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Debaroti Ghosh brings traditional mehndi henna art to Oklahoma

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Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016. - EMMY VERDIN
  • Emmy Verdin
  • Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016.

Strolling through a farmers market or flea market, people expect to find goodies like cantaloupe, tomatoes and okra; maybe some goat milk soap — nothing too exotic, unless Debaroti Ghosh has her mehndi booth set up.

Mehndi is the application of henna paste in intricate patterns on the skin, most often on hands and feet. It’s commonly done in countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan and has been practiced since the late Bronze Age. The color it imparts is a deep brown.

Ghosh practices her art in a variety of locations like OKC Farmers Public Market and during September at Old Paris Flea Market. She also works at wedding parties.

“We are trying different locations to see which works best, testing the market,” Ghosh said.

Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016. - EMMY VERDIN
  • Emmy Verdin
  • Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016.

Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016. - EMMY VERDIN
  • Emmy Verdin
  • Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016.

Connecting lines

It comes in tiny tubes and is squeezed out onto the skin and allowed to dry. The pigment it leaves darkens for several days and can last up to a month if treated with care.

“It dries pretty quickly, and so most of the time, you would just go to sleep with it on,” she said. “Then, when it has come off, the design will be there.”

Most of the time, women decorate themselves this way, but men do it too for special occasions. Ghosh’s husband Gaurav Kumar, an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) research scientist, wore mehndi designs on his hands at their wedding.

For women, it’s often applied for a special splurge or party, holiday, gathering or social event.

“It’s popular before weddings partly because the henna has a cooling, calming effect on the skin,” Ghosh said.

In May, Ghosh was contracted to create mendhi art on wedding party members the day before a wedding, which is traditional. She also offered mendhi to guests who wanted to try it at the reception.

That day, she worked on 45 people and went through 36 tubes of henna.

“There was a woman there who was Chinese who wanted her back done, which is very unusual, so I did her back,” she said.

One tradition is for the bride to incorporate the letters of her husband’s name into her designs, but not all in one spot.

“The husband must find all of the letters,” she said. “If he cannot, he will have to do what his wife says for the rest of the marriage.”

Ghosh has been a mehndi artist for half of her 28 years and began her career out of necessity.

“I started when I was 14 or 15, in India,” she said. “I wanted my hands done, but I was so small that nobody would do it, so I decided to learn myself, and I used to practice on my mom’s hands and legs, when she would let me.”

Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016. - EMMY VERDIN
  • Emmy Verdin
  • Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016.

Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016. - EMMY VERDIN
  • Emmy Verdin
  • Debaroti Ghosh applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016.

Debaroti pauses for a moment to chat about her art.  Debaroti applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016. - EMMY VERDIN
  • Emmy Verdin
  • Debaroti pauses for a moment to chat about her art. Debaroti applies mehendi (henna) tattoos on customers in Oklahoma City on Sunday, August 7, 2016.

Tasty traditions

Her artistry extends beyond mendhi and into the culinary world.

“She is teaching an Indian cooking class at Francis Tuttle,” Kumar said. “I encourage her to pursue her art. I told her, ‘If you want to make a career of your art, I will support you in that.’”

Her classes will be offered in the fall and spring.

“The class in the fall will focus more on entrees, and the class in the spring will be about Indian street foods,” she said.

The artist herself is lovely, and her work is beautiful.

She explained what brought her from India to Oklahoma, via Nice, France, as she calmly applied a swooping pattern of paisley shapes, lacelike designs and floral elements to her friend Ankita, another recent Oklahoma transplant.

As she worked, Kumar told the story of how he and his wife met.

“I was working on my Ph.D. in Nice, and she came to the university there to do her master’s degree in French,” he said. “There aren’t many Indians there, and a group of us had get-togethers. She came to one of our Indian get-togethers, and we realized we lived in the same area, so we became friends, and then…

“And then we decided to marry.”

Print headline: Handy works, Local artist Debaroti Ghosh celebrates tradition and new beginnings through her henna creations.

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