I shaved off my hair completely in October 2020, just before Pujo that month. About a fortnight later, while posting a selfie of mine with the shaved head on social media, I captioned it 'Pujo hair-cut'. But it was actually not.
It was an act fuelled by curiosity and convenience; but it was also an act of rage and mourning. The first pair of reasons is easier to deal with.
Not greying gracefully:
I started greying from my early 30's. By the time my daughter was born in my late 30's, the grey had increased substantially inside and begun to show on the temples. I resisted coloring for a few more years and started at age 40. Not because of the supposed milestone, but because there was too much grey near the temples which I didn't like at all. And I kind of agreed (then) with my bestie that, since my face didn't age much, the grey didn't sit well on it. There was a kind of disparity there. I look younger than my age, I have always been told. In my 30s, people habitually thought I was at least a decade younger, which never failed to amuse/surprise me, as I had been through a lot since my late 20s/early 30's, and often felt old and tired within. The mental exhaustion would only increase right through my 40s.
I initially started with coloring twice a year. For Pujo and my birthday, which are roughly 5 months apart. The very first time had to do with me anchoring during a Pujo event of the Bengali Association in the Netherlands. But hair grew fast, the grey at the roots showed up soon after coloring, leading to irritation and frustration.
I usually went for a trim or a hair cut with the coloring and I invariably felt light and happy on those days. But then the grey would be back in no time!
Appointments at the salon were another problem. They could not be frequent. I also found them expensive. Add to that the fact that the time and scope to visit the salon were always limited. Whenever it happened, it was invariably hurried -- to be just got over and done with as quickly as possible, with always some reason or the other to return home early. This was the case not only in Amsterdam - where I stayed for three more years after I started coloring - but also, more so, in Kolkata.
The appointment had to be taken for at least a few hours. I have never had the patience for beauty treatments (went for facials rarely and to pluck my brows only when they started resembling a bush); hair colour tested it to the limits, really. It had a prolonged process -- shampooing, cutting/trimming, colouring (applying the colour and letting it absorb, this being the most laborious part), washing off, blow-drying and styling. Uff! Just listing this makes me yawn!
There were the other alternatives, of course: coloring at home or resorting to mehndi. I have never had the patience or energy for the former and I didn't like the reddish tinge of the latter (though I knew it was the healthier option and had tried it once or twice in my annual visits to India).
I also increasingly did not like the way I looked with hair colour. Something was lost. The face didn't look the same.
I was thus in a quandary: I didn't like the (by now) shocking grey at the roots; I also didn't like colored hair.
I wanted to grey naturally. One could wait it out; allow the colour to wear off completely. But I knew that the process would be long and it would still be incomplete.
I was curious to see just how much I had greyed right from the scalp. Wanted to start over from scratch. But was unable to do it for a long while...
It's the pandemic that gave me the required push to start over. In multiple ways.
To begin with, in the first six months of lockdown in 2020, I was so completely exhausted and overwhelmed with work all the time, on all fronts -- singlehandedly taking over all domestic chores at home, teaching online full-time, supervising my daughter's online classes & routine, looking after my very old and fragile father whose health deteriorated drastically, as well as working for KPM -- that I was left with absolutely no time for even the most rudimentary aspects of personal grooming. A quick bath and an even quicker gathering of the hair in a severe bun was all I could manage. Oiling and shampooing even once a week became such a difficult task!
Getting rid of the hair, I reduced one work of the day for myself. The purpose was not to remain bald, but to have as little of it as possible, henceforth.
Compliments & censure:
I posted a selfie of my shaved head a fortnight after I had taken it. I had done so immediately after leaving the salon, in the trial room of a clothing brand, while trying on a new maxi-dress (the one in the photo).
I was taken aback by the response on Facebook.
I was surprised by two things: 1) Many complimented me; there were flattering comparisons to Sinead O'Connor, references to Parsis Khambatta. 2) The number of women who wrote that they had contemplated shaving off at some point, but did not have the courage to do so. Or, put it off indefinitely. This was the more surprising part.
There was some censure, of course - I had expected that! Also, concern expressed by some close friends, who texted or called me separately, to know if I was alright.
I told my friends I wanted to grey naturally. That was the truth. But not the whole of it.
(To be continued)