Meenakshi Shedde: Cool cut at 91
At that age, you're into your second childhood, and there's a real sense of discovery about the smallest things
I took our mum Indu Shedde, who is 91 years old, for her first salon haircut recently. At that age, you're into your second childhood, and there's a real sense of discovery about the smallest things. In some matters, Amma has been bindaas; in others, the epitome of conservatism. Her thick, black, waist-long plait of hair was one of those non-negotiable things: no question of a haircut. She always had a long plait; two in her college days, going by her black and white photographs.
When my Amma, my sister and I went to my grandmother's in Dharwar, every year in the May school holidays, my sister and I learned to pick mogra, gulab, aboli and kaner from our garden and weave them into venis, garlands for the hair. At one point, my mother's family consisted of only four widows — women who could hardly go to work and earn in a small town then — so everything was meticulously recycled. When the neighbours were done with yesterday's venis, Amma would recycle the threads to make fresh venis.
As Amma aged, her hair got more straggly, and I kept encouraging her to have a nice haircut. But no. Then, one recent summer day, it was very hot, and impulsively, Amma handed a pair of scissors to her friend Sheelu, who is in her 70s, and she went lop, lop, lop. Given Amma's age, it must have taken some emotional upheaval. I was impressed and lauded her boldness. It looked like a gharelu haircut, but it was an important first step. Some months later, I said, what about a nice salon haircut, that will make you look and feel great? Just as impulsively, she said, OK.
Everyone at the salon turned around to see a 91-year-old amble up. What kind of a haircut would you like, ajji? the hairdresser asked. Can you do something simple but stylish? I suggested. So first, she sprayed Amma's hair with a water spray. It was her first salon experience, and she was all ticklish from the fsh fsh fsh. She kept giggling and raising her shoulders to keep the spray from getting in her ears. Amma's hair is all-white, with a tinge of yellow. The hairdresser fingered it longingly and sighed, "Oh my, it would take colour so well (being all white)."
She went snip, snip, snip. When she flipped Amma's hair across her forehead, it looked really stylish, but Amma seemed terrified to look "too stylish" and told her to back-comb it as usual. When the hairdresser blow-dried her hair, Amma, startled with all that hot air and noise, immediately clamped her ears, like a child hearing an aeroplane for the first time. As clumps of white hair fell on her black salon chair, like overlapping quotation marks, I felt a stab of nostalgia.
"Madam, you look so stylish," said another lady customer, and Amma blushed. "Guess my age?" she teased. "80? 82?" "No, 91!" Amma said triumphantly.
Her walk was just a bit jauntier as she left the salon, and her expression is one I will never forget. She felt a million bucks.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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