Published: 03rd February 2018
What's it like to be a young girl with short, choppy hair in India?
Girls are told that hair is a matter of pride, even if they feel nothing of the sort. The pressure is immense, with many admitting that they would love to cut ther hair but won't because you know why!
The buzzing sound didn't faze me. It moved from my ears and forehead to the nape of my neck. I looked around at the "victims" strewn across the white marble floor. Brown-black locks floated to the ground as the buzzing sound faded.
"Hogaya" (It's done). I looked at the person staring back at me. I wouldn't have recognised her had I not been in the same spot the exact year before.
"Such lovely beautiful hair beta. God ya bibi your daughter's hair is gorgeous." Notice "it" and not "she". My hair has been a living, breathing, growing untameable animal ever since I can first remember. Yet it was the hair that was beautiful.
The wavy, voluminous locks were the centre of attraction whenever a roving eye caught it. The thin, plain looking girl that paraded it around, not so much. I grew up to love my wild hair, despite my unladylike mannerisms. To a young, underconfident teenager, it was the one thing I knew that brought me remotely even close to the "beautiful" tag.
As I grew up, the stereotype prevalent in our country weighed down on me. A country where a woman's features, especially her hair are of prime importance. And if you cut it...? Then God help you! No self-respecting woman would ever willingly sacrifice the one thing that contributes the most to her femininity in our country, it is believed.
I grew up to love my wild hair, despite my unladylike mannerisms. To a young, underconfident teenager, it was the one thing I knew that brought me remotely even close to the "beautiful" tag
A childhood filled with advice and tips on what oil to use, how to wash it. How many times and what technique to use while combing it. The list and tips (I suspect this be the reason for their grudge) were endless. Everywhere I went people gushed over the texture, the silkiness. The ever-concerned aunties even went as far as to say "Never cut it beta. It's a boon".
But there is a different side to it — nobody knew the struggle. The sweat, grime and irritation- especially if you play a sport like Football and your hair just refuses to stay tied down. They say we humans always want what we don't have, and I couldn't agree more.
A scrunchy did nothing remotely close to organising and keeping my hair out of my face. It took at least three or four to just bargain with it to calm down. This excludes the hourly tie and re-tying exercise. This in no way meant I hated my hair.
The reactions were a mix. It started with disbelief from many that I could have dared to have committed such a crime? Friends lashed out as did strangers. Most repeated the same thing. "You had such thick, beautiful hair. Why did you cut it"
So two years ago in May, I shaved off one side - if you've heard of the international pop-sensation Skrillex- it resembled something of the sort. A year after that, on the exact same date, I watched with a content smile as my head shed a load. I felt free, light, different.
The reactions were a mix. It started with disbelief from many that I could have dared to have committed such a crime? Friends lashed out as did strangers. Most repeated the same thing. "You had such thick, beautiful hair. Why did you cut it". I had two responses- a) I shaved it and it feels free. b) It was my hair, I knew and loved it better than any of you.
It didn't end there. It's been over six months now and I still get stopped on the streets and asked why I would even think of doing such a thing. Transport isn't an escape either, and two cabbies smugly told me that women are supposed to have long hair. This kind of style-testing must be left to the men.
The world changed for me the day I shaved my hair, which at one time was protected like Indian aunty's protected their crockery. It made me a new person- I sure looked different now, but the stronger vibe was the confidence. It surged through me like the first tide after sunrise.
Bubbling and frothing until it went all the way back down, remerging bigger and more powerful. Yet, what was most important was when I understood the weight given to a woman's hair in India. I mean no self-respecting man would ever associate himself with a girl with a cue the gasps boycut. This isn't me saying it, this is what was drilled into me through snickers, laughter, whispers and unnecessary curiosity.
A very poignant point that did not go unnoticed was the reduction in daily harassment and catcalls. When with long hair men deemed it their right to stop, attempt to grope or prey on me from a distance, the short haircut it down by 50 %. I walked home free of fear, but more so in happiness. Nobody knew, nobody needed to.
Bubbling and frothing until it went all the way back down, remerging bigger and more powerful. Yet, what was most important was when I understood the weight given to a woman's hair in India.
I write this because I get into arguments and debates on why I shouldn't cut it further. I should grow it. It doesn't suit you, they say. When the barrage of comments and criticism rush out at me, I remember my parents. My mother who paved the way for my current style almost a decade ago. Then I found it difficult to understand why she was so anxious at first. After my haircut, I saw the same transformation I had witnessed with doe-eyed wonder.
I still am reminded, without a break or even popcorn to help me out, that cutting off my hair was the biggest mistake of my life. A sin that I should probably atone for in my next birth. While society rattles on about how this move was the end, it felt like the beginning. I felt free, but more importantly, I felt that this was meant to be.