It was a hot afternoon in July. The heat inside the school bus was making everyone sweat. The hot air blowing in from the rattling windows was the only respite. A lot of water bottles were now empty. The Delhi heat had turned my cheeks red and my hair was all over the place. Finally, my stop arrived. ‘Maggi, Maggi…your hair looks like maggi noodles!’ someone commented from behind. The rest of the kids burst out laughing. I don’t remember who said it, but I do remember that I did not respond. I would have probably made a face and swiftly got off the bus.
Later in the evening, I sat on the floor, at my grandmother’s feet as she oiled my hair and tied it up neatly with ribbons into two braids on either side. She told me it will help my hair grow. On Sunday, when I shampooed my hair, it took on a totally different avatar. My mother lovingly admired, ‘The curl falling on your forehead is like that of Michael Jackson!’ I smiled. It was a compliment since at that point in time he was quite a star performer with a formidable fan following.
I happily brushed my hair that evening and went to meet my cousins. My hair transformed into a big black halo around my head, bigger and bad-er than a wild Lion’s mane. My cousin looked at me and said, ‘Sai Baba hair!’. All through my teenage years, I mostly hated my hair. Most of my friends seemed to have effortless, silky, straight hair that could be maintained just by combing.
Once I started working and earned my own money, within the first few months I blew up a huge portion of my salary on straightening my hair. My hair was so stubborn that it refused to get tamed in the first go, so I ended up getting it done twice to achieve the desired result. In the middle of the process, I suddenly saw my mother storming into the parlor. ‘What are you trying to do? You will end up going bald!’. Clearly, she didn’t like the idea of me getting my hair marinated in chemicals. She was concerned.
But, at that age and time of life, I was experimenting with my new-found freedom and my own money. I loved my new straightened hair. My curls had been hiding the true length of my hair. I suddenly had long, straight hair that hardly needed anything much to make it look like I had been to the salon. I couldn’t stop admiring it in the mirror in the first few days.
As the months passed and my curls began to regrow from the roots, the straightened part of my hair began to look lifeless. To me, it looked like it was not a part of me, it was fake. One fine day I chopped it all off, leaving me with short wavy hair. I was relieved to touch it and feel the ‘original’ stuff. Ever since then, I never felt the urge to get it straightened or re-bonded again although I did experiment with different styles and lengths. At one point I got it cut into such a short style that my husband said I looked like a boy!
About a year ago, I went for a haircut and the young stylist looked at my damp hair and said, ‘Lovely curls!’ and he styled it beautifully and naturally without using direct heat. I immediately loved the look and realized it was easy to do it on my own. More recently, I got acquainted to the CG methods and started using some of the natural products made for curly hair. While, I am not great at using it and haven’t worked hard at mastering the techniques involved, I do see a change and I like it, since it is naturally me and does not involve using heat and chemicals to punish my hair to become something that it is clearly not.
Even in movies and magazines, the models and actresses rarely have curly hair. They mostly have straight hair or stylish waves. Its only when characters have a wild side or a brave side, they are shown to have curly hair. Think of the red-haired princess in Brave or Tapsee Pannu in Pink. Mostly, straight hair is the norm, just like being a certain size, weight or height is. Anything else feels like being a minority. I do realize that I had been trying to tame and torture my hair to confirm to a certain standard, to make appear like something which it is naturally not. Now, I have accepted that my hair has a mind of its own and I am learning to give it unconditional love (in the form of CG products).
Last year, during Durga Puja, as I opened my eyes after praying and looked up at the ten-armed Goddess Durga, I noticed her hair. It was long and gorgeously curly. A childish voice inside me said, ‘It’s the Goddesses who have curly hair!’ I smiled and closed my eyes in prayer again.