Until that moment I hadn’t even realised she coloured her hair. Jayshree is beautiful, but to be honest, I hadn’t realised quite how beautiful till she showed herself this way.
When I saw my much younger friend Jayshree’s new profile pictures some weeks ago, my eyes widened in surprise and delight. She’d cut her long hair into a stylish pixie. The surprise and change, for me, was the plush apostrophe of grey hair swirling alongside her face. Until that moment I hadn’t even realised she coloured her hair. Jayshree is beautiful, but to be honest, I hadn’t realised quite how beautiful till she showed herself this way.
There was much lockdown talk about how women might never go back to wearing bras—and for a while it had seemed likely. But, the first day back in office, my friend S called to complain that she was, after all, back in hers, like most others were. The big change I noticed in the lockdown, was how many people—mostly women—were letting their greys out.
I’d run into neighbours, colleagues and even old friends and look at them afresh, with their suddenly revealed grey hair. All sorts of greys, revealing all sorts of people—soft cloudy grey, smudgy like kajal; glinting, steely greys along the sharp edges of short cropped hair, who-you-calling-grey-I’m basically silver full head of white, born-fashionable greys, appearing in arch stripes and swirls, giggling greys flirting with tight and loose curls, lurex greys, sprinkled across heads in light strands. Grey may be Pantone’s colour of the year—but it was behind the curve.
In Hindi there is a phrase for grey hair—pake hue baal. As a kid I used to think it meant cooked hair and like kids do, accepted this strange thought quite easily. I learned later that it probably meant more like ripened in the sun. And I think it’s a far more accurate way to describe what I see around me with all these greys.
For men, grey hair equals “distinguished” salt and pepper beards, made to sound as yummy as fried eggs and buttered toast (whatevs). For women, grey hair is supposed to signify extinguished youth, yaniki, limit the meaning and value of women to reproduction and so, reproductive age.
The struggle for women to express themselves fully, multi-dimensionally is complex because the culture always reads them back as types or symbols and infantilises them. Even “women-oriented” works present women via one facet—sexual violence, domestic violence—making them people more acted upon, getting a good-conduct medal like schoolgirls for overcoming patriarchy, rather than people journeying in the world, getting their hair cooked, their personhood ripening into fullness with time—their poky, sharp edges alongside brilliance, skill, mischief. The constant bickering quality of debate around things like ripped jeans, infantilises women, and draws them into infantilising themselves through reaction, rather than setting the terms of debate.
That is why I quite like this non-linear world of people roaming about with cooked hair—whether that cooked hair be grey, or purple, or black or pink, whatever reflects the dish they are becoming at the time, for the world to get a true taste of.
When I asked Jayshree, if she felt different with her hair like this, she said “yes. I feel more confident”. Which makes total sense. We seek confidence by adhering more to the world’s norms, but in fact, isn’t being able to be our true selves the root of confidence? Yeah, sometimes those roots are grey.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fictn and non-fiction. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org