Hair, Hair

The problem with haircuts is that it never turns out the way it is expected. You look at various weird hairdo’s on the Internet ( type haircuts for 40+ females on Google), choose a few, use your phone’s 8 mega pixel camera to click and then land at the salon. Then you tell the guy with the scissors, I want a change. He looks a little stumped. What kind of change? Cautious question. I want to look different. He looks perplexed. Probably wondering what has got into her and how to best appease her. My thin straggling shoulder length hair does not give him too many ideas or options.

I close my eyes and all my past hairdo’s flashed before me one by one. I always had thin hair, when I was small, they were oiled well with mustard oil or heated coconut oil, tightly combed and finally tied into two tight tails with black or red ribbons. My dad would take me to the same roadside barber who used to cut his hair. The wooden chair on the side of the road, and a small shaving mirror hanging from the tree in the front, he had to put a plank on top of the chair for me to reach the mirror. For many years, I only went to him but slowly as I grew older, I realized this was totally down-market and I started insisting to be taken to a proper hairdresser.

The oiled baby
pigtailed in school

My hair grew in length with my age and the pigtail became thin braids. The ribbons remained in their place. My school uniform demanded red ribbons ( and red socks too). I never figured out how some girls always has great looking hair, polished, suited them, perfectly in place even in the windy city. And mine, even after the oiling and ribboning, a few strays would find their way out and I would end up looking as messy.. And when some girl would flick her hair so, ufff, why could I not have hair like that, how can Gods be so unkind to me. My dad discovered a hairdresser, a unisex salon for me on the station road. Considering my awesome knowledge about hair styles, I found him reasonably ok.

the thin braids sans the ribbons

I loved Buns, loose buns ( Rekha kind) or top of the head kind but could never achieve similar results unlike some of my friends despite hours of efforts. My bun would look like a small black woolen ball tied with a rubber which would keep opening every few seconds and finally, getting tired of it, I would tie it so tightly, my head would start aching. In class XI, I suffered from typhoid. And my lovely hair started falling. A great excuse for cutting it really short. And I did. It actually looked good for a while, you know any Sheela, Rekha, Jaya or Sushma would look good at that age.

the extremely short look right after typhoid
the post marriage short hair

My illusion about the hairdresser was shattered in college, when a girl from Jaipur joined our college. Now, for the ugly ducklings in Jodhpur, Jaipur was where all style divas existed. She asked me for a place to cut her hair and I recommended my unisex fellow. Disaster struck. She came back and told me, you go to HIM for your HAIRCUT???. He doesn’t EVEN know how to HOLD hair. With all capitals emphasized! I was ready to sink into the ground as I stood looking guilty in front of the girl-who-came-from-Jaipur. Finally she discovered a better and costlier place for me. To be honest, there did exist some girls who would also fall into the category of my-hair-is-like-this-only with whom it was always easier to form a kinship.

messing with ponies

When I came to Delhi, my eyes popped open at the beautiful hair of some of the hostel inmates. I learnt you could press your hair, curl your hair, perm it, and get gorgeous styles. I experimented. For some reason my hard perms looked good after 3 months only. The first time I permed my hair, my son ( must have been 2-3 years old) refused to recognize me and howled loudly when I tried to hold him. He stayed away from me for 2 full days and when he came hesitantly towards me, he sat in my lap and kept looking at my hair like an alien creature had taken hold of my head.


My husband always supported all my weirdos hairdo, every time I came home and look expectantly at him, he would look at me and say, looking good. What choice did he have anyway? A different response to a different style would have made any conversation with me impossible for a few days.

when I don’t comb

But then I opened my eyes and came back to the present. I showed the-guy-with-the-scissors the photos of what I wanted. He looked at the photo and looked at me. I won’t be exactly like this, he was still hesitating. No, I want this only, I was firm. Ok, I will try and then he started on the journey with his scissors. Twenty minutes later, he flicked the comb, stepped back and said, done. It looks ok, with confidence. I looked at the photo, and looked at me, it doesn’t look like this? I said hesitatingly. No it does, my confidence seem to have migrated to him. I looked at it for a while before finally realizing what was different, the face. The photo has a beautiful face and the mirror showed mine. Well, gotta deal with the same face for this life, might as well smile at it.

The two-frock childhood

My childhood was awesome, and then some. We were a piece of the big mass of the great Indian middle class. But the two frocks was more my Dad’s idea of what girls should be wearing in the 70’s. We were not poor, we always had plenty to eat, a roomful of books ( a household where books were a preferred choice than any other gift), holidays ( no, not to Singapore and Malaysia, but more like Bhopal, Osiaji and more local flavored places). Bengalis buy their new clothes during the once-in-the-year phenomenon called Puja. My mom, as usual, never had a say in the important matters of the family like what should I wear during the 5 days.

So, our standard process started with me sitting pillion on the cycle, and my dad, driving laboriously to our favorite seamstress, somewhere between B road and A road. He would stop outside her home and shout, Seemaji! at the top of his voice. She would come out looking terrified. Now, I must tell you something about her. She was very prim and proper, hair tightly wound in a bun, possibly widow or unmarried, never smiled, wearing faded cotton salwaar kamiz. You get the drift. Once she came outside, dad would ask her, pointing to me, how much material for her frock, she would look up and down at me and mutter some meters and then we would cycle down to NTC shop.

All brands, as per dad, were चोर and bigger brands महाचोर. So it was always NTC. He asked me to choose the cloth for my frocks, and I would pick from whatever little options I had. Then back to the seamstress. She would take measurements and then ask me for what kind of design I wanted. Now I was pretty unimaginative where fashion was concerned. Not having any access to magazines, no TV at that time, only idea I had was by reading books, Victorian books. So my choices were typically over sized, high neck, full sleeves, a lace here and a lace there, at least 4 inches below the knees, belts and frills in weird places. She also added some ideas from her minimal small town marwari experience and what evolved was something pretty OK, but then there was no other choice. And those few dresses had to last me for the full year till it was time for the next Puja again.

Now, since I had limited wardrobe, my attire at home was mostly a गंजी and bloomers, or frocks from past years which had moved above the knees and therefore, not suitable for public viewing.

I was into Athletics in school and was expected to wear something called shorts, which my dad would never never buy for me. When my sports sir told me, wear shorts and come to the ground, I went in my bloomers and he promptly sent me back home, he was more shy than I was. So, to find a jugaad solution, my brother’s old faded Mahesh school trousers came to the rescue, which fitted me perfectly and just needed to be made short enough to qualify as shorts.

As I grew older and started getting a monthly allowance, I started exploring other avenues like Bombay dyeing. And a tailor called Verma tailors who was the one person everyone went to in our town.

I had no exposure to readymades, jeans or trousers, national or international fashion, something which you may find hard to believe. Thanks to my bro, when he started working in Bombay, that is what it was called then, he started bringing me back stuff from fashion street. So in high school and college, I had a wardrobe with little more variations. I still remember my first and only vanilla jeans, that lasted all through my college years. I had a dreadful time with the zip that insisted on opening every time I would sit till I learnt by accident how to lock it. That was a problem that could not be shared with anyone, save my dad, who just told me I was too fat to fit into it.

In school, I also learnt to sew as part of the optionals and enjoyed it so much that I started experimenting on myself. Yes, I sewed my own clothes for a few years, frocks, tops and the likes. I was absolutely not great at it, just about passably ok. But I did get a little more variety, my own designs, now with buttons, and elastics, and embroidery, which was the fundamental idea.

My best friend gave me some exposure as she had relatives in Australia and my God, when I saw some of her stuff, carelessly thrown in the almirah. The material, the fall of the frocks, with my eyes wide open I would try some of her stuff, close my eyes, and feel like a fairy.