When we were girls
I have this horrible habit – when other people watch and enjoy a show on the TV and on stage, I sit and reflect about life. Take the Grammy awards. My teenage boys went crazy listening to Cindy Lauper and Tina Turner. I despaired at the hairstyles sported by them. I felt like picking up my brush and doing up their hair which looked like a crow’s nest swept off by an angry housewife.
How different it was when we were little girls! Our aunts were in charge of combing out our long tresses. It was a ritual. A small bowl of water to put the falling hair into, an ivory comb with long teeth, to separate tangled hair, another fine toothed comb and a bottle of oil containing crushed fenugreek seeds and dried gooseberry. Bright coloured ribbons were kept in a toffee box nearby. A basket of fresh jasmine strung into long “Venis” completed the paraphernalia.
All the nieces were mustered and made to squat on the floor. We had to sit cross-legged, with our back straight. Anyone slouching would get a thump and straightened out! A little oil would be poured into the palm and rubbed into the scalp – first gently and then vigorously.
“Keep your head still”, was an oft-repeated admonishment. Then would come the painful process of untangling the knots. We dared not squeak. “How will you bear labour pain if you can’t bear a mere tug”? was the logic! All the hair fallen on the ground, would then be twirled around the finger into a small black mass and dipped into the bowl of water. It was believed that any stray hair picked up by a bird would be used for its nest and the girl to whom it belonged, doomed to baldness!! Then would follow the slow rhythmic combing of the hair accompanied by the aunts gossiping about friends and relatives.
I have a feeling that they enjoyed the hair combing ritual and prolonged it because that was the only time they could sit for an hour without being questioned by granny! The hair would be plaited into two tight braids with the ribbons forming colourful bows at the tip of the braid. Then we had to turn around and face the aunt as she combed the hairline above the forehead – if we did not go through this, we would end up marrying old men, they would say! The best part of it all was the placing of the “Veni.” The fragrant ‘bundles’ were thrust into our hair and we would be shooed off to play – well groomed, not a hair out of place! Little wonder that we had lovely, dark luxurious hair!
There came the blast of fashion, blown in by a cousin from Delhi. She mocked at our oily braids and called us “walking gardens.” She giggled at our magenta and yellow ribbons and pooh-poohed the legends that made us submit to the hair combing ritual. We were peeved and rebelled. We threw off the ribbons, refused to use oil and wrinkled our nose at the jasmine flowers. Some of us chopped off our hair into the fashionable “Bob Cut.” We felt liberated – those ribboned, flower-decked braids with their myths surrounding them, were bondages to be freed from.
Yet, today, I recall those with nostalgia, especially when I saw Grammy award winners whose “crowning glory” was nothing but a “gory mess”!!