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Essay: Ma's Hair

by Devanshi Panda

Ma has always hated her hair. The frizz bothers her too much, and when she oils it, she calls it a ‘rat’s tail’. I think Ma often feels like she is her hair. Untameable, prone to flare-ups, old, decisively indecisive. She has never once coloured her hair black in all these years. Relatives keep pointing it out and tell her that she absolutely-immediately-without-any-excuses-and-delays must run to the store, buy a box of black dye, and smear it on her head. But she never has. I wish I could say this with pride. You know, rest my arm on the bar, a cigarette in hand, and say nonchalantly “ah! My mother is a badass feminist who refuses to bow down to patriarchal ideas of womanhood,” watching the smoke rings curl up into rings, matching my mother’s ringlets. But alas, this would be untrue. Ma refuses to find beauty in the grey and white strands that crown her head. I often find her plucking them out, staring at them with her big black eyes as she does so, muttering “hmm” to my nonsensical stories. As if doing this would somehow return her to the glory of her thirties and reverse her arthritis and knee pain. As if it would allow her to do something with her life, since she never thinks she’s done enough. Maybe, she could sing those high notes like she used to again. Who knows, perhaps if the grey hairs disappeared, (not because they were grey of course but because they are ‘weaker’ than the rest), Ma could learn how to rock and roll on the electric guitar, just like she dreamed of doing when she was sixteen.

Ma has tried many things to fix the bird’s nest, but her hair doesn’t like to lie down flat neatly, and I think this scares her. If she can’t discipline the hair on her head, how can she possibly control a household? The Livon serum has visited her vanity shelf many times, but now it lies replaced with a bottle of Streax Professional that I bought her for her birthday years ago. She barely uses it, and claims that it does absolutely nothing. Only the foreign brand products that my aunt brings once a year and forces my mother to use ever find praise in her voice. And since they greet our doorstep rarely, she treats them like non-renewable sources of energy. The 50g bottle of Living Proof hairspray is used sparingly, only one spray of mist in a blue moon, when she has to wear a saree and maybe some lipstick.

I think she is yet to ‘find herself’ as they say. I think the key lies hidden in her locks. You see, when she steps fresh out of the shower, her hair perfectly coils into curls that frame her face. The salt-pepper ringlets are slightly damp, shimmering in the golden afternoon sun, bouncing on her shoulders. But allowing this goldilock-edness would mean letting go. And I don’t think Ma has ever let go; of anything, anyone. She will tell you that she cannot afford to let go and be free. Cannot afford to let her hair wild, to wake up after six in the morning, buy a dress for herself, or let dad handle dinner. In some ways, she is right. Our world would collapse if she didn’t tell papa 100 metres before the turning that we have to take a left, or if she didn’t pop into my room and remind me to take my inhaler to college. But that is also because we would immediately let it, hoping she’d catch us as we free-fall, as her hair falls.

These days, I try to wake up early on Sundays, so she doesn’t have to oil her hair with her own two hands. Of course, this is barely damage control, but I must start somewhere to break the curse. Maybe on the weekend, her knots can unravel in the palms of my hand, and her stresses can evaporate into the air heavy with the scent of coconut. Maybe, she can learn to let go in those fifteen minutes, before she’s forced to reach for the Loreal Anti-hairfall Rescue shampoo (hoping it’ll save her, so she can save us all over again). Maybe if I remember to take my medicine on time, Ma will buy herself one of those fancy-foreign-brand-potions. Maybe, someday, Ma will learn to love her hair like she loves mine.

This essay was originally published on The Writer's Brew.


About the Writer:

Devanshi is an undergrad history student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi with the memory of a goldfish (the irony is not lost on her). She is the Editor-in-Chief of her college's magazine and her poetry has been published in many university magazines. Her words have also appeared in the Monograph Magazine and one of her essays is all set to be published in a food anthology by Nivaala and the Alipore Post. Devanshi is particularly interested in weaving tales on personal experiences, art, culture, and the confluence of fashion and history. She hopes to own a bookcase that leads into a secret chamber one day.

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