Yes, it’s curly and yours is not, but stop touching my hair!

photo(3)In my post-birth delirium, one thing I remember vividly was spotting a head with a mass of curls and feeling slightly kicked that Re got my hair. I realize now that I hadn’t really prepared myself for the aftermath that looks like it’s going to last at least a few decades if not more, and the spectacle that is curly hair.

In a world of mostly monochrome straights and apologetic waves, curly stands out. It has spunk, it speaks, it has texture, so yes, it does attract. One thing Re noticed about himself quite early was that he was different, mostly because no one else had hair like him. No, the difference hasn’t bothered him yet, but I can tell that his hair is the object of envy, amusement and intrigue in mixed proportions to most of the universe around him – children and adults alike, in fact more adults than children.

When it’s a child, he is able to express his annoyance at being hair-teased. But often, it is an adult, and very often, it is someone we know, and although he dislikes the ruffling and the touching, he is often unable to express his feelings regarding the same.

Last year, we moved to a more holistic space for education, where there is more tolerance and mutual respect than the world outside, and although the jibes/remarks about the hair reduced significantly (as did the endless questions on why does he sport long hair if he is a boy), we are still far away from having his hair left alone.

Often the people touching are parents themselves and while they may have defined boundaries for their own children, somehow the same doesn’t apply when it comes to others. Re is an attractive child, and the curls somehow make him even more so, and I find that he bears the brunt of constantly getting his hair ruffled by random people (when he had fluffy cheeks, it was hair and cheeks).

I wonder why they do that. Perhaps they have never seen or felt curly hair before. Perhaps they are touching it to see if it’s real. Perhaps they want to see how it behaves when touched. Whatever the reason, it seems equally pathetic.

I remember my grandmother had thick, long hair, curly hair that we seldom saw, unless one of us happened to be around to watch her unveil her towel post a head bath, when a crop of tight, mostly black, long ringlets would come cascading down like Rapunzel. I loved her hair and wondered why she didn’t let it down more often. Now I know. Too much attention.

Since my mother (of soft, fluffy curls) married my father (of thick, unruly curls), she begat the three of us with almost equal intensities of curls, with my twin siblings getting more of the ringlets than me. Re, it appears has got the best of our cumulative genes.

But I am sure my mother went through similar experiences with us too. Perhaps her way of working around it was to always ensure our hair was tightly combed and tied (or plaited, for us girls), and my poor brother always had a close crop after his first few years; it ensured his hair never grew to the length of defiant curls, which meant there was very little handling.

I did no such thing with Re; it took me so long to celebrate my curls after the initial decades of curl imprisonment, that I let his grow in wild abandon, and only give him a haircut when he asks for it. We are both happy in the bargain, celebrating our curlies.

But it led me to worry about other things. It woke me up to something bigger, and far more daunting. How many times do people (known and unknown) cross the line when it comes to touching our children? How much can we guard our children against this? Why is it so hard for some of us to respect another’s space, especially a child? Why are we unable to express love without touching a child? How many times do we ever ask a child whether it is okay to pick him up? Pinch her cheeks? Hold her hand? Rub her back? How would we feel if someone constantly did this to us?

Each day, our children are constantly touched in ways they don’t want to be and often we are around too, but we can’t seem to do much about it.  Imagine a child’s frustration on having his/her space constantly violated and not being able to do anything about it. When Re comes complaining to me that he was touched by so-and-so or so-and-so pulled his cheeks or picked him up, I tell him, “Just say you don’t like it. Ask them to stop.”

“But they don’t listen, mamma,” he says.

“So let out your loudest scream to scare them away,” I said.

So each time I hear Re scream, I clap a little clap in my head. Yes, he is learning to say no, I think. But a part of me is deeply saddened by the fact that he still has to.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 5th January, 2015. Do write to me on in case you wish to share something.)


How I met my hair

I totally get it when your biggest concern while moving cities or countries is whether or not you will find a hairdresser that gets your hair. It’s a big deal, hair, especially if you have too much of it (like I do) or too little. The ones in between can safely cushion a botch up, but not the ones who need dilution or concentration.

It’s a bit like the dating game, the whole hairstylist thing. You go out with different people. Some you never want to meet again. Some you give a second chance to. Some you might move from coffee to lunch to dinner with. Some who will never cease to remind you how the others messed you up. Some who make you feel that they are the only ones you can trust. And some, you can perhaps live happily ever after with.

But then we all have had our share of hairum-scarrum stories, and people have trampled all over our hair insecurities, or people having us believe that we (rather our manes) are what they are not. Most times, we are lured into spending huge amounts of money on our hair only to end in total wreckage. Like Karishma Upadhyay whose hair was completely burnt because of bad bleaching. “I huffed and puffed but nothing happened. They tried to tell me stuff like my hair was too dry, ” she said, her lividness still intact. Or Kanika Bains who once got a “sexy, short, easy to maintain” crop. The only twist was she looked like a female Amitabh Bachchan, with sideburns et al for months.

But most of us are quite inarticulate about our hair potential or the lack of it. Parul Sharma, author and blogger, admits she is reasonably tongue-tied when it comes to discussing the cut with the stylist.

“Whatever you think will look good, ” is normally the extent of her contribution. “After that, it is the stylist’s funeral. Once, a stylist had decided that I needed a Victoria Beckham cut. Go right ahead, said I. So, the stylist got to work and 45 minutes later I had a haircut that looked nice, though evidently the Posh look had not really surfaced, ” she says. She tipped him generously and left a happy customer. The effect lasted for about two and a half days. “Soon after, the hair started assuming a life of its own and very soon there was less posh and more bush on my head, ” she laments.

For someone like Bhavani Arumbakkam, who, against her Tam Bram grain, always sported short hair, every haircut was a huge exercise – not at the parlour, but at home. Every ‘baafcut’ was met by a cold stare from her father and a nod of approval from her mother who was happy her daughter could do what she couldn’t. Post marriage, when the crop got a full go ahead from the husband and the in-laws, she dabbled with celebrity stylists, those with more attitude than real hair skills. Over the last few years, her hip hair-salon experiments have included straightening, boy cut, step cut, mushroom cut, at rates ranging from ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 4, 000. Today, she has come full circle with a no-frills hairdresser. “My hairdresser, Geetha, may not have given me a great hairstyle but the best part about her is: No tattoogiri, no pink and green hair, no asking, ‘Aren’t you doing something for your hair? It’s so. . . . . dry’ kinda nonsense. I walk in. She asks me ‘So which cut would you like?’ My usual response: ‘Please make it short. . . thank you’. Ten minutes and it’s over and out. ”

While on the subject, yours truly inherited unruly, dark, voluminous locks from my ancestors and although they were under arrest for the first 15 years of my life, the long tresses being forced into plaits after prolonged oiling and combing, the mother’s favourite recipe for all hair evils. Leaving it loose was considered an invitation to the demons, so even on the hair-wash days, it was tied just then semi-dry so it wouldn’t blow up into an unnecessary balloon, creating a hair-raising spectacle as it were. Every visit to a hair dresser was marked by an apology, “I am sorry, my hair is really thick and curly, but can you do something ?” And then they would say, “It’s so dry. You must use conditioner. ” Just when you had spent a fortune on a banana conditioner for dark, dry and curly hair from Body Shop that lasted precisely two weeks and your hair looked exactly the same. Still, it was early days. Product was not a cool word, straightening was not in, neither was curly hair or dusky complexion. So I had to wait. Till my mid-20s.

Divine intervention came in the form of Raul Miranda (then, more famously known as Mario Miranda’s son who cuts hair), a friend of a friend who had no salon, and only cut hair at 8 am in his bedroom. “Wow! That’s wild!” he said of my hair. But by then, I was so tired of taming my tresses that I said to him: “I want to go short. Really short. ”

He gave me what felt like a fido-dido cut. I felt liberated, alive. My curls sprang back as though released from years of bondage. It was truly an unbearable lightness of being. He also taught me that curly hair’s best friend is fingers. And worst enemy – the comb. He introduced me to product.

I had found a new ally. Every six weeks, I was back at his door. In the meantime, he had acquired an American wife and a brood of bulldogs. In a year he was off to the prosperous climes of New York and never came back. And I was left wild-haired and nowhere to go. The next few years were a series of unfortunate events packed with as many wrong guys as wrong hairdressers. My hair went through a long and arduous journey, trying to resist the lures of straightening, extensore, rebonding and what not. Luckily, I learnt from others’ mistakes.

If my personality is curly, there’s no way I’m camouflaging it, I thought. And one fine day, Amanda Carvalho walked into my life like a goddess. She never left. My hair, in her care has been through its longest (hip length) and its shortest (current avatar). It’s transitioned from singledom to coupledom to marriage to pregnancy to motherhood. And, as every year progresses, and my greys multiply, I fall more in love with my tresses.

The boy has inherited my hair, and his luscious curls always stand out in a monochrome of straight or blandly wavy-haired kids. But luckily, I am not my mother, so he will receive the gentle loving care of fingers and will be well protected from the evil effects of the comb and brushes and other objects that purport to tame, but end up with disastrous effects. I am thinking product, I am thinking bandanas, I am thinking braids, I am thinking long, I am thinking Son of Miranda. . .

(This post first appeared as my article in the Crest edition of the Times of India on 15th December, 2012)

10 things you must never ask me about Mr. Curly Top

So Re has curls and they are here to stay. Yes, it’s his birth hair and no, I haven’t done a mundan and don’t intend to, just in case the wrong genes take over. It’s just that I have had enough fielding questions about his hair and  I thought I would do a service by publishing this ready reckoner just in case people continue to annoy me further (and they will) with hair queries. I have also published the answers to the said questions, so you will know what to expect, and you are better prepared for my assault.

1. So are you going to do something about his hair?

You mean, other than gaze at it and thank my ancestors every time? You mean other than take mad pictures from every angle of his luscious locks? You mean other than run my fingers through his hair every time I get a chance? You mean other than rejoice that he belongs to that infinitesimally small population of curly, dark-haired children?

2. Who in the family has curly hair?

This one needs an award for acutely visually challenged or plain moronic. I mean, look at me. Look at my family.  Now look at the OPU and his family. Ten points for the correct staring-at-your-face answer. How hard is it to figure this out?

3. How do you wash it?

If you are expecting me to say I call a special washing lady from Dhobighat every Saturday to wash his hair, no. I wash it just as you do. Only, since I am south-Indian and I still listen to my mother (sometimes), I apply a generous portion of organic coconut or almond oil and do a nice champi (he likes it when I call it that) half hour before the bath. Sometimes I leave it on longer. Then I do what you do. Apply shampoo, rinse. Rinse again, till he tells me to stop. Then I towel dry (and don’t ask me how long his hair takes to dry), and it’s business as usual. No, I don’t know what a hair-dryer is, and I have never used one in my life and I have a lot of hair (it’s just shorter now, but it’s enough to keep three generations from balding)

4. It must be tough to comb it, no?

This one I will not blame the lesser mortals for, but the point is, very few people actually know that CURLY HAIR SHOULD NEVER BE COMBED. EVER. My mother didn’t know that for the longest time and I have had a fairly traumatic childhood as a result. But just as Re came into this world and I heaved a sigh upon sighting his curly mop, I decided I will introduce him to the fabulous world of finger combing from the start. So yes, neither of us combs our hair and I can bet that we will still have lesser tangles than you 100-strokes-a-day people, get it?

5. He doesn’t feel hot? May be you should shave it off for the summer. Or at least a summer crop.

Again this is a myth perpetuated by straight-haired or scanty haired people that less hair is cool (pun unintended). Have you heard of accessories? Hair management?

6. Does it bother him?

He actually loves it. He loves that his hair has a mind of its own and is sometimes its own person. He loves tossing it about and being all Zakir Hussain about it. He loves playing with his ringlets. He loves that his hair invents a new parting of its own everyday. He loves that he doesn’t blend into a monochromatic pool of mostly straight-haired people.

7. Doesn’t it come in the way?

Of what? He hasn’t started reading tomes yet, and when he does, he can push it back, thank you. If you are asking if he has bumped into someone because of some ringlets on his forehead, no, he hasn’t.

8. Are those curls real?

This makes me want to throw something at the said person.

9. Does he get mistaken for a girl? 

I just know that no one will ever turn to Abhishek Bachchan and say, “Aishwarya, you look lovely today!”

10. When are you going to cut it?

Why are you so jealous? Get a life!