Once upon a time I had a lot of anxiety about hair falling. Nothing new, you would think because it is one phase that most of the human beings have to pass through. When you are a teenager your whole idea about yourself is your body. You keep looking at your body as if it was a great work of art and you a great sculptor. In fact, you are a great work of art destined to do sublime things. Unfortunately you wouldn’t think so and none would tell you that you have bigger goals to reach and you are nothing but a tool in the hands of a great artist. The folly of looking at the way in which hair follicles behave comes from the belief that you are the author of your own self. You are a collaborator of your own self because the greater hands are elsewhere, invisible but so close directing you at each pulsating moment but you need different eyes and different sensory organs to feel that. The whole idea of perfecting yourself is to make yourself an antenna capable of catching the god frequency. But teenagers hardly develop this antenna and they remain in front of the mirrors counting hair, pimples, blackheads and so on.
This great fear of turning oneself into a bald person keeps haunting most of the males and females. Some people tell you at a very early age itself that baldness is something hereditary. Then you not only look at your own hair but also the hair of your parents and all those blood relations. Then someone else tells you that it is not necessary to turn bald even if your father is bald. Before you heave a sigh of relief there comes a rider that if any of your forefathers had it then there are chances even if your father has a full mop. It is like height, you see. Such people are more scientific or they think so but knowing that they are scientific does not help you at all because you are about to lose your hairs. And your dreams are full of demons pulling your hairs out one by one. You read Kafka at an early age because you are naturally tuned to literature and you see one fine morning you get and find that you have turned into a bald person. That is the mortal fear that could afflict you at the age of sixteen or seventeen; it is not the right time to turn existential though. One of my cousins had this jealous streak in him and used to tell me how I would turn a bald person by the time I turned twenty. I am still alive to write this only because that better sense prevailed and I did desist from committing suicide.
Bald is in fact beautiful but most do not know. Our aesthetical outlook comes from the popular imageries and narratives, especially novels, films and today all sorts of digital communications. There was a time when bald people were seen as beautiful people. That was the time when experience and intelligence were given value over money and muscle. The early Greek history and mythologies show that the intelligent ones were bald and old. The wise ones were definitely bald. Only the warrior class that spoke from the muscles had a lot of hairs. Why intelligent people were bald? They used the brains and using brains gave out heat waves and heat caused hair falling. Such a beautiful explanation! Later on I learnt that when people think a lot or undergo stress they lose their hair. Then again, we have this new theory; life style product and the chemicals in water and food could cause hair falling. Anyway, the bald people fell from grace sooner than later in our popular narratives as they were demoted from being philosophers to underworld dons. A good baldie makes a good villain; Mogambo Khush Hua. Take the best villains ever in the Hindi screen all of them have played baldies; Jeevan, Pran, Prem Chopra, Amaresh Puri, Khulbushan Kharbanda, Anupam Kher and so on. But a hero could give himself a comic streak if he adds a clumsy wig which shows him partially bald.
That means baldness became a signifier of villainy and if it is partial then of foolishness. Look at Mr.Pickwick of Dickens; he is half bald and is a mixture of wisdom and foolhardy. From Butler Jeeves to the scheming secretaries is bald. Why baldness came to have connoted all the wrong things in the world? Once upon a time, in India baldness was considered to be a sign of beauty, especially for me. For women it is always hair that added to their allure; a woman with open hair stood for her sexual prowess. That’s why when one is widowed her hairs are shorn off as she was to be projected as a sexually neutral person (how such women were socially used and abused were a different matter). The life expectancy was less in those good old days and the source of income was less. People turned old by the time they turned twenty five or thirty. By the time they were forty they were pretty much old as most of them died by the age of fifty. Sixty was very advanced age as today sixty is the new forty of the yesteryears. In those days baldness was okay. With the increase in the longevity of life people changed their idea of beauty. While the beauty concept of women remained more or less same (white, slim, well endowed, long haired, coy and so on), the beauty concept of men changed drastically. Baldness became a thing of past and relegated to villainy. We do not see bald heroes in our movies. But definitely we do see bald villains.
Baldness made a comeback during the boom years in India; in fact all over the world. Bald people in suites and flowery shirts became a rage. Bald people with stubble were dubbed to be hot. Perhaps, it was a carrying over from the Italian underworld kings in the USA and also the American as well as European blacks surging with identity politics. Most of Break Dancers, Rappers and Hip-Hoppers of 1990s were bald heroes. From Tupak Shakur to Biggie to 50 Cent were baldies or the people who had adopted the bald style. Samuel Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Jamie Fox, Forrest Whitekar, Spike Lee and all the cool Black guys went bald. When the market boom came the successful ones wanted to give a shade of Mafioso and darkness. In India the successful ones were already ageing and it was necessary for them to shave off their bald pate to give that bald edge, starting from Pritish Nady to Prabhakar Kolte and their protégé Bose Krishnamachari. They all shaved off because they thought it was best to have a bald pate than the good old Pickwickian silly baldness. They had still a great option before them. They could have gone for weaving their hair or outright hair transplantation as most of the film heroes have done over the last ten or fifteen years in the whole of Indian film industry. For the poor ones who still attached a lot of value to hair and still thought baldness was ugly stylish wigs were available. Even today in newspapers a portion of advertisement space is taken away by the wig selling and hair growing advertisements. Such is the discourse of hair and baldness in India today.
I sport a semi bald look for some time now. I had a different story behind this haircut. I have been contemplating to do away with my hair for it stood for certain style or identity. I wanted to do away with any kind of identity the way the monks did/do all over the world. Hair is also a part of your ego (for many the baldness is a part of their ego and identity as we have seen it in the Indian art scene). So doing away with hair is like doing away with your ego. You don’t attach that value to your hair the way the teenagers do. But I was hesitant; after a long time I had actually settled for a particular hair style; neither long nor short. One day my sister, upon looking at my comparatively long hair asked me to go for a ‘decent’ hair cut so that she could walk with me and ‘claim’ me as her brother. Her contention was that I should be cutting hair like any other people around. I thought, well, her aesthetic sense was about creative normative identities. When you have a normal hair cut you don’t stick out; you become just ordinary like any other person in the street. And ordinariness is a good thing to aspire for. When you are ordinary the society does not look at you nor is it anyway interested in you other than your consumerist side and vote. In the meanwhile you can carry on with your ordinary lives, stoking fuel to your small egos and selfishness. That was the concept of decency for many. So long as you do not look different, everything is fine. So I went to the barbershop and asked him to shave my hair off. As he too is a ‘decent’ man he was reluctant to do it (in villages the barber knows you and your family background). I came back and asked my sister whether I was looking decent enough to be called a brother. Then her answer surprised me: You were better earlier.
In a world were decency is measured with hair or lack of hair and its length and the style of it, it is good to go for a monk cut which makes you simply an identity-less person. You think in this very understated haircut you could just escape the attention of other people. When I am at the airport the security man asks me I look familiar because he has seen some swamy like me a few days back. At the pre-paid taxi counter the policeman asks me which ashram I belonged to. People treat you with some sort of discretion. You could be obscure only in the places where you see a lot of youngsters who have either shaven off their hairs or have grown it in different fashions. Among them I look absolutely out of place, insignificant and ignorable like an old piece of furniture. Lesson; having no hair is still a fashion, but having hair like mine could bring some attention. Decent hair cut you could just be passed off as ordinary. If you have very long hair, you could turn eyes and necks towards you. But what would happen if your hairs are very long and you have black skin and sort of clothes that absolutely challenge your moral and aesthetical values? Then police action may follow. I would talk about it tomorrow.
(Images taken from the Internet for representational purposes only)
(Images taken from the Internet for representational purposes only)