a hair story

“These are you natural curls?”

“Yes!” I replied, while a total stranger, an Indian girl of about 20-21 years, poked at one of my curls with a finger. Her friend kept staring at my hair with wide eyes.

This is not the first time people have felt the need to tug or fluff my curls for no apparent reason. But this was the first time a stranger had done it. My mother & I were window-shopping in Westfield when I noticed them staring at me from a distance whispering urgently at each other, before they cautiously stepped in front of me and offered nervous smiles. And after paying a complement they somehow felt that it was perfectly appropriate to poke through my hair. It wasn’t that surprising considering how most of my friends had gotten their hair straightened right out of college, and had wasted no time in telling me how it was the best thing they had ever done to their hair.

“What do you use? Any special shampoo or…?”

“Oh no…just stuff from L’Oreal,” I replied. They looked at me with complete disbelief — obviously not believing a word and were pretty sure I was hiding my top-secret hair-care regime.

At their reaction, my mother smirked in amusement. And I knew why.

One constant source of despair during my otherwise highly content childhood, was my hair. I wasn’t allowed to keep long hair, since it required maintenance and serious looking-after. And my mother was absolutely sure I would not be able to commit, in spite of all my promises that I would do everything necessary to keep my hair looking beautiful.

“When you’re in college you can do whatever you want with your hair…colour it blue if you like, I don’t care…but as long as you’re in my house, you’ll keep it the way I want.” And that was her standard line for everything I objected to.

Every couple of months or so, she would literally drag me to the salon and hover over the hairdresser as she/he lopped off whatever little hair that had grown beyond the approved length. All I did, was sit and cry my eyes out. And this continued till I was 17.

When I was leaving for college, her ‘standard line’ seemed like the sweetest advice she’d ever given me. And I took it to heart. Five months into architecture school, I came home for autumn break, fitted with a pair of oversized¬†jodhpuri¬†pants, a T-shirt cut into half horizontally, eyes pasted over with dark make-up and a purple crop of overgrown hair.

It took my mom a whole day to get over everything, especially the fact that her well-dressed little girl had gone all sorts of crazy. It took her even more time to digest how I had cut all my silk shirts (that she had picked out for me lovingly) in half as well.

At the time, going through vodka, college seniors, drawings, building models and fried chicken seemed like the most important things in the world. And maintaining coloured hair seemed like a stupid thing to do. And anyway, I had absolutely no idea how to take care of long hair. For years all I had done was slap on coconut oil, wash it off with shampoo and run a comb through my boy-crop. And suddenly I had long locks which required my attention for more than two minutes. Who had that kind of time?

30 days of vacation, endless lectures from Mom, a high-protein diet, bottles after bottles of mayonnaise and ice-sold water worked their miracles. And I’ve stuck with all that since. Which is probably what I should have told them.

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