Comb is a very ordinary thing but as essential as a bath towel for a human being who takes care of his/her body. In a decent hotel when you check in they provide you a comb, a shaving kit, a shower cap, a shampoo and a dental kit. Of the five items four are directly or indirectly related to hair and hair care. I brought in the case of hotels at the outset itself only to tell you that hair care is very important to anyone in the world that even the hotel managements do not take it lightly. At home everyone has a comb and perhaps by looking at a comb one could say how hygienic a person is. Hygienic among the human beings take special care to keep their combs clean and dry for this is one daily body upkeep too that comes in contact with a body part which is prone to sweat therefore wet and oily. Hairs are dead cells they say, so are the nails. Vampires, when they feast on the human bodies generally leave hairs and nails untouched (bones they crush, chew and suck out the marrows, which is said to be very tasty. I am not a vampire but I eat a mutton preparation called Rogan Josh one of the many dishes that people eat without really understand what it means. For instance Chicken 65). If you are a grave digger, they say, you get the hairs and nails intact. The latest in the news is that they dug up Salvador Dali’s grave to study his genetic details and the samples were taken from his illustrious moustache, which they said remained more or less intact).
Even if hairs are dead cells the living ones take care of it more than they take care of the other organic parts of the body. A smelly armpit is always caused by the sweat holding hairs though the hairs are the so called vent machines of the human body. I believe hairs are the parts that the God has left in the human beings to remember that they were evolved from the hairy animals. That’s why God has decided to hide hairs in the places where limbs join and has made it sparse all over and made the indication of the possible hairiness of the person through the mop of hair on the head. Perhaps the hairs in the hidden parts of the body do not demand the use of comb for many believe in shaving them off (again for hygienic reasons, but it is not a rule there are millions of exceptions in the world). The hair spread all over the body, however needs tending. Women get into painful processes like plucking, waxing and downright shaving in order to do away with bodily hairs. But they need different kinds of combs to take care of the hairs on the scalp. The more you have hairs on the head the more your trouble; and the more the time that you spend tending it. Men too are not different. They also need a comb not only to comb down or up their hair on the head as well as the facial hairs. There was a time when men folk carried combs (flattened like a piece of leather) in their hip pockets. Keeping the mop in a particular style is one of the major concerns of the men, women and boys and girls alike.
Combs must be an early invention as we have combs made of animal horns, bones and teeth. These combs must have been made when other materials like plastic and steel were not available. Wooden combs are/were available. Today everyone, irrespective of class and social status use plastic combs fashioned in different ways and for different purposes. But the use of combs made of animal horns, bones and teeth has become rare for the rarity of the raw materials to make such combs. Misuse of animal teeth for example that of the elephants is now a punishable offence. Logical thinking takes us to those good old days when artisans crafted plain and dull looking wooden combs for the use of the ordinary people and intricately carved and crafted combs in rare materials for the rich and powerful. I can imagine kings and queens using such finely crafted combs, which now we could see in the museums. Wooden combs are still in use in the rural areas. But there was a time when most of the people used wooden combs with specially crafted ‘teeth’ in order to take out lice from the hairs. There was also a special kind of thick and slimmer at the end combs which were used for taking out the eggs of the lice. With the advent of the beauty industry and also with the availability of shampoo sachets both in the rural and urban market, these kinds of combs have become a thing of past.
Hairs have both religious and political meanings. The latest of political meanings of hairs could be seen from the North Korea; there in order to keep the social order, the totalitarian government has approved around six styles of haircut which is predominantly the variations of the haircutting style of the President. In such a situation, you don’t really need a comb in the conventional sense but some appendage that would do the job of the combs. For many a hairstyle today does not need combs per se because they need a little bit of gel and a lot of caressing by the finger; perhaps you have to fondly your hairs throughout the day and supply with it sufficient gel when the ups and downs of it start to wilt. All the religious conventions have made certain strictures about hairs; some say it is necessary to grow hairs and some other religions insist that the people who are in the order should tonsure their heads and should do away with all the hairs. While the former needs ample use of combs, the latter need not even think of it. Sikh Religion insists that the followers of it, should grow hairs irrespective of gender. Besides, carrying a comb is also part of their religious identity. Hindu religion, especially the Shaivites believed in growing hairs and not tending it at all. This would help the hair turn matted and become dreadlocks. Rastafarians in Jamaica had adopted the dreadlocks from the Indian Shaivaites who went to the Caribbean islands as indentured labourers. Along with dreadlocks, it is said that smoking weeds and wailing out their woes also reached those far off shores, which they reggae musicians like Bob Marley adopted as ‘wailing music.’
Today all the Shaivaites do not grow hairs. To see all of them in one go, one should visit the Kumbh Melas in one of the three major Kumbh Melas in India, namely Ujjain, Allahabad and Banaras. The wandering mendicants, bards and Bauls grow hairs and they do not need combs. The Black People all over the world give a lot of attention to their hairs and by 1980s it has become a part of politicized ‘body’ of the black people. In his ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, black theoretician Kobena Mercer speaks how the black hair, the Afro style took various shapes in order to be the emblem of the identity politics that the Black People in the United States, South Africa, Caribbean Islands and Europe held high in order to achieve equal rights and justice. Among the Black People also the use of combs became very important not only in terms of fashion but also with regard to their politics. It is also noticed that most of the political debates and discussions were carried out in those years in and around the Barber shops.
At times, I think that combs despite its religious and political relevance, are a moderate fashion tool. The people who have dreadlocks, that means they are the ones who have gone out of the mainstream lives and prefer to continue as nonconformist people, do not need combs because like the moderate and the mainstream people they do not intend to take care of their hairs. The other side of the spectrum we see bald people. There are two types of bald people who need combs and who need electric trimmers (only the filmy villains shave heads with razor blades. Rest of the baldies in the world use trimmers). The former lot has got major baldness and some semblance of hair in their heads. They need combs to ‘invite the hairs forcefully’ to the areas where there are no hairs. Those people who have embraced baldness boldly just need to keep their baldness on. They do not need hairs. Among them are also people who have half baldness who perhaps need a comb and mostly not. Bald people attempting to comb and sad people eating alone are the two sights that would make you philosophical; you just think about the flimsiness of all worldly gains. Having collection of hundred different kinds of combs from all over the world and having no hair on the hair is the saddest fate of an art collector. And eventually, having a beautiful mop that needs hourly care and stranded in a place where people have not even heard of combs is the fate of a romantic who always think of getting stranded in an island where he would find a beautiful girl with divine powers.