It is strange that I found myself roughly the same time as I found my hair.
Okay, this sounds deep, but I have a point here. If there can be a human mascot for tropical, evergreen, deciduous forests, it is my family. Each one of us has been blessed with manes that will pass down to at least three generations unless we marry extremely bald people. The only difference between the mother’s side and the father’s side is the degree of wiriness, rather twistings per inch in the locks; my mother’s side scores slightly higher for its tighter ringlets. I fall somewhere in between…
I remember feeling like a gawky adolescent, in my thin frame and ample mane, sighing at the girls in my class who tossed their hair from side to side by mere flick of a chin, while mine remained stubbornly unaltered. It took nearly two hundred brush strokes to part it into two, and then a further fifty before it was rendered to a form that a child from a decent family should assume—I am referring to my two long, oily plaits, which ran up to my waist.
Every Sunday, washing the aforementioned hair was some ritual—being soudi, I was doused with gallons of coconut oil and massaged till my neck was dislodged. Post the laborious wash, when my ringlets were at their glorious best, and I felt like some star from the sixties for precisely thirty minutes, my mother would say, “Comb your hair now, or it will be difficult later…” And it would— it would expand to six times its volume thereafter—I never understood why people need volumnisers.
A few years later, I did the same to my baby sister, and often wailed about having to perform motherly duties of such nature—trapping all of her into those damn two plaits and getting her ready before her cantankerous school mates started yelling her name from under our balcony. I had a bad childhood, as you can see…
As I grew older, and the hair wilder, there were jibes at every corner:
Do you use conditioner?
When was the last time you oiled your hair?
Have you thought about straightening?
Have you combed it?
It’s so rough, no?
I silently wished that I would undergo a genetic transformation and wake up one morning with Neetu Singh tresses that one could sleep through and still look like a daisy. I had no role models—there were no Noyonika Chatterjees or Kangana Ranauts or Kamal Sidhus -- films and television were teeming with straight silken tresses… and I felt like an outsider…
Till I realised—my hair was actually me, crying out from being made to conform, being what you are supposed to be, rather than what your heart wants you to—and then it all became crystal clear… to liberate me, I would have to liberate my hair.
After much research and rejection, I landed at Mario Miranda’s flat. His son Raul was the man picked for the occasion, and I found myself in a room facing the sea, watching Mario sketching, and new-born boxer pups flitting about with their mother in tow. “Wow, I am really doing this in style,” I thought..
Raul turned out to be the man who re-baptized me. The first thing he said was, “Wow, this is wild—I love your hair. There’s so much you can do with..” The lock-chop resulting in a fido-dido look did great things for me, but most importantly, I felt redeemed.
He also taught me to throw anything resembling a comb out of the window. Forever. I soon learnt the fine art of finger combing and scrunching.
It was also the time my mum was lining up suitable boys for me, and was obviously cross that I had destroyed my biggest asset! But I was beyond caring. Finally, I had found the freedom to be me, and was at a point where I could celebrate my hair, and metaphorically, me. Finally, I found the courage to let my hair down, literally and figuratively.
So now when someone musters the audacity to ask me, “Why don’t you try straightening?”, I look them in the eye and say, “No, because I enjoy being me.”
How times have changed! Now, I get asked, “Are those real curls?”