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Haven in Henna

by Megan Balani

My grandmother made the paste out of henna powder and lemon juice, creating a green earthy tint with the scent of fresh soil. Grabbing a toothpick, she intricately traced the henna from the toothpick onto her palm. After finishing a little flower design, she handed me a cone, telling me to draw any pattern on her. That was the very start of something that I know will carry on for the rest of my life. The art of henna would not only relieve me in times of stress, but would also bring me to people willing to talk in intricate details about their lives that have led them to me.

In my adolescence, I was a very shy kid accompanied with some social communication issues making it harder to bond with others. I barely spoke, misunderstood social cues, hid behind the towering support of teachers, and felt different due to being one of the only minorities in school. I was lonely and solitary for most of those years. When I started practicing henna, it was (and continues to be) a way to allow myself to let go of the aches of everyday life. We all have little pebbles of pain that we carry on our back, which together create the pressures of a boulder.

Henna was not just an escape, but it helped chip away at that boulder, and opened up doors for me to get more comfortable with others. It continues to have that effect.

In middle school specifically, I did a design on a part of my body every month. That’s when kids in my grade started to get more interested in me, even if that interest was momentary. I continued these designs in high school and wore them for my junior and senior prom. My passion for henna took off especially in college when I started my henna business, Megan’s Mehendi, which has been slowly growing since 2019.

I started the business in an entrepreneurship class focused on developing a business idea throughout the semester. This was at my previous university. With every person I made a design for, I made sure the experience didn’t feel like a means to an end. There was always a conversation going. In the span of 15 minutes, people would show different depths of themselves - from the good and hard parts of their days to private memories and hopes. It continues to be an honor to hear these stories. Sometimes the sessions take on a more therapeutic element.

As people dove into their memories, their experiences, however uncomfortable, became infinitely more accessible to me. That is what I allow others to bring out of themselves.

My transfer to BU has been an exhilarating chance to encounter and talk to people of different backgrounds, regardless if it is a brief contact or the start of a new friendship. You know those conversations you have with someone one time that lasts for hours, and then you might never see the person again? These moments might not blossom into friendships, but their impressions bring me a bliss that lasts for days. Reaching your hand out, either for a henna design, through starting a conversation in an elevator, or running into someone in class is something we need to continue to do in order to see more of ourselves in others. When I engage in something I am passionate about, the borders I usually have up melt away. When I lower my guard, people notice and do the same. I give them a space to be vulnerable in their conversations with me.

Without henna, I would not have had a medium of expression allowing me to feel confident in my abilities as an artist, as well as assertive in engaging people in the beauty of my culture.

Say hello to me if you ever see me on Commonwealth Avenue! I am always down to do some henna designs for you. I even might give you a Dum Dum lollipop, a habit I’ve gotten into in the strategy of meeting others.

Check out Megan's Henna Business here