NO, PREMATURE BALDNESS doesn’t run in my family. No, I am not undergoing chemotherapy. No, I don’t have frequent bad hair days. No, I don’t have head lice. No, I don’t believe in donating my hair to please the Gods. Yes, I am a bald woman. And yes I am happy about it.
I used to have a couple of these problems as a kid. Pa would have one standard answer to all my rants — shave your head. I would look at him with mock fear, turn to Ma, and continue my rants. I would sometimes fantasise how life would be if I were bald. After a few minutes of imagining the nightmare, I would shake my head and shift my thoughts to something less distressing.
This was when I was still a girl. In my late teens and early 20s, my hair began to hold more meaning to me. I spent long hours in front of the mirror.
I was driving with a friend, Sanjog, when the thought of getting rid of it occurred to me. I had just quit my job and was on my way to Kolkata to volunteer at the Missionaries of Charity (MC). What sparked it off, I don’t quite remember. All I know is that we were passing a fancy salon when I turned to Sanjog and said, “I want to go bald.” He laughed, and assumed I was joking. I thought so too. We debated on the best place and time to go bald.
It dawned that then was the time. I was travelling for the next two months. I had no lover who longed for my curly locks. I told Sanjog, “I am going bald soon.” He was shocked. This time, he knew I was not joking. And so did I.
But it would not happen for a while. I kept changing my mind. Sanjog managed to talk me out of the idea saying I shouldn’t go bald over the next month as we were travelling to rural Odisha and I would only draw unnecessary attention with my shiny pate.
A month passed by. We travelled across Odisha. I went to Kolkata and there I met three important people. Priya, Pradeep and Sangam. Priya was a fellow volunteer at the MC. I mentioned my wish to her. She jumped at the idea. She had shaved her head not too long ago and couldn’t stop telling me how great she felt.
Pradeep and Sangam were kids at the place I volunteered. I know it’s not nice to have favourites but I couldn’t help it. I would see them every afternoon sitting on the double-seater swing and pleading with the volunteers to swing them. Every afternoon. Same swing. Same two bald kids. Sitting side-by-side. It’s hard not to fall in love with them. And then one day, I saw Pradeep playing the tabla on Sangam’s head. They were at it for almost an hour. Sound effects, and all. Little Archana would sometimes break into a dance. I don’t quite know what it was but I suddenly wanted to go bald.
I called up Priya and the next thing I knew, I was at the barber’s. Priya had already got me a bunch of ‘baldie’ gifts. A lovely skirt, a pair of earrings and a handmade card.
A rigorous one-hour snip-snip session later, I emerged from the men’s salon, my head shining in the summer sun.
It felt great, like a load was off my head, literally and metaphorically. I felt less burdened. I did receive my share of stares, laughs, girls-these-days head-nods and more. But most people appreciated my boldness.
The next day, when I entered Sishu Bhavan, I ran up to Pradeep and Sangam. At first, they didn’t recognise me. Then, Pradeep ran up to me, pulled me down and started playing the tabla on my head while Sangam broke into a dance.
Though my grandma still bemoans the fact that my shaved head has made me unmarriageable, that one hour of tabla playing makes me realise that life is not about the way people perceive happiness and beauty, but the way you perceive it.
Shilpa Krishnan is 25. She is a writer based in Chennai.