A curly mop of hair can be quite a challenge, especially for young, impressionable minds negotiating their way in a vain world
"You from Jamaica?" a young Cambodian vendor asked me as I handed her a few dollars in exchange for bottled water on a humid September morning in Angkor Wat. She kept staring at my curly hair as I searched for exact change. "I am from India" I smiled. "Ahhh….but all Indians have straight hair, no?" she looked puzzled. "Yes, most have, and some of us have curly hair too," I answered. "India very hot, no? But don't cut curls," she giggled, and moved on to the next customer at her stall.
The curls have got me associated with other countries too – Mauritius and Mexico. Before you wonder where this column is headed, I'll spare you the details of any more anecdotes centred on my mop while on overseas trips.
Back to the present. Lockdown 4.0 feels like lockdown 40.0. So many factors plague the typical middle-class Bombaywallah – from businesses going bust to salary cuts and layoffs to rationed stocks at home. WFH is more like WTF. Social life and nightouts are non-existent, unless you happen to be like my millennial neighbour who couldn't stop raving about how 'lit' her weekend Zoom party was as a DJ spun his set from his home. When she shared a clip of the video, I noticed how well turned out all these kids were for this online bash, hair, make-up, the works.
Truth be told, these are tough times for the curly-haired community. Sourcing your tried-and-tested conditioner and serum is turning out to be a nightmare. Yes, lack of exposure to the city's famed dust and pollution levels has helped somewhat, but anyone with curly hair [sorry, those with wavy hair don't qualify] will tell you about the knotty affair this lockdown is turning out to be.
As I was dealing with my woes, in an interesting coincidence, a publishing house shared a new book for kids called I Hate My Curly Hair. Written by Divya Anand and smartly illustrated by Rujuta Thakurdesai, the book takes the reader [young and adult] on a heartwarming trip into a little girl's coming-to-terms with her unruly hair.
I hit the rewind button to my primary school days. Almost once a week, my mother would dust off pencil shavings that had safely nestled inside the mop without my knowledge. I could hear my mother softly sigh as she went about this task meticulously, wondering how my classmates seated behind me, could do such acts. That wasn't all. Terms like 'Baal ki dukaan', 'Mickey Mouse' [this when I had to tie it up in pony tail], and 'Ghosla'; oh and yes, I even got a 'Boney M' and 'Michael Jackson'.
Later, while in college, I decided to tame things a bit up there, only to realise that most hairstylists were devoid of ideas. It was a stigma; a mind block of sorts that they had against girls with curly hair. And you had to be okay with assuming guinea pig status; because you could end up looking like a cross between Oprah Winfrey on a really bad hair day, and yes, one of those singers from Boney M. Those were rough times.
We were always, always perceived as different; the texture wasn't considered stylish, and possessing curly hair branded you as an unkempt person. I recall even the odd teacher in school and college pass a snide remark about my hair. That didn't help in the self-confidence department, especially when you're a teen. Thankfully, my mother who had thick, lustrous curly hair, reminded me that I wasn't some kind of rare specimen airlifted from a Pacific Island or a Sub Saharan country. It made a huge difference and cocooned me from the barbs and taunts that continued well into my 20s; sometimes, even family members would take a potshot but by then, it didn't really matter. I recall guffawing when once, on a local train, I was told: "Baal ko side mein rakho."
Of course, life became a lot easier with inventions like humidity-specific conditioners and that miracle tool – serum. But under lockdown, as I said earlier, it's all being missed terribly; the term bad hair day doesn't seem like a one-off rant.
What's important to take away from this is how society can make judgement calls based on something as intrinsic as your hair texture. While all of it seems far-off now, it wasn't a breeze then. For a young mind, trying to find their way, especially in today's world where vanity is high on the charts, such basics need to be eased into their self-belief.
How parents and teachers tackle this issue is key, because, and trust me, it can go a long way in preparing them for bigger knocks going ahead. Not the kinds that an expensive serum can save you from.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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