Friday, June 22, 2012

Tales and Trials of my Beautiful Hair

When I was born, I had light blond hair instead of the thick dark curls that run in my family. To say my parents were shocked would be an understatement. They were shell shocked, stunned speechless, perplexed, puzzled and every other adjective you can think of to mean the same thing. I was their baby, I needed to look like them: brown skin, dark eyes, black hair. Instead I looked foreign, with my pale skin, colored eyes, and the most outstanding, astounding bright blonde hair. Something had to be done, so my grandma suggested the age-old remedy of oil. No hair problem in the world that good old Amla oil couldn’t solve. So on went the oil, and off went my hair to facilitate a fresh growth, and on went the oil again, and off went the hair and on went the oil and every time my hair grew back, blond as ever, the growth just getting thicker. So they finally gave up trying to force my golden locks into Indianness and accepted with disappointment that perhaps genetic predisposition is one thing Amla oil can’t battle with. And that was the end of my hair problems.


When I was all of five years old, my parents discovered the magical world of homeopathy that seems to offer solutions to almost every health and beauty problem out there. The greying doctor took one look at me and declared his medicine would turn my skin brown and my hair black, just the way it was supposed to be. Hence began a couple of years of sucking sickly-sweet pills three times a day that tasted good but didn’t seem to do anything except cost a lot of money. So when I was ten and my skin was still like Snow White’s (though I have none of her beauty) and my hair like Goldilocks’ (from the children’s story of the Three Bears), my parents gave up on the treatment. But lo and behold, as soon as the pills stopped, my platinum blond hair seemed suddenly darker, with shades of brown and black here and there. The parents were glad but I was heartbroken – I didn’t WANT dark hair and couldn’t stand anymore of the sweet pills, so fortunately, the homeopath was forgotten. And that was the end of my hair problems.

Well, no, not really. 

A few years down the line, when I hit teenage and turned to American young adult novels and teenybopper movies, I learned that my hair color (which had grown darker still) is known by the most unappealing name of ‘dishwasher blonde’. It was tragic and I no longer loved my golden tresses. So I wanted them chopped short and hence the teenage rebellion started. After months of tiffs and tantrums aimed primarily at my mother who had spent years caring for and grooming my tresses – I finally got my first professional haircut. Mum was both upset and angry – she had so lovingly oiled (yes, the oiling had carried on despite its previous failure to turn my hair black), washed, detangled, combed and plaited my mane to make it long, thick and beautiful, and now it was gone, styled into a short layers that flapped around most cheekily as if to antagonize her. But I loved my new look and vowed never to use hair oil again – how desi and uncool – and that was the end of my hair problems.

Or so I wish.

A few more years passed and I was eighteen and questioning everything about myself. I had recently moved country and started college and neither the new climate nor the stress of fitting into a new life was suiting my beloved hair, the all-important part of my personality. A variety of different styles and products experimented with over the years had taken their toll on my mane and suddenly, I wanted my old hair back, the thick, long plaits that I had once loathed. I missed the volume. Worse, my hair was falling. So I turned to a newly launched shampoo with a fancy international brand name and an ad that claimed my hair would grow so strong and long that it would become capable of pulling Mack trucks. And that of course, was the end of my hair problems.

Yeah, right.  

My locks did grow slowly and steadily longer but not really so much stronger. Hair fall, breakage, and dry hair continued to ail and depress me. People didn’t make it any better by pointing out how my hair had lost its lustre and thickness, and that was when I decided I’d had enough. I would turn the clock back and regain my lovely gold locks no matter what. So I turned to an age-old tradition that I’d once run away from – the weekly oiling. Much to the delight of my mother, I began using hair oil regularly and taking time to massage my scalp, and of course, I changed my shampoo. (I mean, really, why would I ever even NEED to pull a truck with my hair?).

The results are showing and my tresses have grown longer, softer, shinier, and visibly healthier. The only thing is that – true to human nature – I am extremely tempted to get a stylish cut again, one with bangs falling all over my forehead – something I’ve never tried before – but alas, I am conflicted. I love my hair and it is my one feature which makes me feel pretty, so I wonder what would be the point of having gone through all the grief of growing it long if I chop it shorter anyway? And my mum would disapprove. Mothers and their approval seem to matter so much, even when you’re all grown up and independent.

So while I contemplate the cut, I am finally caring for and tending to my mane like a gardener to her plants, and with any luck, this really is the end of my hair problems.

Amen to that. 

I my Hair!

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Monday, June 18, 2012

What Happened to Classic Indian Beauty?

Where did she go? The girl with cascading long hair and bangles at her wrists. The one who wore sarees and salwars with equal élan and never needed any make-up apart from the customary kajal that lined her dark eyes and made them come alive like no eyeliner could ever imagine doing.
Where did she go, the girl who didn’t need or want fairness creams and reveled in her natural sun-kissed beauty? Where did she go, the real desi girl?
She has become a rarity to sight anywhere at all – from the streets and colleges to the malls and weddings.
Instead we see throngs of made-up plastic dolls proudly exhibiting varying degrees of superficiality. From straightened, colored, chopped, highlighted, extended, layered, coloured and god-knows-what-else hair, to cleansed, toned, moisturized, bleached, bronzed, rouged, and whitened skin. And of course, manicured hands and pedicured feet. It's almost like everyone looks the same -  like they’ve all just stepped out of the same beauty parlour. Uh, whatever happened to natural diversity?
Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying that people shouldn’t go to parlours and not make the effort to look better, but do we ALL really need to? Especially teenagers and adults below the age of 30? They are supposed to look young and innocent yet they increasingly look like glamour queens. “So what’s so wrong in that?” you ask, and the answer is “nothing,” except that it just seems to go too far. I personally know women who take their primary-school-going daughters for makeovers at the beauty parlour and hair-removal therapies too. Perhaps this kind of stuff is just giving the wrong messages to young children – that everything you are naturally blessed with needs to be modified or polished somehow to make you look BETTER.  
I know this post is going to annoy –if not offend - the majority of people who bother to read it, but hey, I’m just expressing my own opinion. So you can call me chauvinistic or old-fashioned or anti-modernity or even anti-feminist, but all I’ll say is that we need to embrace a little bit of our natural selves rather than let chemicals and “fashion” – or someone else’s notion of it, rather – take over who we are. Besides, feminism is essentially about freedom, right? And that includes the freedom to be the person you are – to let your hair grow down to your waist if you want and not have it styled, to not cover up the blemish or two on your face, to wear glasses and not have to explain why the heck you don’t want contact lenses, etc, etc.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

You've got to have a little faith

 In people, in life, in friends, in yourself, in your decisions, in that eternal consolation that ‘everything’s going to be okay’.
Even if the world seems like a madhouse where everyone is crazy and unreliable and unpredictable. Because the world IS a madhouse and people ARE crazy and perhaps that’s what makes life interesting in the first place.
Doubt will never get you anywhere. It will ruin relationships; destroy self-esteem and crumble your dreams. Faith is what holds up castles in the air, and eventually floats them down onto solid foundations too. They may crack or change shape a bit by the time they are tangible but they are castles none the less and you better appreciate them.
Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t assume too much, don’t build up events and expectations in your head; just go with the flow and believe that even if everything goes supremely wrong and your life blows up in your face, there is one person who you can always lean on: yourself. You are stronger than anything that ever happens to you. Trust me. Just have a little faith.  And “everything really is going to be okay.”