Going Grey

Photo: vsinghbisen.com

By Nishi Pulugurtha

Saptami, 2017. An extremely crowded air-conditioned bus trudged its way down the VIP Road. I did not realise that it was very crowded as I boarded it. As the doors closed behind me, it was too late to disembark. Here I was stuck. For people in Kolkata or who have been in Kolkata, this is a common thing. However, there was a difference, this was not the regular office crowd. The bus was crowded with pandal-hoppers deciding to leave early to catch a glimpse of the best pandals in Kolkata. After all, it was Durga Puja, the biggest festival in West Bengal. Kolkata was bedecked and shining. There is a certain fervour and energy in this pandal hopping. People in their best were out with friends and family, clicking pictures and eating their favourite food. No rules, no diet, no restrictions. I was on a totally different purpose, though.

I was struggling to get a foothold in the bus. The air conditioning did not seem to work. Instead the fans inside the bus were on. People were grimacing and were angry at the state of affairs. I was angry at myself for boarding this bus. People inside the bus were feeling stuffy and uncomfortable. This was the common sentiment voiced by all. I said out loud that the air-conditioning probably did not function but the bus conductor vehemently disagreed. Squeezed between rows of people, almost bending over a lady on the seat in front, I could not help but notice that the lady sitting just in front kept looking at me very intently. Did I know her? I could not recollect having seen her. She kept looking as if she was trying to place me. I kept looking elsewhere, as the crowd and heat were disturbing. When I voiced my complaint aloud, the lady opposite me took this as a cue and said that she had been looking at me for quite a while. I smiled back.

I had nothing to say. Yes, all that staring did make me uncomfortable. She then said she had been admiring my look, my hair in particular. “It speaks volumes,” she said “about how you have left your hair so natural.” I smiled. Ah! That was it. “It is not an easy thing to do,” she went on, “but you have done it and you look fabulous.” “It just looks so good.” “I dye my hair, you see,” she continued, “I have not been able to give it up.” It surely made me feel good. I had to tell her that I had been working on it, thinking about leaving it the ‘natural’ way for quite some time now. I told her that I used to apply mehendi (henna) to colour my hair, but I have stopped it for some months now.

My first grey hair made its appearance when I was studying in college. I was a tad bit upset but then my dad said my genes were to blame. That certainly made me feel better. That was when I started using mehendi (henna) to colour it. As years passed by, the grey quotient was on the rise and the frequency of colouring my hair increased. Henna gave it a nice deep reddish tinge; I liked that look. Since 2016 I had been toying with the idea of leaving my hair the way it is. I did not want to colour it. I must admit that one of the prime reasons was that applying mehendi was a cumbersome task, as it took so much time and energy. Moreover, I did not like the smell of mehendi. Someone suggested I use hair colour; the market was full of them. That was something I did not want to try. As I already hated to do mehendi, I was never going to try out something else to colour my hair.

As I planned to stop using mehendi, close friends said it was too early to don the salt and pepper look. Well, in my case, it would be more of the salt and less of the pepper look. I took some time to go ahead. I did not say anything to my dear ones. I stopped using mehendi to colour my hair. Over some days, the grey near the ears starting showing and then a little more. A dear friend said I should colour. That was when I told her, I was not going to colour my hair. She disapproved of it and kept quiet. More and more of grey started revealing itself. Friends asked me if I were leaving it so on purpose. There were still some of the red strands along with the white and black. I decided to wear my hair much shorter than I had been wearing. I started getting mixed reactions: some approved; some said that the earlier look was better; some said that the grey added to my new look; some said it was good; and my nephew said I looked older. I liked the reactions.

I like the way my hair looks on me now. I guess that is what matters at the end of the day. Of course, that lady’s response to my look made me felt nice surely. Now, who does not love compliments?

Why did I go back to it all? Well, the lockdown has put brakes to much of all the hair grooming that many of us are used to. A dear friend who called up this morning announced that she had decided not to colour her hair anymore. She had not coloured her hair for more than two months now. She couldn’t do it due to the lockdown. Salons have opened now but she is in no mood to try them. Moreover, she said that she liked the way she looked with the grey clearly visible now. After all, the grey does suit her, she said. I smiled when I heard her. She has joined my club.


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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.


Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.

2 thoughts

  1. So well written. I went through the same phase but succumbed to the temptation. Even now after the lockdown without colour the hair regained its old texture. but failed again. But it was just scantily applied so may be I still can go back to the salt and pepper …salty one I should say. Feeling inspiredQ!


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