I have mentioned a lot of times, about the most annoying physical attribute that bothered me forever, and earned me the tag of ‘Monica at Barbados’ at K. My hair. Yes. I always blame the roots for the kind of hair I have. My roots, not the hair’s. See, you can take a South Indian out of the South of India, but you cannot take the South of India out of a South Indian. My hair was standing (literally) proof for that. It was the kind of hair which makes one go ‘Oh, Mallu’ instantly. Now technically, I am not a Mallu, but my ancestors decided to settle down in that part of the country many years ago, and though I did not bother about it, my hair seems to have taken the fact way too seriously.
So in short, it is all curls, and waves, and frizz, and volume all over. In other words, unmanageable. So much so, that when I would comb it for an hour and then tie it up with a scrungie three times over, it would resemble, as one very original classmate put, ‘water gushing out of a pipe’. Yes. And it would make yet another classmate ask a question I have been asking myself for ever, as his comment in the yearbook. Every day is a bad hair day?
So every day was a bad hair day. So as soon as I started earning, and visiting places for regular pedicures (yes I did, for one whole year), the girls working there would make very sorry faces at the said hair. And suggest ‘straightening’. ‘What? Straightening? Chemicals?’, I would think. Impossible. ‘One should never use any sort of chemicals on the body to look good, it can only get worse’, my mother’s pearls of wisdom rang in my ears. Was there actually anything worse? I wondered. I could not think of anything. What if I went bald! That would be worse! Added to it, I would have flashes of one unfortunate straightening victim I had seen up close, and that sent shudders up the spine. No way. I rejected the idea.
Until one fine New Year’s eve, I actually took the pains of picking up a new dress, and shoes to go with, for the party. First time earners do that a lot. I tried it on, and it was nice, except something was not right. Ah. There it was, right on top. So that afternoon, when I went for the customary pedicure, I ventured to ask the girl, if I could temporarily straighten my hair to see if it worked? And she was all grins. ‘Of course, we will use the best products!’
That evening I walked out with the sleekest, shiniest hair ever. It was magic. I could run my fingers through it, and they would actually come out. When I stood in front of the light, there was no halo of very tiny, micro-curls forming a layer over my head. I swear I could the light reflecting in my hair! Each strand was separate from the others, and not in a clump like they usually were. And once the twisted hair, which once reached my shoulders, now was half-way down my back! It took a lot of will power to pull myself from in front of the air cooler, with the hair blowing around my face like in a Bollywood movie sequence. Basically, I was sold.
I called my mom and told her that I just had to do it. She sighed. Some conversation consisting of phrases like ‘ kids these days’, natural beauty’ (yeah, right!), ‘lovely curls’ (oh ya, right there, one foot above my head), ‘chemicals might bald you’, later, I had scheduled an appointment with Habibs, for a ‘permanent’ straightening.
What followed was, close to torture. It is not easy. This whole procedure. And it is definitely not a ‘pampering session’. I doubt if you would call 4 hours consisting of a lot of tugging at the hair, ironing of the hair, the smell of ammonia, sitting with your hair stuck on a board like thing, a comfortable time. It is hell. And it is annoying, because you have to keep your neck stiff, bend it when they want it, and not yell when they accidentally scorch your ear with the iron. But I went through it all.
4 hours later, I was let out, with strict instructions to not let ‘water touch my hair’, ‘tie my hair’, or eve ‘tuck it behind my ears’. For 3 days. After which, they would rewash it and let me go. I did it all. I worked from home, I used a scarf to keep the hair off my face, and in general whined about how difficult it was to have a bath. And once again, 3 days later, I walked out with a flourish, and head full of brand new, straight hair.
Only, in the world of hair straightening, permanent does not mean ‘permanent’. It means 8 months, or lesser depending on how fast your hair grows. Here, I blame the roots again. This time, the hair’s. My hair grows super-fast, and obviously, since my hair roots take my actual roots seriously, what grows afresh is still, well, Mallu. So I am left with part curly, part straightened hair, which frankly looks pretty bleh. That is when the straightening iron is my best friend. And then, it is back to the salon for another round.
But for all the effort, life is so much better. And for the first time ever, the hair is, touchwood, good. I leave it open, style it the way I want, and there are no weird looks. All my life I complained about how thick and wiry my hair was, and how that could never be a good thing, but this routine that I have been following for 4 years now, proves me wrong. No hair can survive the (ill)treatment, that I put mine through. Chemicals, ironing, all are terms that form part of my mother’s worst nightmares. But it is now just part of life.
As long as the hair takes it all in its stride, and sticks by me. And to my head.
*Title taken aken from Ogden Nash’s poem about a visit to the dentist. For some reason, when I think of it, I think my annual hair straightening ritual fits the bill too. Try it, you will agree.