Out of the three prompts for the Macaulay Honors College admissions essays, I enjoyed crafting every word for this one: From what frequent activity do you derive your greatest joy? Why is this activity meaningful to you, and how does it shape your perspective on life? I knew there was only one answer. The answer that would allow me to be as creative, as intricate and as bold as the activity itself—henna. Henna is a paste made from crushed mignonette leaves. When the paste is applied to the skin for 20-30 minutes, it leaves behind a stunning crimson red stain that lasts for about two weeks. This incredible phenomenon of the plant is used to create body art in my native country of Bangladesh and in other countries like Africa, Pakistan, India, and the Middle East. During special occasions, henna artists use aluminum cones with a fine tip to apply the henna paste in beautiful patterns that can turn bare skin into admirable artwork.
For my essay, I wanted to tell a story to my readers of how I became a henna artist and how being a henna artist impacted my transition from living in Bangladesh to living in the United States. I knew exactly how to tell the story in my head, but when it came down to writing it on paper, I was at lost for words. Since this was a college admissions essay, I wanted every word to be perfect. This idea of perfection drained me. It took me hours to craft one sentence that I would later delete because I was no longer satisfied with it. I repeated this process over and over again until I became too frustrated to continue working on the prompt.
I decided to step away from writing and start enjoying my summer vacation. As Eid al-Fitr, my holiday was approaching I began to sketch the henna design I would create on my hands. As I sketched, the ideas I had for my essay on henna came flooding back into my head. At that moment, I decided to take out my laptop and quickly write down my thoughts without worrying about using the perfect words. My vocabulary was not impressive, my grammar was weak and my sentences did not flow, but I finally wrote down the story I wanted to tell.
The excitement I had lost from the stress I put myself through came back. Even though I did not have a completed essay, I had a fragmented base that I could polish into a beautiful piece of writing. I reached out to my English teacher and two of my friends to help me edit my work. I carefully reviewed their commentary and applied their suggestions to create a better draft. After hours of editing, the words on my paper sounded better than the words in my head. I was able to share the story of how henna allowed me to keep a piece of my Bengali culture, a piece that I was able to share with others in the United States.
Since the essay on henna was my first college admissions essay, I was able to improve my writing process for my other essays. I no longer allowed myself to sound perfect on my first try. Instead, I used my method of free writing first and then editing my work until I was satisfied with the outcome. Although it still takes me a large portion of time to translate my thoughts into words, I no longer look at writing as a frustrating task. Henna is a part of who I am, and my essay proved to me that I can express my love for this art with others through writing.
As an immigrant in the United States, I had traded my kurti for a shirt, my salwar for jeans, and my bangles for a watch. But this beautiful art, henna, was something I still retained and I wanted to share that in my essay. I wrote about how I was able to display a part of my culture with henna to a diverse array of people. I emphasized the glee it brought me but I did not write about the sadness it brought me. The crimson red patterns that were wrapped around my arms was not appealing to everyone. While many people appreciate the beauty of my art, there were others who were disgusted. I chose to ignore writing about this because I did not want to smear negativity on my essay. Although I was tremendously hurt when others mocked the art that brought me the greatest joy, I only wanted to share my positive experiences. Henna has always been a way for me to spread my culture, to those who love it and to those who don’t.