Tuesday, July 25, 2006

POLITICS OF MY HAIR : I think I must have been born out of my mother’s womb with long hair – 2 neatly oiled plaits in tact. My earliest memories of my hair are of those dreaded Sundays when my mother would perform the ritual of washing my long hair. Do you think my vertigo could be a result of those horrifying Sundays? She would cruelly pull and tug at my hair and make me bring all my hair forward so that it was easier for her to soap and clean them as fast as possible. With two other small children and no help at home I am sure she was coping as best as she could. The Sunday bath was a nightmare for me. The mess of my hair over my tiny face suffocated me. I could not breathe. I was scared to close my eyes when she poured water over my head but she would not stop and I would feel like death. Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see and I would shriek and howl till the neighbors raised an alarm. I was four years old.

And whenever I needed a thrashing, my hair was attacked first. I guess pulling my long pigtails was more convenient than pulling my ears!

As I grew up I learnt that my long hair had religious meaning. And that if I cut my hair (or even as much as let a pair of scissors touch my hair) I would face the wrath of an angry God. I dare not ask why my dad dutifuly trimmed his beard and moustaches every other day. I grew up gathering up for myself that long hair meant that I was good and god fearing and therefore approved by the society my parents lived in.

Adolescence and self-consciousness came together. I did not forever want to wear those two long plaits. But there wasn’t much I could experiment with, without getting into serious trouble. Except that one day after much deliberation, I cut the thinnest strands to fall on my face despite my two plaits, but long enough to tuck behind my ears whenever I thought anyone could find out. That must have been the sneakiest thing I had ever done and when I let those strands fall on my face I felt like a princess. Sure enough I was found out and all hell broke loose. I had not only ‘sinned’ since what I had done was a religious taboo but also shown that I would bring shame to the family one day. I wonder why it was so obvious to my mother that I cut those strands to attract the boys!!!

Letting my hair open was the most fashionable thing for me and I remember going for my school ending party in my open hair neatly pinned on the sides. It was one of those rare exceptions that my father allowed it and how I loved it. But my two plaits stayed in place even when I began college. Often in the privacy of the bathroom I would fold my hair and imagine how I would look in short hair. It became a fantasy of sorts for me. Slowly the two plaits became a neat little bun that made me look so much older than I was but it was also very convenient to let it unfold as soon as I was out of watchful eyes.

The first time I cut my hair was with a boyfriend who encouraged me to do it. We went to Habibs at the Lodhi Hotel. Javed Habib did the honors and he asked me what I wanted. My only requirement was that my hair be left long enough to be tied up to delude folks at home.

My friend later confessed that he was mortified when Javed’s scissors touched my virgin locks as he had been told in all somberness by his Sikh primary school best friend that God punishes in the meanest ways if anyone would cut a Sardar’s hair!

Short hair lifted many years off my grown up head. I was suddenly a new person. I felt free like air…. it was suddenly as I had found myself after years of nervous groping around within. There was a huge emotional scene at home once my parents found that I had finally done the unthinkable. I was no longer sikh but an identity less nomad. I felt no remorse. The God who lived in my head did not judge me by these standards. I was still as much Sikh as any of them.

My hair only got shorter after that in rebellion. Friends who had known me in my teens felt I was a younger person now than I was in my twenties. I felt liberated and I realized I had finally found a skin I was comfortable in. Whenever I ever felt low, all I needed was a haircut to lift me up in an instant.

Many people could never recognize me again and I did not regret it one bit. My only guilt was towards my helpless middle class parents who were still fighting a losing battle with the alien values of their children. My long hair gave them comfort of knowing that I was still their own. I realized with the greatest pain how much the length of my hair mattered in my relationship with them. Of course it also drove me to ridiculous heights. On my wedding reception I struggled for hours getting my very short hair fixed into a bun since I did not want to hurt my family more than I had already done with my choice of a Muslim husband. I wince whenever I look at my wedding album since I don’t recognize my face in those pictures. Yet such is the politics of hair.

A few more short hair years down the years, my lovely daughter was born. I never cut her hair even once andI think she looks like a princess with her lovely brown hair covering most of her tiny four-year-old frame. Its another story that she hates her long hair and wants a ‘Superman’ hair cut (I think she has a gender identity crisis !). Yesterday she chopped off some of her hair on the sly and I cried for an hour afterwards. I cannot bring myself to get her a haircut. I bask in glory for days when people say that she looks like a doll with that hair. The story turns full circle and I indulge my ego like my parents indulged theirs…

Somewhere along the way I didn’t even notice that my hair had grown longer or that I no longer felt the urge to cut it. I am in fact beginning to like that soft feminine feel of long hair against my face. I guess I am once again discovering myself through my hair.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Last night Richa and I decided to grab a quick drink at PVR, Saket which is at a stone's throw from home. Well you cant actually throw a stone but but maybe its an air gun shot from home? The point is that it wasnt as if we went for a drive drive and almost as we stepped out - at the sole red light between home and PVR one blue Wagon R (UP number 6890) drove right into my bumper and Richa immediately jumped out of the car to "fix the moron"!!! I was still struggling with my seat belt when the guy sneaked his car almost through my open car door and ran away. Now that was enough to ignite my north Indian fighting spirit. Richa promptly jumped back in and I almost stood upon the accelarator to catch up with him and we gave him the chase of his life for the next 20 minutes.

The guy must be about 35 (can't even blame adolescence and the blah )and his eyes were glued right in front of him as it was his mission to pierce through all that came his way that night and he would intermittently raise his right arm at right angles as if to say that he was going to stop. And then he would promptly and predictably take the next turn he could find. Like if the traffic was going right he would turn left as if he actually thought I was IQ challenged ! Richa was shouting profanities and I was doing mental math's to arrive at the approximate denting and painting cost of my brand new red Swift since I was itching to bang my front bumper into the back of his car. We were back to back and side to side most of the time and I think I could have broken his side glass with a hammer if I had one ( Wasi told me later that he keeps a hammer under my seat just in case I needed it !!!)

For others on the road it must have been quite a spectacle since he was speeding like crazy and I was right behind him with one hand blaring the horn non stop. At one dark corner at Jia Sarai we spotted a sleepy looking cop resting on his baton. Richa started yelling " POLICE POLICE" and the cop got completely startled and he jumped a few times since he could nothing else and he waived his baton in the air but we were gone by then. A few meters ahead there was another of his tribe slouching like a fat lazy dog on a chair at an imposing police barricade near Qutub Hotel. I thought we had finally got the evil Wagon R but the UP Champ nearly drove through the barricade, almost knocked a scooterist dead and Richa was half out of the window shouting "CATCH THAT MAN" and I was honking non stop driving like a maniac. The cop kept slouching like he was and looked so bored that I decided that the chase wasn't really worth the effort since not only did no one including the cops, seem to care but it wasn't entertaining enough for anyone either! I turned back to go grab that quick drink at PVR.By then we really needed it. On the way back we both wondered what would happen if a woman screamed rape in a moving car on these same roads, or if someone just went berserk with their car killing people, like this guy seemed close to be doing....Delhi would probably not even bother to look the other way. Too much effort. Easier to just stare.