Thursday, 12 January 2017

Of Hirsute Heads and Hacked Hair

A couple of days before it was time for my son to go back to school, I sent him to the barber with my husband, for a spiffy hair cut. I belong to the old, colonial school of thought where back to school for boys means super short hair. I've always been around men with really short hair all my life. My paternal grandfather and my father were in the army. My father in law was a senior scientific officer in the Ordnance Factory and dealt with quality control of Higher Explosives. Can you imagine any of these men pushing locks of hair off their faces before shooting a gun or testing a bomb? My husband, although in the corporate sector, in keeping with his disciplined defence upbringing, has very regular hair cuts.
And for almost all schools in India, the 'British army style crew cut' rule remains unchanged even today, although it has been almost seventy years since we became independent.When my son was in school in India in Upper Kindergarten and Grade One, if he did not have a haircut every three weeks, before the fourth week was up, there would be a note in red pen, in his diary, from his teacher with just two words, 'CUT HAIR'. Traditionally in Indian culture, our young students had to shave off their hair completely in the student phase of their lives, with just one long strand of hair dangling from the crown of their heads. The theory I've expounded to my son is that because boys are SO distracted all the time, it's easier for their brain to absorb knowledge if the head is shaved or the hair is at least short enough to catch glimpses of the scalp! He is yet to bite this particular bullet... He is turning thirteen next month so my words are no longer written in indelible, golden chalk for him..And because the school here doesn't have any hair length rule, he does feel like the odd man out for the first few days after his hair cut. That was the reason why he went around with a hoodie, with the hood covering his head, for the first couple of days after the visit to the barber. Mercifully Nairobi has very cool summers so the jacket wasn't out of place at all.
But his attitude against the compulsory hair cut took me back many decades, to the time my sister and I were in Elementary school and barely three and five years old respectively. Since my Dad was in the Indian Army, long hair for officers and soldiers alike (no lady officers in the army then) was, is and I hope always will be, anathema. So the army barber used to make a monthly visit with his kit and set up shop on our terrace and do the needful for my Dad. Both my sister and I are blessed with hair that grows really fast and is very thick too. So after our Dad, it used to be our turn. No amount of protest and fat tears rolling down our cheeks helped and we were almost scalped every month because my Dad believed girls looked 'smart' if they had short hair. My mother had beautiful knee length hair but he made her chop it off before they were married. Today, of course, no independent, educated girl in India, if she is in her right senses, would allow her fiance or husband to dictate the length of her hair but the early seventies was a different era and the majority of Indian girls were traditionally brought up to please their husbands.
To come back to my sister and me, being brought up on a steady diet of Hans Christian Anderson's Illustrated Fairy Tales, with Rapunzel of the long, golden tresses as the main course, surrounded by Indian girls of the late seventies and the early eighties, most of whom were growing their hair, this monthly ordeal was nothing but sheer torture and it was, we felt, a clear violation of one of our fundamental rights as girls: The Right To Long Hair. So furious did we get during those early years that whenever we had a brand new doll, the first thing both of us used to do was to chop off her hair, so that it resembled ours. Dolls, in the India of yore, had white skin, blue eyes and long, blond hair. I think the prototype had been imported from the United States, no Made In China tag then and used to be mass manufactured by canny businessmen. So finally the only thing we had in common with our dolls was the length of our hair! My mother collects 'memories in tangible form', which for me, is euphemism for junk. I am sure she has a couple of those dolls lying around and so I will ask her to send me a 'hacked hair' picture of one of the dolls and then I will post it here... This hacking of hair habit continued, for us as well as our dolls, except that Mom began taking us to a Ladies' Parlour as we got older, (the Army barber no longer being deemed fit for the Major Saab's daughters' hair), until I got my first Barbie doll as a gift, when I was close to becoming a teenager. I think my angst and ire had been vented by then and I had resigned myself to my short hair because that Barbie is in my daughter's room in India now, with her hair still intact. Yes, it's called the 'transference of memories' from my mother's house to mine...
And then, one day, I had a daughter too, who by the age of five and a half, was desperate to grow her hair. We were in hot, humid, Dar Es Salaam then, I had my hands full with my new born son and so my answer was a firm NO! For the next four years she begged, cried and pleaded some more but I was firm. Every year when we left our home town after the holidays to go back to Dar, I got her hair cut especially short on the very the day we were leaving, to save myself time and money for the next few months. My husband's sisters used to come to bid us goodbye and there used to be a long litany of complaints to them, against me, by my daughter. They consoled her and at that particular moment, probably looked upon me as the evil daughter in law who, annually, almost tonsured and tortured their darling bother's even more darling daughter, but I did not budge. Actually I was probably considered worse than the original witch in Rapunzel. Not only did I not let my Rapunzel go for sleepovers, I did not even allow her to grow her hair!
Finally it was time for us to move back to India and my daughter was about to turn ten. I gave in at last, on the condition that she oil and shampoo and comb her own hair regularly. I was willing to plait it, as Indian schools do not allow girls to leave their hair loose during school hours. In no time she had beautiful hip length hair which was the talk of the town! The reason was that India had changed and unlike in my days, today it is uncommon to see young girls with such long hair...The tables have turned and today I beg her NOT to cut her hair...She did get it trimmed to waist level last summer though. Here's a picture.

His 'hacked' hair
After much back and forth discussion about his hair length, I told him the debate had been postponed until the time he got his first college degree! You see I'm giving his head, with it's half inch hair, plenty of time to absorb knowledge till long locks cover it in the distant future.....! 


  1. Your blog is always interesting .But this one I enjoyed reading because I remember Sanjana (chatterbox)coming to the parlor and your instructions about the length of the hair to keep.

    1. Right Aunty! I remembered you and the annual drama while writing this!

  2. Such an interesting post Anupama. I totally understand it when our boys resist that 'short haircut'. Coming from an army background and married to a naval officer I'm not comfortable with boys having hair longer than an inch. As my hubby says that a good, short haircut clears the head ( literally) as it clears all doubts. :))

    1. Thank you so much Abha.Totally agree with your husband!I'm awaiting the day YOU launch your blog...Let me know please.

    2. Sure will let you know. I'm still working on my writing skills :D


The Nuances And Nitty-Gritties Of Being Neighbourly

6:05 pm : I am walking in our front garden, free in the evening, on a week day, after many months, as the academic year comes to a close in...