It is probably the hair goal of many ladies: to have long beautiful hair. If there is a product that sells faster than the proverbial hotcakes, it is a hair product that promises extreme hair growth. Usually the advert has a picture of a model with before and after the product use and how rapidly the hair grew. One that amused me had the before lady within quite short hair and after three months the hair was shoulder length. Is it also a magic potion?
My quest for long hair started pretty early. If you are as old as I am, you probably went to a local primary school that required all pupils (no matter the gender) to have their hair shaved. My dad took the role of the family hair barber very seriously. When our hair had reached some length, we would all line up for a shave.
Once I tried doing the shaving myself. It didn’t come out as well as how the master barber did it. It was like strips and spots that ended at the centre of the head. I doubt my dad thought of me as an aspiring apprentice since he punished me by shaving my hair bald. I looked like the then famous WWE fighter, Stone Cold. I think I also acquired the name when I reported to school the following week. Kids can be mean.
The December holidays were long fully awaited for. This was not just because of the chapatti feasting during the Christmas celebrations, but also this was the time all little girls were plaited with long braids and colourful beads. I could hardly wait. My otherwise strict mum had agreed to have our hair braided. This was a Chrismas miracle by itself.
What a wonderful day when we at last were taken to the salon. I sat patiently at the chair as the hair stylist touched my hair and frowned slightly. I was prepared to tell her what I wanted. She would fix the braids and make sure they were long enough so I could look as beautiful as those photos from the newspaper cuttings that she had glued up on the salon’s wall.
“Your hair is too short,” she said matter-of-factly; the way hairdressers talk when they want to get rid of you. She was half saying it to me, half telling the house help who had brought us. She left the work of consoling to the poor lady. I didn’t cry. But my little heart felt a pain. They were crushing my year long dream. Of course when my dad did a Stone Cold remake on my head, the hair took a longer time to grow. Now December would soon come to an end. My hair would be shaved and I’d have to wait until the following December holidays. I looked on as my two sisters’ hair got braided.
That evening, I went outside, far away from everyone (near the cow’s pen) and prayed, “God give me long hair.” I think I was embarrassed at my prayer. It was unreasonable, I felt. At the start of the year I would be probably bald again. I remember asking our house help if God answers prayers. That was pretty deep for a kid, right?
“If you believe He will, “she told me. We usually had pretty amazing house girls then. I don’t know about now. Uhm, it was not a comparison at all.
God answers prayers. At nine years, I went to a boarding school that allowed girls to grow hair. Alleluia! So with the help of other girls, I started growing my hair. We used to plait each other what we usually called ‘matuta lines’. For those unschooled, it is making a braid and joining it to make another braid and on and on to make a line. You had to learn fast so that you could also return the favour. During the visiting days, I had one of the older girls comb it and my mum marveled at how beautiful it was.
Girls. Is anything good enough, long enough or rich enough? Don’t read too much into that. I promise, I meant no pun. My school friend told me that there were ways to make my hair longer, straighter and generally more beautiful. Being a very weak kid to peer pressure, I was on board. I didn’t know what the exercise involved but I knew one thing, I wanted long straight hair. It was nearing the end of the term and I wanted to go home looking beautiful, hopefully get more compliments from my mother.
I don’t know how the girls acquired it but it was a tin with holes. Sharp were the holes that if you touched the surface, you could risk getting pricked. This was a practice in the villages, I knew, but I had never seen it happen before. They put red hot charcoal or firewood in the tin. I really don’t know how they got that too but they were set to work.
I was the guinea pig. Having been a very naïve kid, this is one of the prices I have had to pay. I think the tin was too hot or the holes, too big. You should have seen the top of my head, which technically was the only part styled. My hair got burnt and it was sort of grey. I could hear the giggles from my ‘stylists’.
My mum was dismayed. Why couldn’t I wait to come home and go the salon? What had I done to my beautiful hair? My dad was half amused and chuckled, “You decided to fry the hair?” He made what he still thinks is a joke. When someone goes to the salon, he asks them if they are going to fry their hair.
To reduce this kind of activity, my mum decided to take me for hair blow-dry at the beginning of every term. This seemed like a good temporary solution. I think it was, since my hair grew and thrived. My friends also didn’t have other tricks in their pockets or I had learnt a lesson that they weren’t to be trusted.