4th February 2018. Sunday.
It was a lazy Sunday morning and after a good night of sleep, I had got up without the need for any hurry. The Sun was shining through the Coconut palms swaying outside the window, but the air inside my room was cold. On the deserted street, a hawker was shouting his wares, a dog barked somewhere in the close vicinity and as I stood in front of the mirror looking at my lackadaisical image reflected on the glass, I groaned in disbelief.
My hair was terribly messed up after the prolonged sleep and if Kamala atte* had to see my mane in such a ghastly shape, she would not have liked it. As I continued to gape at my thatch in disbelief, I remembered a childhood incident that was partly instrumental in shaping my present-day facial image.
My present hairdo, a reminiscence from the summer of 1991
It was the middle of 1991, a year that marked the beginning of a decade which witnessed changes like no other decennium, before or after. During the ten years leading up to the new millennium, the government liberalized its economic policy and welcomed foreign investment. The notorious Licence Raj came to an end. Bulky computers with monochrome monitors started to appear in offices, there were new gadgets on shelves and the music from the movies started to sound better and more romantic. Every Friday as we witnessed more cinema releases than ever before, there were new Stars born and older heros started to slip further from our memories. The fashion trend changed from traditional to curious, the Coca-Cola returned to India and sparked the infamous cola war. As a whole new digital generation was added to cradles each day, the working woman became a norm in every urban household.
It was early June and I was on a summer vacation. Free from the grinding routine of my residential school in Shyampur near Bhopal, I was enjoying the holidays at Bhagya atte‘s home in Mysore.
By the summer of 1991, I had already spent six months away from Karnataka, the State in which I was born and lived since birth. During the days spent in Madhya Pradesh, except for the feeling of being in the same Nation, I felt isolated from the culture that surrounded me for fourteen years.
In my new State of residence, the communication language was Hindi in which I had little proficiency. Unlike Karnataka, the climate in Madhya Pradesh was harsh with prolonged winters and dry summers. The way elderly dressed was different in its shape and style, the shops sold alien savouries and sweetmeats. The people in the rural surroundings of Bhopal had faces that were fair in complexion, sharp in features and a body frame that looked physically malnourished and weak compared to that of the people from Karnataka.
In the central part of India, the food was completely opposite to that of South Indian States – at home the core of my diet was rice, but in Madhya Pradesh, it was replaced with wheat. In Karnataka, we had pakoda* as evening tea time snack and halwa* as a festive sweet treat, whereas in my residential school these were part of the regular breakfast menu.
Throughout the day when life was surrounded by such remarkable unfamiliarity, it was easy for a fifteen-year-old ninth grader to get influenced and cultivate new habits. Similarly, with each passing day, I started to enjoy the company of my new friends and within few months I was able to decipher and converse the unaccustomed dilect. The food which tasted strange a few weeks ago turned out to be delicious and as I ended up watching more Hindi movies, I realized the existence of a young Bollywood diva called Divya Bharathi. But there was one key element that influenced me the most and it’s the hairdo of my schoolmates.
My schoolmates from Shyampur, near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh during 1991/92
Many of my classmates, teachers and people I met during my days at Shyampur sported a hairstyle that was novel to me. Unlike today, during my growing up years, the South Indian men styled their hair in a particularly widespread method – they neatly parted it from one side. But at my residential school in Madhya Pradesh many parted their hair from the middle and for a curious teenager, it was strangely good looking.
Within few months after reaching Shyampur, I had abandoned my side-parted hairstyle and adopted a new middle path. It looked more natural in my new settings and I liked how my hair waved from the middle.
Back at Bhagya atte’s home in Mysore during the 1991 summer vacation, one particular morning I had finished taking bath and dressed up in front of the mirror. Following the customary buffing of the talcum powder, I picked up a comb and got ready to groom my hair. As I was about to part my hair from the middle, Kamala atte walked into the room.
Standing next to my fifteen-year-old skeletal figure, Kamala atte gently turned me towards her and took the comb from my hand. Drawing the comb through the still moist hair, she tenderly patted on the scalp and straightened the hair towards my forehead.
As I silently stood with closed eyes and stiff neck, holding my chin with her one hand Kamala atte rearranged my hair, parting it from the left side. In a brief second, she had crossed out the centre parting from my scalp and given my hair a new styling from the old days. When she had finished grooming my hair, Kamala atte handed me the comb and walked out of the room as silently as she had walked in; and in those few minutes, while she had styled my hair, there was not a single word spoken between us.
As I checked my reflection in the mirror, my neatly arranged hair with the side parting had enhanced my looks much better than when my mane was divided from the middle.
In last 27 years, on many an occasion I have had my hair trimmed millimetre short and few times I have even had my head neatly shaved. But whenever my hair was long enough to be styled with a parting, I have always tried it the way Kamala atte did it in the summer of 1991.
*Atte – Your father’s sister, either the younger or the elder by age.
*Pakoda – A fried snack.
*Halwa – A soft sweet confectionery.