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If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Henry Thoreau

My parents in their mid 30’s

My mom (Oma) was a natural beauty. Scrubbed face, no makeup – not even lipstick. All she wore were a few dabs of sandalwood lotion on her skin. Once her English friend presented her a with a lipstick and begged her to wear it to the cocktail party they were going to that evening. Oma reluctantly put it on only to please her friend. According to my dad (he had a wicked sense of humor!) Oma had her mouth pursed like a goldfish that whole evening. She was too uncomfortable to talk, smile, eat or drink. Finally, half way through the party, she had had enough and the lipstick came right off.

“You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself.” 

Ricky Nelson

Oma in her 50’s

As she was getting older, Oma’s hair started turning grey. One day sis and I decide to spiff her up. We took her to the beauty parlor and got her hair colored. Oma dropped fifteen years, right then and there. Even she was surprised. Then she glanced at the bill she let out a loud wail. “Eeeesh! How much? 450 rupees! Daylight robbery!”. (450 rupees if you must know, is the equivalent of 10 bucks. It was more back in the 80’s– maybe 25.)

Several weeks later the hair color started to fade but Oma was too cheap to spend that kind of money again. Not that she could not afford it.  It just irked her to pay someone to put dabs of paint on her head.

“What’s there to it?” she said. “Why can’t I do it myself? I will buy the hair dye from New Market and paint my own head.”  (FYI  back in the 80’s there were no imported color rinses available in India: hair coloring was a tedious and messy job that wrecked your bathroom.)

“Please Oma, “ we begged. “Just get it done professionally. We’ll pay for it.”

Oma glared at us. “No need to show off your money,” she said tartly. “It’s is not about your money or my money. This is daylight robbery. I can buy 4 kilo mangoes with 450 rupees!”

There was no arguing with her, so Oma went and bought the hair dye from New Market and spent a half a morning in the bathroom coloring her hair. She was very pleased with the results.

“How do I look?” she said, “ Quite professional, no? Just like the beauty parlor.”

We were surprised. It actually did look pretty good. Then she turned around …

“OMA!” we shrieked, “You did not do the back! It’s still completely grey!”

“Where?” said Oma twisting around to look at the mirror. “Where? Where? I can’t see it.”

“But we can can see –other people can see it. Oh Oma, It looks completely crazy!”

“Well, then it’s your problem and other people’s problem,” said Oma. “As long as I don’t see it, I’m fine. That’s all I care.”

And that ended the argument.

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If Oma was alive she’s kill me for sharing this. There is a lot I learned from her. Oma was fiercely individualistic and a feminist well ahead of her time. She was also adventurous, inventive and a barrel of laughs. Funny stories about her abound in the family. Here another post about Oma from my KARMA CHEF cooking blog.

Please share your thoughts: How much do you compromise to please others? Who are your role models? What made you who you are? Cheers!

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Layla, the protagonist in my debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is a fictional character but embodies many traits of my mother, Oma. You can read the synopsis and first chapter HERE. Teatime for the Fireflywill be published by MIRA BOOKS. Release date will be announced soon!

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