Haircuts were like wanting to touch your nose with your tongue; impermissible, unless you were a giraffe. “Hair is beauty, hair is gift and hair is a treasure that has to be nursed and nurtured like a li’l baby”- this resonated within the walls of my house to a point where I realised even the objects followed the rule. Portraits of Jesus with lush brown hair, Barbie dolls with blond, silky braids and blankets of extra-long fur, that looked like it needed combing. The only thing that defied the rule was papa’s bald head. Nevertheless, he still took care of it like a baby and with all the fancy oil on it, it shone like a mirror.
Mamma went to great lengths making exotic hair oils; a concoction of coconut oil, ground amla, pasty aloe vera, and neem syrup or herbal oil mixed with a tad of egg white and yoghurt. She would then sit me down and apply it to every strand and every parting, while I dozed off, my head on her lap.
“Venda nee kazhivanda, njan kazhiki tharam, illenki aa enna motham nee shampoo itt kalanjitt, yakshide pole mudi parathi nadakkum.” (No, don’t wash it on your own, I’ll wash it for you, else you’ll wash off all the oil and walk around with hair like that of a demoness).
In UKG when all my classmates turned up in bobs and bangs, I had shoulder length plaits.
“I want a haircut amma.”
“Of course you don’t”
After a considerable amount of tantrum and theatrics, she’d grab her cloth scissors and cut off barely half an inch saying “wow. That’s perfect.”
One day mamma came home and found me in the kitchen, my head bent and my hair on the vegetable cutting board with a knife going chop chop. I don’t remember her reaction nor do I remember mine but I know I’ve never tried it ever again.
The only time my hair ever got proper trimming was when S came visiting. Mamma always said she had ‘magical hands.’ She believed her hands had the magic to make your hair grow like Jack’s Beanstalk. To an extent, I believed it too.
Though mamma occasionally trimmed my hair, I have never had it shorter than waist length. So with mamma working night shifts, papa learned to unknot and braid and did it for me every single day till I turned 16.
However on days that mamma refuses to trim my hair, I turn to papa. I threaten him into trimming my hair saying things like, “Oh my God, look at the amount of split ends Papa, the splits are going to go all the way up to the root and I’m going to become bald”, or just reading a passage from Google saying ‘Importance of trimming for healthy hair.’
Relentless, “Angu, nalla mudi olle penpillerkke nalla chekkanmaare kittolu” (Angu, only girls with good hair will get a good groom) often sent me flying across the room to argue if the sole purpose of my existence was to grow hair and hence find a groom!
My first ever proper hair cut was in 12th when I came home whining about farewell celebrations at school. “Everyone’s going to look fabulous except me. I want a haircut mamma, I really really do.” Pitying, she sent me with my cousin while secretly asking her to “keep the length okay.” I got three layers, in a not so deep V, hair still waist length.
Then again while in Kerala, when I sneaked into the neighbour’s backyard with my aunt and bribed their “door to door” hairdresser into cutting it. It didn’t really set off an explosion because I still had fairly long hair, well below my shoulder.
9th October 2017. ‘Hair for Hope’ happened and it set off a chain reaction. I chopped off all my hair and shipped it. It was overwhelming in a nice way as I woke up to hair barely touching the shoulders each day after that, until it decided to grow out. ‘Inspiring and kind’ as mamma called it, chopped off her hair and shipped it too. And back home, papa’s face changed from red to green to blue and green again. Somebody wasn’t pleased at all. But honestly, I felt like Willy Wonka who opened a chocolate factory, after having never been allowed to eat chocolates his entire childhood. Liberated.
Disappointed looks, resentful comments, guilt ripping recollections of exotic oil massages. It was an avalanche of ‘ughs’ and ‘ehs’ and ‘hmphs’. I couldn’t care less. I was already plotting my next salon visit.