Inai

Recently I had all my 10 finger nails covered with 'inai'. 'Inai' is henna or mehendi, in Malay. My aunt had blended some inai leaves to dye her hair. She made some for my mom too. So after my mom dyed hers, she, my sister and I used the balance on our fingers. They even used it on their toes.

20 years ago, when my mom was still working in the factory, her Malay friends would give her some inai for her fingers. Apparently they are good for fingers, don't know how, but it was said to be good. So, since I had injured my vishuddhi finger (I was playing with one of those rocking chair and my finger got caught in between something and the next thing I know my finger nail came out. New nail has grown, but it is overlapping and not the same as before), my mom wants to try some inai on my fingers, see whether my nails will grow properly, so some of her Malay friends even taught her how to do it.

By the way, Malays used inai especially the women during weddings. It is almost like the Indian weddings, where mehendi decoration is done on the hand, the Malays only do it on their fingers. Something like nail polish.

So, I was brought up knowing what inai is, so is my sister. We never thought that it is so awkward or what. When I put inai and went to school, 20 years ago, my Chinese friends will ask, and I will tell them and they will learn from it and they will not ask the next time I had inai. My Malay friends will be so proud of me, so are my Malay teachers.

So, back to now, I just put some inai last Saturday, all my 10 fingers are now orange in colour. I didn't think it was awkward or weird.

I went to collective and some yogis asked me why did I put inai. That was all.

I went to work and that is when I got the culture shock, more of a culture shock for my colleagues than me.

First, my Chinese colleague who sat next to me asked what happened to my fingers. Why are they bruise? I was shocked. It was not bruised at all, but only orangy in colour.

Then I showed my Malay colleague and she said it looked very nice.

Then I showed it to another Chinese colleague and she said it looked ugly. Another Chinese colleague asked why after eating KFC I didn't wash my hands.

I went to class yesterday, and the Chinese students turned twice to look at my fingers, looking shocked.

At the LRT, same reaction from Chinese people.

Today, I went to buy lunch and the lady who was manning the store asked out of sympathy, what happened to my fingers, how did it become what it is now, and I have to tell her that it is just inai, used mainly by Malays during weddings especially.

Malaysia is a multi-cultural country. Growing up I was taught about other cultures by my parents. Since young, my parents has brought me to attend Indian and Malay weddings.

I am so shocked to know that none of the Chinese colleagues in my company knows what inai is. I am shocked that other Chinese are shocked looking at my orange coloured fingers.

Some of them have been living in Malaysia for more than 50 years, together with the Malays and Indians.

I asked my sister whether she had the same reaction at work and she replied yes. A colleague asked whether she put yellow solution on her fingers.

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