I’ve lived a vast majority of my life in a dominion where a minority (one-fourth) of the population wielded a disproportionate amount of power over the numerical majority. Much like the British did in colonial India. I speak, of course, of the great power bestowed upon my mother, by the unmentioned powers of the universe. Anyone even mildly familiar with display of said power would know that the element of surprise is the (metaphorical) nutrient-rich petri-dish upon which the effect of said display is cultured. And there is nothing more effortlessly middle class, yet vastly effective as the sudden issue of a diktat to get a haircut.
Before you judge, I am aware of those kids in Africa everyone talks about. I know it is, classically, a more socially relevant issue to write about. But, I haven’t seen any of them being threatened with surprise haircuts, so I reject the comparison. (That was a joke. Please don’t threaten to [or actually] post a status update or start a hashtag. I sympathise with them on a daily basis. Well, not daily, but you get the idea.) Anyway, back to topic.
The first plan of attack is, of course, retaliation. So, refuse. And then watch them refuse to accept your refusal. And then realise that your plan never factored in history. Never has a puny child’s “no” overpowered that of that singularity of all power (read mom). (“And it will stay that way”, she says.) Back home, school on weekdays meant that Sunday was the day allotted for this last legal form of systematic, and forced, acquisition of personal property (read hair). Invariably, the day of issue would give my brother and me a couple of days to figure out who would go that Sunday and who would go the next. (Side note: All stalemates were dealt with by the age-old method of conflict resolution called “Let’s ask mom”. Side-side note: Who thought that was a good idea?) Being the one with the longer hair never worked in my favour, but I had to hold on to that as it was the last domain that I had any control over. But more on that later.
So, on average, one gets three days to mentally prepare for the sacrifice. This period is usually characterized by increased mirror usage, new-found fondness for hair products and hallucinations of sounds made by electric razors (Not really, so if you could relate to that last one, you need to go see a doctor. Stat.) This is also the period of bargaining. With my mum about how short I had to get my hair cut. I’m not aware of the professionalism among barbers in other places in India, but where I come from, we use a time tested, scientifically designed scale of “short or medium”. “Medium”, stands for “shorter than you think it will be”, and “short” stands for “Stop crying, you’re not bald yet”. To put it into perspective with the bargain, the difference between the length of your hair in “medium” and “short” is that little personal space you let your parents invade. This is the one part of the whole ordeal I win at. Although it takes a great deal of effort and having to summon all of my skills of parental persuasion, I manage to get away with “medium”, which is the lesser of two evils.
On that Saturday night, one learns the most important lesson anyone can hope to learn; that life has a twisted sense of humour. By then, I’ve silently resigned to my fate, and even convinced myself that my hair is an unqualified mess and therefore, must be sentenced to the equivalent of capital punishment in the world of bodily produced keratinous filaments. So, that night, I walk towards my bed after a long and emotionally exhausting week and pass by a mirror I had forgotten was even there. Turn around and look at myself in the mirror (I was really tempted to make a “how do you sleep at night” and/or a “how do you look at yourself in the mirror” joke at this point but couldn’t come up with one that was relevant) and my hair is on point. Just perfect. It’s the best it’s looked in forever, and all of that emotional foundation-laying goes to waste. But, I have no choice but to go ahead with it. The next morning, I’d embark on the journey (that one must take alone) to the hallowed ceremonial grounds (read salon) and when I’d reach there the next life lesson would await me.
Barbers are a sadistic lot. I would, honestly, not be surprised if most psychopathic and sadistic serial killers worked day jobs as barbers. By the time I’ve been led up to the chair, they’ve used their acute senses to determine my willingness (or lack thereof). And, because I’m, well, me, the thinly veiled look of acute depression and loss doesn’t help. They pick their tools up and make to stand behind me. Much like this.
And every time, I can almost hear them think to themselves, “Oh, I’m not gonna shave your head. I’m just gonna cut your hair. Really, really, short.” I know, at this point, all this sounds like I’m reading too much into body language. Well, explain this. For those not familiar with the process, the electric razor is used to trim the hair on the sides of the head first. When that’s done, you reach a state where even looking at that figure staring at you from the mirror in front of you is difficult. Because you look like a sentient mushroom cloud. This is where the psychopathy of the barber kicks in. Right then, at your most vulnerable, he stops. And walks away. For “tea”. And as he sips on his beverage that was, conveniently, delivered just then, he looks across at you trying to take it all in; trying to come to terms with the ramifications of his not coming back. Imagine having to walk out like that! It would mean the complete and utter annihilation of any social, and therefore, self-image you had spent your life painstakingly constructing. Just before you’ve given up any hope of walking out of there without pulling off a Shia LaBeouf (Google: shia labeouf paper bag, for more details), he comes back, now a saviour. With nowhere left to go but up.
If this is not oppression I don’t know what is. To convince you, I am now going to quote someone famous. Was it not Martin Luther King who said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the length of their hair but by the content of their character.” It wasn’t? Well, it ought to have been. So, I’d like to send a message to all the kids out there who have been through this. Remember that countless lives have been lost to the cause of swaraj and we are not going to let them take it away from us.
– Abhinau Kumar
*This article is not, in any way, a deep and convoluted metaphor for any struggles faced by human society in general. I just like my hair.