I just bought a new comb. Not the flimsy plastic ones with a couple of teeth. This is a solid one with a thick wooden frame. Strong enough to crack a skull. It has a very specific purpose, and it is not called a ‘comb’. It is called a paddle brush. The ‘teeth’ have ceramide technology stuff in them, I’ll have you know. It’s the gateway to luxurious, glowing, silky smooth hair. Or so I thought.
From a very young age, I’ve been a bit finicky about the mane. Possibly because that is the only thing one can change about oneself in a jiffy. Childhood saw me with waist length hair, often oiled, pulled taut and plaited into two braids. Years of chasing me up and down the ‘vataara’ before pinning me down and braiding the said plaits left Amma traumatised. So she decided to get me a ‘baaf cut’.
On a happy, happy summer afternoon, Amma bundled me and the cooing sister in a bus, and off we went to Jayanagar 4th block shopping complex. The complex housed Bangalore’s best known beauty saloons of the 80s. I don’t remember the name, but there was a ‘Chinese’ one and an ‘Indian’ one. Reliable sources had informed Amma that the Chinese were masters of the game when it came to hair cuts. And there, I had my first brush with ‘hair fashion’ even before I was ten. I remember being mighty pleased about the ‘baaf cut’ – but photos prove I looked like a character from Dilbert. Anyway, Amma had relaxed mornings.
As a teenager, I naturally had a narcissist obsession about the way I looked. One afternoon, during some study holidays, while I was supposed to be solving quadratic equations, I figured my forehead was abnormally wide. It is. Like LCD or Plasma screens. My remedy was simple. I needed a fringe to even out this facial distortion. That was the moment I realized that cutting hair was not easy. You’d think your hand is steady; but the mind boggles at the zigzag line that’s emerged. Now, since I had the hair over my eyes to cut the bangs, I had managed to trim the edges of my eyelashes too. Once the business was done, I surveyed the result. I looked like a tramp. I hoped a litre of coconut oil and twenty-five thousand clips could hide the mishap. But Amma had a sharp eye. It was apocalypse for me. That too, I had used the scissors meant for cutting milk packets and jasmine strands.
By the time I got into a job, I had more or less well settled hair. My style was a non-fussy blunt just above the shoulders. It was neat and professional. Until one day... boredom struck. I marched into the nearest salon and picked up a superbly chic style from their catalogue. Unfortunately for me, the girl supposed to cut my hair was used to doing ‘step cut’ and ‘baaf cut’ for 3 year olds. She did the same to me. Photos of that era show that I had an uncanny resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. For the first time, I did think of running away from home. How could I go home after this catastrophe? But I did return home. My sister burst out laughing. Amma’s eyes bulged. I think Appa wanted to join the evil sister, but fearing Amma’s reaction, chose to remain neutral. Let us draw curtains on that sad evening.
Next morning, when I shampooed the cursed hair and dried it, I looked like an exotic baboon. It was too much for Amma and she joined the sister’s continuous laughter. I visited an upmarket salon on Commercial street and got the hair re-styled. Such was my plight that I was allowed inside without an appointment – I was treated as an emergency case. Now, the hair was truly well groomed and Amma loved it. It was like Demi Moore’s in Ghost. However, sadly, my resemblance to Moore ended there. The new hair style was a blessing. It warded off pesky marriage alliances – I no longer belonged to the ‘traditional with modern outlook’ category. I belonged to the ‘ultra-modern spoilt by western influence’ category. Undisputedly, a result of disastrous convent education.
That brings me to the essence of this blog, you poor blighted readers. The Psychology of Long Hair in India. No, no...please don’t leave this page. It gets interesting I tell you.
‘Teri zulfon se judaii tho nahin maangi thi,
Quaid maangithi, rihaii tho nahin maangithi’
‘Yeh reshmi zulfein, yeh sharbathi aankhen...
Inhe dekh kar jee rahen hai sabhi’
‘...Aakhon per tum ne kuch aise, zulf gira di hai,
Bechaare se kuch khwaabo ki neend uda di hai’
And a million such lines. Obviously they don’t refer to short spiky hair. In these lines lies the essence of a woman’s sexuality. Indeed, there is nothing as seductive as a woman with such a luxuriant, lustrous crowning glory.
But the obsession about long hair does not end there. The roots go deeper, pardon the poor pun. Apart from being a symbol of femininity, long hair is also associated with strong moral values. Not convinced? As a parent who would you choose as YOUR daughter-in-law? The one with waist length hair or the one with the spikes?
Girls-with-long-hair are deemed as more homely, conforming to tradition when compared to short-hair counterparts. Girls-with-short-hair evoke an uncomfortable chemistry. They may as well walk around with neon lights that blink ‘rebels, no respect for society’ and other similar messages. But the most dangerous label they carry is ‘westernised’. Indeed that one word reflects all the evil that threatens the Indian morality –career-minded, ambitious, no-respect-for-elders, does-not-believe-in Gods (note the plural), boyfriends, dating, affairs – phew!
In many of our movies, the vamps are the ones with short hair and ‘western’ outfits. They are mean-minded, they don’t hesitate to assert their sexuality and are always after the hero’s money. The leading ladies on the other hand are docile, pure of body and mind and stand by the hero even if he is an obnoxious bum because of the ‘sachcha pyaar’. And yes, they have long hair. Or, if the heroine is a shrew in the first half – she wears a short hairstyle to drive home the point. When the hero has sufficiently insulted and assaulted her ego and sense of identity and brings her to the path of conformation (usually in the second half), her hair magically grows in length. Pah! Thankfully, the modern bollywood cinema and ekta kapoor have blurred the line between leading lady and vamp sufficiently.
Why all this contemplation, you ask? It is because the expensive paddle brush has not delivered what it promised. The hair is as luxurious as weeds on a marshland. I am tempted to get the mane chopped ; but Vogue advises me not to. Now that my body shape has reached spherical proportions, I am supposed to maintain shoulder length hair. Of course, I can get a neat Halle Berry look, and then WORK OUT to make my body suit my hair. That will take 20 years, and by then, old age will catch up anyway. In order to look neat, I am advised to go in for a ponytail. But that will make my ears look elephantine and my nose will jut out like the rock of Gibraltor. Hold on...I am offered the option of looking neat in a messed up way. Like Meg Ryan. I will only need twenty four different creams, oils, serums, sprays, shampoos, conditioners. I can start with some Moroccan oil. Then I can use that shampoo which will add a shine and nourish my hair with tea tree oil. Then I can use the conditioner with avocado oil that will make my hair feel like silk. Then, I can gently towel-dry my hair and use this cream on the roots of the hair to lock in proteins. Then, I can use another cream only for the ends to prevent damage from harsh environment. Then, I can gently use the paddle brush to even out all these good, rich nourishing creams. It took 2.5 hours to do all this.
I stand in front of the mirror and survey the effect. Bob Marley stares back at me.
© Sumana Khan - 2011