Venu came running up the front steps with a handful of red powder and a wooden stem broken from a stick of incense. He went around to the side of the porch and ran some water from the spigot there into his hand and came right back, looking like he was bleeding from an artery, speaking at me in rapid-fire Telugu and pointing frenetically at my forehead with the stick.
This could only mean one thing: it’s time for a makeover !!
He dipped the stick into the thick red goop in his hand; then deftly pressed it to my forehead and removed it again in a single motion, leaving behind this perfectly vertical red mark.
The red stuff is a powder called kumkum, but Venu and his family call it “kumkuma” as they speak Telugu. These marks are, as I understand it, primarily a Hindu custom, and it originated long long ago with blood sacrifices. As messy animal sacrifices became less fashionable, the powdered kumkum eventually took its place; serving the same wide variety of purposes, but without making so much noise. The velvet adhesive dots of various colors and the jewelesque adhesive Bindis are also descended from the same origins. Anyway, these particular kumkum marks indicate to which of the many manifestations of the Hindu goddess you are devoted; in the case of this single vertical line, I think it indicates devotion to Shakti and/or Lakshmi. And though this is a primarily Hindu thing, forehead decoration in general here is for anyone to enjoy.