All those who look at my hair today would never believe it even if I swore till I turned blue that I once had long hair. Not just long but veritable Rapunzel tresses. I must have been one of the lucky brides who could flaunt her own long hair without resorting to artificial means to lengthen it.
When I was in primary school, so thick and long my single plait used to be that apparently I looked like a dwarf from behind. For some obscure reasoning which said that when hair is split into two braids the family will split, my mother never allowed me to wear two plaits. If that reasoning were true, we’d all be living in one big loving family and scattered over the country and the world, but that’s besides the point. So single plait it was and was done by my older sisters. True to the practice in those days, my hair used to be well oiled and plaited tightly with a ribbon at the end! When the second oldest sister had got married, the next one took over the job. I was seven at that time.
Being a teenager herself and not blessed with such long tresses, she took it upon herself to take care of mine with a fierce possessiveness. So much so that she admonished me not to touch or ‘meddle’ with it. She would herself undo the plait, oil and plait it quickly back before I could surreptitiously look and admire it. If she caught me doing it, she would scold me for ‘nazar lagaoing’. It was my hair, for heavens’ sake! But there was no arguing with her.
Every Friday, she would apply til (gingelli) oil and then wash it with shikakai powder, taking care to see that I didn’t pull it forward to see how long it was. Nor would she plait it loose to allow it to dry, as all the other girls of my class did. How I longed to have it that way! But she would pat it dry with a towel and then plait it a little less tight than usual. There was this special plait with five strands instead of the customary three, which allowed it to be spread out, facilitating in its drying. Spoilsport!
The only other person allowed to touch my hair was my mother or other sisters. I remember my landlady’s daughter (a little older than my sis) who begged to plait my hair once but she never got the chance. I don’t know what excuses my sis made to her! But the same hair that she so lovingly cared for also was an instrument to express her displeasure at me, whenever she was angry with me. She would yank and pull and mutter under her breath as she plaited it on such days.
All till the day she got married. When the time came for her to leave, all I was asking her was, ‘Who will plait my hair?’ I don’t know if I was crying because she was leaving home and me or because my hair was orphaned!
But wait! Shouldn’t I have been happy that I could anything I wanted — leave it loose, touch it and admire its beauty without her scolding me for spoiling it? But funnily I didn’t want to do any of those things. Isn’t it the contrary nature of humans that they long for something so badly that when they finally get it, it is kind of an anticlimax and is not interesting anymore? So was my case.
I was 14 and had no clue as to how to comb my hair, leave alone plait it! Back in those days, I liked my hair with not a strand out of place so that I didn’t once have to tuck a single rogue strand in. My sis knew the exact tightness that made me feel comfortable. I untangled the hair, combed, plaited and then undid it before beginning all over again – for ‘n’ number of times till it was late for school and I left in tears, with the straggly strands hanging out of the plait and the uneven thickness of the braid that mocked at me. All day long I pulled and tucked at my hair, unable to concentrate on the lessons, feeling uncomfortable and close to tears by the end of the school day.
Fortunately mother washed my hair – I would never have got it clean by myself. For the first time in my young life, I could leave it loose and admire the length which came below my knee (there! I finally knew how long it was!). But no, I hated the hair flying all over the place and making me look like a she devil. Oh, how I wanted the five strand plait that kept it in place, but I couldn’t do it myself so I managed a loose plait, like the one I used to wish for, only now I didn’t want it anymore. At school the oohs and aahs of the younger kids and their loud whispers about the akka (elder sister) with loooong hair made me proud but also scared of the ‘nazar’ that my sis had warned me against.
So began the running battle between me and my hair. I did all I could to spite it and vice versa. I stopped oiling it, didn’t give it the mandatory trimming to keep split ends off and began using shampoos instead of the herbal shikakai mixture my sis so lovingly used. I pulled it into a bun on top my head, left it loose, pinned it up and carelessly plaited it. For its part, my hair never failed to make me feel uncomfortable, no matter what style I chose. Obviously it hated me for treating it with such disdain and vowed to get back at me. As I grew older, I didn’t colour or dye it, proving that ‘I am not worth it’ and that I didn’t ‘Take care’.
And then my headaches drove me to cut it short. I refused to look at the locks that lay on the floor – a final parting of ways. For all the love-hate relationship we shared, I couldn’t see it all leave me. But it wasn’t about to forgive me for the latest slight.
So, long or short, the battle continued. It still drives me nuts to keep it groomed and looking neat. The hairstylists keep changing the style according to their moods, leaving me at my wit’s end. I sometimes wonder if it is in league with them. I am thoroughly sick and tired. Oh for the days of my childhood!
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