a Hindu ceremonial dot? I actually got annoyed, during the era of Madonna’s album Ray of Light, when she was suddenly shown sporting them along with her henna body art, during one of her endless reincarnations, and thought (the entire Hindu population aside): “Hey, she totally stole my thing!” My thing, of course, only being a thing if the most famous pop star in the world is actually stalking my life in order to steal things from me. Yes, I do live inside my own special world.
My line, whenever asked about my bindi, and which is meant to diffuse any real discussions of my reasons for wearing it, because that can sometimes be exhausting, is usually, dryly, “It’s to cover up the bullet hole.” It tends to get a laugh, and perhaps even has the person walking away with yet more intrigue about the mysteries of Angela. Or not. But this is who I am. I store dead birds, and I write books about Fascist Europe as a teen, instead of hanging out with my girlfriends and listening to Heatwave.
What’s silly about my Madonna annoyance, of course, is that I’ve hardly been the only non-Hindu out there sporting these. The bindi became instantly popular once the Material Girl and Gwen Stefani and Shania Twain made them fashion statements. But like any popular trend, which always has a “use by” date, other than the heritage and culture from which it comes, the bindi long ago got replaced as the trend du jour.
So, why am I still sporting mine? Because I have never adhered to the fashion of the day. But that’s the easy answer. More profoundly is that what I never foresaw when I first started wearing them was that I would, years later, come to pursue a spiritual life that is largely Eastern (Buddhist, Taoist, and Yogic practices, and meditation), and the idea of the symbolic third eye, of inner vision and enlightenment, which is the very place from which one meditates, as well as being the sixth-chakra spot of sight and insight, and which has resonated with my deepest heart. To think that a fashion whim, as well as the instincts to be otherly, has turned into a spiritual lifeline.
And so here I stand, present day, and after years of wearing the jeweled ones, or even just applying simple dots by the various means of make-up pencils, ink pens, or fingernail polish, I finally got my bindi made permanent in 2011, thanks to the wonders of the tattoo gun. It’s a part of me now. Me, the Black chick from Compton.
I’ve always tended to think of myself as Hippie Girl (braided hair, tattoos, nose-piercing, and a weirdly fetishistic fondness for Birkenstocks, tie-dye, and Nag Champa). I collect crystals. I light candles when it comes time to commemorate the memory of someone. I burn sage when I feel the need to purify my surroundings. I rearrange furniture whenever my gut tells me that my home is in a state of discord, which means that I’ve been employing the practices of Feng Shui long before I’d ever even heard of it, and certainly before it became the new thing several years ago. I’ve even begun lately dabbling with the Tarot and palm reading, which, in spite of its popular mis-press, isn’t about predicting someone’s future, but is about locating and identifying archetypal energy and behavior, but that’s another tangent for another day. The point is, I do fully embrace the practices of healing and wellness, both the literal and the symbolic.
I don’t have a clue where any of that comes from, other than the fact that I am the Perpetual Seeker. I search for enlightenment in every hemp-strewn cubbyhole and New Age. But I cannot deny that it’s also a matter of my own brand of defiance against being pigeon-holed.
There is a price to pay for choosing to be otherly (still debating whether it’s actually a choice). It can be lonely. It can create a life of few inner circles. It can foster isolation. But those of us who align ourselves with its principles know that in spite of the possible challenges, we are staking our place in the world by the very practice of discombobulating people’s minds about who we are, and their instincts to compartmentalize us, and ultimately their inability to do so. It may have originated from a deep-seated place, but I have discovered that I quite like it.
More than anything, at this point in my life, my permanent bindi symbolizes the virtues of honor, integrity, grace, and peace of spirit. It is a reminder, every time I look in the mirror, of my pursuits of wellness and wholeness. The actual work to attain these things is, of course, all on me.
I still like to say that it’s there to cover up the bullet hole. I make myself laugh, even if I don’t make anyone else. I still love it, nestled between my rapidly thinning eyebrows. I’d better. Because it’s not going anywhere now.
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.