Remona Aly
Thursday 07 December 2023 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2

Map of mehndi 

Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2, Zoe Ball Breakfast Show

A map of mehndi 


I have just about recovered from a big fat Asian Muslim wedding that I attended in India. It’s where my parents hail from, and I go whenever one of my cousins decides to get married. 

It’s always surreal, madcap and euphoric to experience each of these extended family reunions. We all cherish the flurry of love and togetherness as we never know how many years it might be until we meet again.

One treasured moment featured an Indian wedding tradition where the women gathered together to have mehndi, or henna, applied to our hands. 

My reluctant mum was persuaded to sit still and take part, even though she’s barely had it done ever since the reddish-brown swirls adorned her own bridal hands fifty years ago. Soon after the wedding, her mehndi faded, mum bid goodbye to both her mother and her motherland to begin a completely different life with my dad here in Britain.  

I think of how those patterns delicately traced onto a bride’s hands may feel like drawing out a map filled with beautiful promise and joy ahead. Yet sometimes, the innocent bliss felt on a wedding day, like the mehndi, can fade away, when hardships blur what once seemed so bright. 

Thousands of miles from family, in a cold climate, mum had to struggle to make ends meet. She had to grieve on a different continent when her own mother passed away, yet she found comfort in her children. Alongside my dad, she built a place for us, and called it ‘home’.  

I think that while things fade away, new ones come into being. New patterns of change and growth keep getting mapped out. Every fleck of feeling, every colour of experience can adorn life, in bleakness and in beauty. 

“We are each an unfinished work of art both waiting and striving to be completed,” said the 12th century-born Persian Muslim poet, Shams Tabriz. “God deals with each of us separately because humanity is a fine art of skilled penmanship where every single dot is equally important for the entire picture.”

I’ll remember that I, like my mum, am nothing less than an unfinished work of art, and I’ll strive to embrace every dot. I also don’t think I’ll look at mehndi in quite the same way again.

To listen, click here Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2, Zoe Ball Breakfast Show