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.


sanjeev sarma said...

Well written ... amazingly well done :)

This funda about hair and its sanctity and so on, is not a part of just Indian landscapes ... Its there in (every or rather most parts of) the world, and in different forms, shapes, location on the person and intensity points.

Maybe you could google up and search for "hair and religion" ... it will throw up a huge amount of links and so on ...

On the flip side, its like the bear says when asked to describe himself: Hair, There and Everywhere :D

Or like the bald man that says, Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow.

Cheers and keep smiling

Nandita said...

Beautifully written Gurpreet, and I could totally identify with it...your Sikh family and my Tambram family...cutting hair was sacrilage.
When I starting living by myself, with no one to bother about my hair , i got it cut the shortest length possible, i lvoed it, and i looked atleast 10 years younger. Now married, hubby likes long hair while i crave for short once again...but sometimes I feel long is fine too...
I loved your story

the mad momma said...

I wish I coudl have long hair but it's just not thick enough to revel in it... With your Punjabi genes you probably have amazing hair....

Pinaki said...

Hair includes air, but shudnt be the one on which you stand.

I think you shud let ruhi have a haircut instead of washing her hair in your tears. the truest affiliation is from within and not for others as you have realised.

rest, as they say, is all a child's play!

Balvinder Singh said...

Deja Vu, please read my post the "The Haircut"

Balvinder Singh said...

refer your comment on my blog post "The Haircut"

C'mon you don't have to harbour any guilt or confusion over such petty things as short or long hair. These are mere inventions of the clergy who have to keep their shops running. The sikh gurus have called upon us in every shloka of Guru Granth Sahib to shun the false pretentions and affectations. There are a number of shlokas which even go against growing hair and those come from none other than the Tenth Guru Himself. Let some learned bretheren interpret this shloka for me :- "Re Mann Aiso Kar Sanyaasa..... Jath kee Jataa (hair), Jog ke Majjan, Neim ke Nakkhan Badhao"
Or another one :- Teerath Koti Kiye Isnaan, Diye Bahu Daan Mahavrath Dhaare. Des Phiriyo kar Bhes Tapo Dhann, Kesh (hair) Dhare na Miley Har Piyaare."