“Ooh, she has such lovely hair.”
Growing up, I heard this one a lot from my mother and aunt. No, they weren’t talking about me; it was about other women. Mummy and Veliyamma noticed hair A LOT. And you get to see a lot of fabulous hair in Kerala. Thick plaits, shining long ringlets, swinging braids, lustrous sheets of dark hair… Ahh.
Now, my sister and I are reasonably blessed in the tresses department. She has a full head of hair, somewhat wavy in texture. As for me, I have always had stick-straight hair, shining and smooth. Not as thick as my sister’s mop but it isn’t too bad.
But I always wished for more. “God, just give me 15% more, that’s all I want.” Like many Indian girls, I sometimes wished for lighter skin but hair featured higher on my “please-God-give-me” list. It must have been the constant refrain I heard while growing up that did it. Good hair was golden. I wanted it, and more of it.
As I turned 16 and headed off to junior college, my hair gained a life of its own. Guys seemed to want to touch it, play with it. Of course, I was flattered. My hair grew in length. It swung happily around my shoulders, bouncing joyfully… finally pleased to get some decent attention.
(When I introduced P to my friend A, she asked him, what do you like about Lakshmi? He responded, her hair. Ahh. I still wonder if he meant it! Or maybe he had to come up with a good response, pronto.)
When I traveled to Egypt, my hair went on a trip of its own. I got loads of compliments from men and women alike. One of my Egyptian workmates took me to her hair stylist to get a color job. It was my first time. The color was strong, and most likely it seared the roots. But it was glamorous in a way that I’d never been. Of course, I reveled in the attention. Those were some heady days (pun unintended), and hair was a huge part of it all. Plus, I was going to marry the love of my life soon, and that added to the drama and excitement. I tried hard to see myself as less girl, more woman. Long hair, shapely hips, slim thighs, dark eyes… Just like movie goddess Rekha.
I enjoyed the woman phase for a short while post-wedding, then reverted to “girl” soon after.
The hair obsession is mildly amusing. I would spend a substantial amount of mental energy thinking about hair, style options, cuts and color, etc. I am a tad spoilt too because I have a spectacular hair stylist, and she indulges nearly every whim I have. So I kept dreaming, and she kept fulfilling my hair fantasies.
Until one day I felt that I had had enough. I wasn’t ever going to age like Rekha or Shobhana. I didn’t look like those gorgeous women. I’d forever look like my Dad’s daughter — big lips, broad nose, greying hair et al. Plus I was tired of the constant evaluating of styles, cuts, etc. I decided to pick the option to end all options. No, I didn’t go bald. I picked a short pixie.
Cut to the present. My hair is short, cropped. It began the inevitable descent into silver-grey a few years ago. I half-heartedly tried color but my heart wasn’t in the endeavor. It cost money, too much for my comfort. And I reasoned, as long as there is hair, why bother about its color?
Of course, it isn’t just hair. It was/is an entity of its own. It gave me a fresh and exciting aspect to life when my own felt lacking and dull. It made me a bit of an It Girl. It got guys to take a look, then another. I had been gawky and skinny for so long… my hair gave me a personality that I never had.
(There is a story that appears in a Ruskin Bond novella about a young girl (Munia?) with beautiful hair. A well-meaning aunt warns Munia that she shouldn’t be leaving her hair untied because that presented the perfect invitation for jinns who are said to take a fancy to young women with open, beautiful hair. And such women were ultimately doomed. Of course, Munia ignores the warning. Ultimately, she falls deathly sick, and all that remains of her is the luxuriant hair.)