What should I do about my hair?
I was 27 when I started dyeing my hair. Virtually alone in a foreign country with a one year old baby, I felt as though my life was over. Every day I confirmed this by standing in in front of a little mirror hung against lurid red velvet wall paper, parting my hair, searching for white strands which leapt to meet my fevered gaze.
How could I bear the collapse of my hair along with my hopes of happiness? When the tally reached 17, I marched to the nearest drugstore and bought a package of dye.
It had the desired effect. My white hair hidden, I could go back to the larger questions of my existence, my youth nominally intact for a few more years.
Thirty years pass. I am ageing now, well and truly ageing. I can observe it in the mirror, another mirror, another country, but the same intense scrutiny of a face that is much older and hair that I suspect is all white, though I have not seen it for some decades now,
Whenever I go out it is older women I stare at, the ones who have to negotiate the contrast between their skin and their hair. How are they managing? Some maintain a pure black, that looks harsh and artificial. Others have coy wings of white, nestling among dark dyed hair, straddling youth and age. Then there are the varying shades of brown, with streaks of red and gold thrown in. Finally there are the grey haired women, the ones I look at most longingly as I assess their sex-appeal and confidence. Even while I decide everyone in this last category looks better than me, I am afriad to imitate them. I am too frail.
I canvass opinions.
Those who still dye are vehement in their disapproval.
“Why do you want to look old? Why?”
“We live in a visual world. Appearances are important.”
But if appearances were so important, why stop at dyed hair? In the past few years along with our economic growth, Delhi has seen a proliferation of clinics advertising laser, liposuction, Botox, face lifts, every means of looking young that technology provides, telling us how unnecessary it is to let nature take its course.
Where on earth did one stop? This was a battle one could never win in the long run, but in the short run wasn’t it better if one looked younger? Everybody said, thought, behaved so.
But if you kept on trying to defy age, how did you age? Wasn’t it better to be graceful about the whole thing? Wasn’t it better to have a face that reflected whatone had experienced and survived, rather than one that shone with borrowed youth? Theoretically speaking, youth and experience need not be mutually exclusive, but I found no way to combine them.
Each time I dipped my brush in hair dye I felt a moral failure.
I did not want this to go on.
For two years I try and let the dyed parts grow out. But the contrast between the stark white glaring from the roots and L’Oreal no 5 glinting from the hair below is too much to bear. Any social occasion – there are not many – and I am driven to dye.I become neurotic about my inability to reveal my putative essential self.
Finally I am so sick of the whole process that I ask Taru, my 29 year old rapper nephew to shave my head. He shaves his own pretty regularly, he is happy to do mine. Unceremoniously he pushes my head down, seizes my hair and starts his machine.The buzzing reverberates through my skull. My hair falls in chunks around me. I pick the locks up, examine them – this was the hair I had coloured for so many years. I did it the disservice of hating it, and now that it was severed from my head I could only look at it with all the tenderness involved in a permanent farewell.
Taru finishes his job.
I gather the hair that now looks thick and attractive in a newspaper.I go to a corner of the garden, and under a laburnum that puts forth long strands of yellow flowers every May, I dig a deep hole. Here I bury the soft heavy bundle. A part of me is gone. From now on I will be seen in a certain way because I have white hair. I resist the urge to wrap my sari palla around my baldness – if I am to face the world au naturel I had better start now.