Roots and wings

Yesterday was a beautiful experience for me as well as for one of my clients, Parvathi, and she couldn’t withhold much of her excitement. So, i begged her to put her delighted thoughts into the words that i so enjoyed reading, and now hope you will too:

“I have vivid memories of all the fuss my mother used to create over hair care – I think it is the typical South Indian household thing. .

It was a standard but consistent routine : Oil, comb and plait your hair twice a day – plait tied with a black ribbon at the end and folded back up with a pretty bow behind the ears; oil bath once a week washed away with home-ground soap nut powder or besan (oil was carefully prepared with a variety of ingredients and heated up – dried leaves of hibiscus, curry leaves, henna). I wonder how she managed to do this for two girls, with all the responsibilities of being a daughter-in-law in a joint family and in an era that did not know much kitchen equipments.

I must say the investment paid off – I had thick, jet black hair that touched my hips and could not be held in a single hand. My mother used to mutter in agony with a back ache while washing my hair – that will add to the force she applied and my crying session would ensue. On oil bath days , blood red eyes and a headache in the evening were the norm for me – with hair so thick near the scalp it will not dry till the evening. But that did not stop the ritual in any way.

During my teenage days, I remember the new additions – Keshavardhini and Neeli bringadhi oil. When I stayed in a hostel during my college days, the weekly, sky-blue inland letter from my mother will have two standard advises in the last paragraph; “Eat well and eat on time” and “Don’t forget to take oil baths every week”. And I did – I remember the relaxed Sundays in the hostel room with friends, thick hair washed, dried and tied together in a plait.

Cutting your hair, styling it were taboo for girls in my household. Leaving it untied would be met with raised eye brows from the grandmother. Being the rebel that I was, I was the first one to trim my hair and leave it open when I started work (why spend so much time and effort just to tie up the beautiful hair, was my logical question). It was nothing less than a scandal when I trimmed my hair one inch.

So my hair – thick, beautiful and tied up – became my identity. Other than the occasional wash and blow dry I never experimented with my hair style and had reservations about it too, part of the upbringing and deep rooted practices.

I have grown and evolved over the years from the shy girl from rural Tamil Nadu to the confident woman that I am today – I juggle multiple roles with ease, have pulled myself up from the many experiences life threw at me, have eclectic interests and a zest for life . All of these have added layers to my personality. But my hair continued to be the constant thing – Tied, Plain and conservative.

Here I was, sitting at the hair stylist with Babita. I hear her say to the stylist, “I want layers, make a change in the partition, a snip here and a cut here to frame the face with a strand”. I could not help but blurt out “be conservative when you cut, leave the length as much as possible”.

While the stylist is at work, Babita and I chatter about the south Indian long hair and common experiences. Out of the corner of my eyes, I see strands of Meera shikakai , Keshavardhini and hours of pampering falling on the floor. I close my eyes as the stylist dries and set the curls and fringes.

The mirror does not lie and smiles back at me. The layers dance and bounce, as free spirited as I am. The strands frame my face perfectly bringing out the glint in the eyes. The stylist says “You have such thick hair, you can afford to experiment with any style”. It strikes me then that my tied down thick hair is not a limitation anymore, but it is the foundation and a pre-requisite that allows me to explore.

It is not just a hair cut, it is a transformation.   I drive back home with a smile and realize that your roots don’t have to tie you down. Your roots give you the strength to branch out ; your roots give you wings.

My daughter squeals at my hair-cut and plays with the curls. I tell her “Come let’s oil your hair and comb it”.”

Parvathi Viswanathan

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