Red Nails and Funerals

A friend’s father died a couple of weeks ago. That Sunday morning, the dead-body / corpse, once a living Mr. D, was to be taken to the Sion crematorium from his house in Matunga. I went to offer my condolences and to be around in case my friend needed any help.

There were quite a few friends, family and neighbors already there. While some were busy preparing the bamboo stretcher on which Mr. D would be placed on the way to the crematorium, some others were trying to finish the rituals associated with Mr. D’s death and body.

Finally the time came for all of us to circumambulate Mr. D to pay him our last respects. First went the family members and close friends…we were to follow. My head was bowed and I was watching the slow shuffle of bare feet, when I saw one with perfectly painted, bright red nails, the kind of red polish you see in Maybelline ads, the kind women wear when they are going to a wedding or a party wanting to be noticed, the kind of red that always stops roving eyes and draws attention.

My eyes moved further up and stopped at the bright red fingernails appearing even glossier than usual against the background of the white colored kurta. I finally reached the face…a 30s/40s Gujju lady, part of a growing tribe that takes such good care of itself that I can no longer pin down women’s ages accurately, unlike the situation just 10 years ago, when it was so much easier to tell. I then looked at the feet of some of the other women. Most were either nail polish free, or if they were painted, the colors were muted or pastels.

I couldn’t stop thinking of the woman with the bright, beckoning red nail polish, for the next couple of days!

When we go to funerals and prayer meetings, the rule is to dress sober, usually in white, the women typically wearing white saris or churidar-kurtas with tied-up hair and the men, whites, blacks or blues. I have never noticed the footwear that women wear during such functions, and since there is usually no reason to go bare-feet, have never really noted their toe nail polish as well.

I am assuming that the lady either had an important event to attend the previous day or had something interesting lined up later. Or perhaps this is the way she normally paints her nails, now that bright and unusual colors and patterns have become the norm, this seeming wildness no longer restricted to college going girls, but embraced with an amazing lack of embarrassment by women of all ages.

Should she have removed the bright red before coming to the funeral? Is it incongruous during a death? Or given that death is also a release from the travails of living in this world, should it be fine to add a bit of color as if in celebration? My intuitive reaction was that this seemed a little off, but on second thoughts, why should it matter what color nail polish someone decides to wear at a funeral?

My mind can’t seem to make itself up on this issue. Here are some more facts. It was not an emergency. Mr. D had been dead for two days and if she wanted to, the red lady had ample time to remove the nail polish.  Obviously, she took a conscious decision not to.

Is this even relevant? Have women always been wearing bright nail polish at funerals and I haven’t noticed? And is then even relevant?

Am I a dinosaur or just socially nail-color blind?


  • Kaushal wrote:

    Well I find it is a personal decision and I would leave it there. I would not read a lot into it.
    The fact that she cared enough to pay condolences is enough. Why grudge the nail polish she had on? It may be a conscious decision. Even a narcissistic and misplaced fashion statement. But doesn’t change much for me.
    -Dr.Kaushal Chhatrapati

  • mehul mehta wrote:

    It is personal but in above case time was there to remove or it might be a formality which she is completing by attending the funeral.

  • sandhya Saharan wrote:

    Nowadays funerals r photo ops depends on the mindset of the individual.custom and tradition wise it is a strict no no to dress over the top at these events,but being the odd one out can give some people attention which they wd not get otherwise . definitely not something to endorse but like they say “I cdnt care less”

  • S S Vengsarkar wrote:

    Observation,some celebrate death,some are inconsolable,one can judge the purpose as long as you respect thr dead it’s fine.

  • Monisha Pratap Shah wrote:

    It’s that day and age where ‘I don’t care a damn ‘ attitude rules. However getting a bit philosophies the outer appearance need not be in concurrence with what feels on the inside . She could have been a bit sober but then what about the ones who wear white appear ‘with it ‘ but in actuality are probably chatting on whatsapp or playing a game ? I too shared ur sentiment when I had seen a ‘Madame ‘ with huge diamond earrings and equally large channel sunglasses (indoors)!!!!but then they say ‘never judge a book by its cover ……


  • Vasumathi Sriganesh wrote:

    In TamilNadu we do not wear white. We just dress sober. I never thought about removing my nail polish – my husband’s uncle just passed away yesterday (and both of us had to do the final rites as his son was away on high seas) – for the ceremonies. I also had to wear a 9-yards saree and the simplest one I had was with a bit of jari too. If I were in Chennai I could have borrowed a simpler one from some elderly person, but there was no scope here

  • Leave it. at least she made an appearance. Maybe she genuinely forgot about the nail polish.
    In the south we do not wear white. so, I go with a sober saree but do go to lend moral support.

  • Pushpendra Shah wrote:

    Some ladies want to STAND OUT, and other ladies are OUT STANDING…
    Where did this lady stand, Bhavin ?

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