The Lost Treasure - Grand Winner Season 4
Long, lustrous, black hair adorned my back throughout my girlhood years. I was prohibited to let loose my cascade lest it attracted the evil eye. That’s what Grandma would say as she sat oiling, combing, and braiding my hair every evening, a ritual she thoroughly enjoyed. I hated my hair being oiled and braided into two plaits with ribbons at each end. For the first eight summers, I was tonsured consistently with the hope of a denser crop. I looked no less than a Tibetan monk. By the twelfth year of my life, I had inherited a fine head of hair, from my grandmother. I would often dream of Rapunzel and her prince who would climb to meet her, holding on to her golden tresses. Both my Ma and Grandma were obsessed with my hair. Every homemade treatment was prescribed, practiced, and pasted on my head. My head was their kitchen garden. My food, sleep, shampoo, and oil were all directed toward the maintenance of my long mane.
On Sundays, Ma would wash my hair with the utmost care and before it could dry up completely, gallons of coconut oil would be poured on my scalp, followed by a head massage and finally braided. I would howl until my neighbors would peep out of their windows. But Ma would remain unfazed by it all. To ease my restlessness, Baba would distract me with a classic story-the story of Samson and Delilah. How my little heart like a little cat would lap up the story. Hair is in some way associated with charm and power. How I longed to leave my hair open, free, and flowing!
As I grew, I began to cherish my locks while my cousins were envious. My neat, oiled head was much appreciated by teachers, friends, and neighbors. All concluded that my Bengali genes and the regular consumption of fish were the secrets of the evergreen Forest. No matter where I would be found with precisely the same unchanged hairstyle, the two tight plaits dangling down my shoulders.
Oh, how I would love to be left as Jatadhaari Shiv!!
I remember when I was in high school, I had gone to live with my favorite aunt. I was taken to a Chinese Parlor where they trimmed my hair, with a fringe to cover my forehead. I loved the look. I thought I looked cute until I returned home. My grandma looked at me and did not speak to me for days. I felt sad but not guilty. I was tired of my long reptilian braid. Soon she was back to her tactics. Within the next few months, my hair grew to its former size.
On the school farewell day, Ma gave me a traditional Kanjivaram sari to wear on condition that I would let her do my hair for the evening. She did a double Dutch braid and placed some small wild lilies that grew in our garden. Though I didn’t win any title that evening, I won all hearts.
I looked excitedly to college life for then I could be upbraided. I began by making a high ponytail that was highly disapproved by Grandma. She said it resembled a horse’s tail. I laughingly told her that it was supposed to and therefore it’s called a Ponytail. For the next two years, I did not let her touch my loose tuft. She would crave to oil my hair. I let her indulge in the ritual sometimes to pacify her. Sometimes I would not braid for days and let the dark infinite strands spread and sprawl on my back. Sometimes I would use a satin band and pull it back. On a Sunday evening, I would bun it up.
Once during Durga Puja, Ma had done up my hair in an exuberant style, adorning the coiled bun with sequins and fillets. Grandma’s favorite was the palm leaf braid, which became the talk of the town. Her expertise lay in making the French twist and the Double Dutch braid. I realized she had real talent. She used to tell me how women in ancient India would perfume their hair and henna it and spend afternoons tending to their hair. I would laugh sitting at her knees. Little did I know that life would enmesh me in a way that I wouldn’t have time for the treasure that Ma and Grandma had nurtured.
I married at twenty-two, young and vulnerable. In the first week of my marriage, my in-laws pointed out that because of my thick long hair, I looked much elder than my husband. Imagine the plight of a new Indian bride, to be told that she looked older than her groom. They persuaded me and took me to a parlor. The hairdresser hesitated me several times before she put the scissors to my hair. My tresses resting on my waist moved demurely to the nape of my neck. The mirror announced a big change. I was nervous. He was happy. Marriage had let strangers decide on the length of my hair.
I thought of my Grandma who would die instantly at the sight of the plundered head.
Childbirth, chores, neglected diet, a hectic job, lack of sleep, months of no oil, and no massage had left the scalp dry and parched. Twenty summers have passed since Ma and Grandma lost access to my crowning glory. It never grew back to its regal length. I tried several hairstyles. Once I went for a complete pixie look, then the blunt cut. I seem to have forgotten that I had an enviable mane once that would be styled with flowers and fillets. I longed for my grandma’s fingers to run through my hair, to sit on her lap for hours, to let my dry scalp soak in the nourishing oil, to let my hair be braided with love.
The crowning glory is just a memory now. Although I live in an age of artificial colors, I have managed without them since my hair didn’t grey as much. Thanks to Grandma and Ma!
“Your head of hair is a garden you need to tend. It gives you charm and reflects your health.” I recall Grandma’s words as I touch the brittle remains of the lost treasure!