ALMOND EYES, LOTUS FEET: INDIAN TRADITIONS IN BEAUTY AND HEALTH by Sharada Dwivedi and Shalini Devi Holkar. Eminence Designs Ltd. Hardcover. 264 pages. $27.50
Wouldn’t you love a long and luxurious bubble bath, a stress-busting body massage, or a session of aromatherapy with fragrant candles and flowers after a long day’s work? Forget it. Most of us don’t even have time for a glass of hot milk with a pinch of saffron and a spoonful of almond paste, let alone a long-drawn out beauty or health treatment.
While a quick pedicure or facial over the weekend is all that we can manage to fit into our busy schedules, it is quite an experience to take a sneak peek into the luxurious lives of the women of yore—their herbal health secrets, home remedies, and rituals. Almond Eyes, Lotus Feet is a book that draws the reader into the luxurious and unhurried world of Indian princesses, their beauty treatments, traditions, and recreation.
Dwivedi has authored quite a few books on Indian history and royalty. Her co-author, Holkar, is an American who was married to the King of Indore and has lived and worked in India for more than 40 years. Narrated by a chatty Indian princess, now in her 70s, the book is “part first aid, part folklore, and part cookbook.” The princess weaves a magical tale around what she has learnt from other women: secrets to keep the body nurtured and glowing; home remedies to nourish a woman as she passes through the various phases of life; and rituals that spice up important events like marriages, pregnancies, and childbirth. She writes that the garden, prayer room, kitchen, and local grocer provide many of the ingredients required for a healthy, beautiful life: the earths, flowers, oils, essences, herbs, and spices, which are already a part of everyday living.
Chapters that cover a gamut of topics such as “Marriage Mantra,” “Maternal Joy,” “Bathing Beauty,” “Bejeweled and Bedecked,”are packed with sepia-toned snapshots and interesting anecdotes. Each thick, glossy page holds a delightful secret, a charming tradition or a tale, a little hint or tip, a nugget of “womanly wisdom—turning this book into not only an interesting read, but also a precious diary that can be passed down the generations.
She shares some of her favorite “home remedies and secrets for new mothers and babies.” For example, panjiri, a sweet from Punjab that provides strength and produces more milk in the lactating mother, is a big hit with her. Panjiri contains dry fruits, almonds, and pistachios, as well as semolina, black pepper, gum Arabic, and phool makhna made from dried lotus root, mixed with sugar and clarified butter.
“Crowning Glory” reveals to the reader a gamut of hair care options and rituals. “In those days,” she writes, “hair treatment didn’t mean a shampoo and set, or a trip to a shop to sit under some sort of machine. It meant lengthy preparation of various oils, decoctions of leaves and herbs, pastes made of mud, yoghurt and turmeric, long drying sessions while one’s hair was spread out over a smoking basket.”
Throughout the book, the lilting voice of the princess evokes memories of an era when life was unhurried: “We never really thought of beauty care as a matter of fashion. We thought of it as tradition, obligation, habit, health care and, yes, as good recreation.”
Almond Eyes, Lotus Feet is a “literary spa experience” that every woman should treat herself to.