A few days ago, I had published a post – The Twisted Headband – where I waxed eloquent about my love for hair accessories. I had mentioned my obsession with head bands and how I had been inspired to knit them after watching Gossip Girl. There was even a passing reference to the unfortunate haircut of my childhood – the infamous “Mushroom Cut“. What I had failed to mention in that post was that my obsession goes far beyond hair accessories and extends to all things hair. Yes, I confess I am obsessed with my hair. So today’s post is not about knitting, instead I’m going to turn the gaze of my pop-psychology lens on myself and ask some difficult questions about my hair obsession.
First, more details about the obsession. I spend oodles of money on shampoos, conditioners, hair spas, hair cuts, colouring sessions, professional hair washes and blow-drys. I go to the best (albeit expensive) hair salons in town and would have continued to do so even in my current state of infrequent employment if not for Covid-19. I am often caught patting my hair in place in front of a mirror – the mirror in question could be any reflective surface such as a car window, one way tinted glass of an office building, or even the small corner screen in a video call (yes, quite vain, I know!). You can get a bit sexist and say that this isn’t very different from any other woman. Let me just say that I don’t know about other people, but there’s more where I come from. When other people travel, it’s usually their endeavour to catch most of the famous sights of the place they have traveled to, mine is to make sure I get a haircut or at the very least buy a hair product or accessory from said place as a souvenir. People often ask their partners – “How do I look” or “Do I look fat in this”? I say – “Fat be damned, Nikhil does my hair look okay?” My level of confidence on any given day is directly proportional to the sort of day my hair is having and at the risk of getting very late to parties, I’m unable to leave my house until I have fixed my hair to my satisfaction. You want more? When I was in school, I would wash my hair before every big or small exam, even in the midst of a freezing winter. I considered it my good luck charm. I continued with this practice even in Law School, by which time my hair had grown long and washing them four days in a row before each exam was quite troublesome. Alas, superstitions become superstitions for a reason and it is not easy to let go of them. Anyway, I hope I have explained the gravity of the situation. I’ve had to reveal some uncomfortable truths about myself but anything in the pursuit of making a point.
The more important question is why this unnatural obsession. I would have invoked Freud if there was any sexual connotation to all this, but there isn’t. I will, however, turn to my childhood to find the underpinnings of this obsession. Why anyone would want to get a haircut with the name “Mushroom Cut”, I fail to understand (no offence to Shiitakes, Portobellos or Porcinis), but for some reason, I (or maybe my mum?) chose it and then stuck to it for many many years. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the haircut did have some advantages – getting ready for parties took very little time, I mean I could fix my hair really quickly with just a sweep of a hair brush. My haircuts were not expensive and treatments like blow drys, colouring, hair spas etc were not needed. Hair straighteners, curlers and other hair products had not yet made an appearance in my life. Both my hair and I lived a simple, uncomplicated life.
If there was one disadvantage, it was this – with that hair cut, I was often confused for a boy. For people who have come to know me only in the last 10-12 years, this is a bit difficult to believe. But it is true and I have proof. The funniest story – one which has taken me many years to tell without embarrassment – is that of the passport-gender mix up. When I was 14 or 15, my parents had decided to take us (my sister and me) for our first trip abroad. We had got our first independent passports made some months ago and when the passports were delivered, no one had bothered to check them for any mistakes. When the time came for the passports to be sent to the embassy for visas, it was discovered that in my passport, in the column for sex, the letter ‘M’ was mentioned instead of ‘F’. I present Exhibit-A below
Now knowing how careful my father usually is about filling forms, I knew it couldn’t have been his mistake. So we assumed that some kindly passport officer had laid his/her eyes on my photo, said “tsk tsk, people don’t fill forms properly” and changed my gender from female to male. I remember the humiliating rounds of the passport office that I had to undertake to get my passport corrected and the once-over the passport officer gave me from head to toe making sure I was actually a girl. Even after all that, my first passport still bears the letter ‘M’ in the sex column – the correction was made on the opposite page where it says that holder’s sex has been corrected to read as ‘Female’ (Exhibit-B). Ha! As if that was enough to take away all my embarrassment. For the next 10 years, until I got my passport renewed, I had to withstand the scrutiny of every immigration officer, who would do a double take every time they saw the letter ‘M’ instead of the ‘F’.
You can say I grew out my hair only to make sure that the last laugh was on the Indian passport office, to make sure that whoever saw the ‘M’ would think that it would take a special brand of moronity to confuse this very feminine looking, long haired female (Exhibit-C) for a male. Maybe the seeds of my hair obsession lie in that incident. Who knows? What is, is. I live with it. No apologies and no more embarrassment.