Jamshed Sethna


Maybe it's better
Maybe it's better bald

Rapunzel, of fairy tale fame, was incarcerated in a tower by a wicked witch. When her prince came along, needless to say handsome, in shining armour astride a white steed, she let her hair down, using which he climbed up and rescued her.

She's lucky the witch hadn't given her a crew cut.

Hair, like every other part of the human body, has fascinated us since time immemorial. But no other part of the human body can be changed as often and as painlessly as hair. Troglodytes ran amuck with unwieldy messes of hair on their heads, sometimes reaching down to their knees. It is one of the features that distinguished us from our simian relatives as we evolved into a distinct species.

With the advent of scissors and comb and other technology we began changing the topography of our heads. Cutting, shaving, braiding, colouring, straightening, curling, crimping, lacquering, waxing, tying into knots and stabbing with hatpins -- we've savaged our hair in every imaginable way.

Hair is genderless. Anatomically, male and female hair is identical. Yet, whether short hair is a mark of masculinity and long flowing tresses a woman's prerogative is a moot point. Other than cultural predilections, there's no logical argument to decide which sex gets to keep their hair long.

St Paul, though, was quite vehement, saying 'Does not even nature teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman has long hair it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her as a covering.' Had he attended Woodstock his hair would have stood on end.

And who can forget Samson, who to maintain his uncanny strength had to leave his hair uncut, avoid contact with the dead, and, most inconvenient, steer clear of wine. Delilah, the philistine apple of his eye, was bribed to ferret out the secret of his power. Incessantly badgered by this faithless woman, he, living up to the phrase 'physical giant but mental midget', revealed all. She then had his head shaved while he slept, no doubt dreaming of large goblets of claret. Emasculated by the loss of his locks, he was captured, blinded, and jailed.

Of course, the story doesn't end there. Samson, left to rot in his cell, slyly grows his hair back and regains his strength. (The Bible doesn't tell us why they forgot to give him regular haircuts.) Anyway, in the grand finale, shackled between the main pillars of the temple at Gaza, which is swamped with bloodthirsty philistines, Samson awaits imminent sacrifice to their god Dagon. Instead, with a couple of mighty yanks, he brings down the whole temple and everyone dies.

A hairy tale if ever there was one!

In some African tribal societies, the men flaunt flamboyant hairstyles; the women have shaven heads. St Paul would blanch. In other tribes, the men have close-cropped hair while their mates display abundant locks. St Paul would approve. But let's not split hairs; he belonged to a different age.

The sex question in relation to hair length is really not important anymore. Anything goes -- long hair, short hair, no hair -- whatever rocks your boat. We live in androgynous times.

But hairy fairy tales and biblical supermen aside, what about everyday people in search of the perfect hairdo? In a world obsessed with beauty, a bad haircut is anathema. Today, the beauty industry, of which hair is a significant part, has come a long way in India. Professional hairstylists are mushrooming all over Mumbai. Still, many people faithfully visit their barbers.

Barbers, incidentally, were once associated with surgery, and performed some of the bloodier chores the doctors of the time scorned. The cheerful red-and-white barber's pole symbolized blood and bandages.

There's nothing wrong with going to a barber. You'll get a cheap quick haircut much like the one you always get. But you will rarely get a hairstyle. Also, an encounter with an untrained barber can leave you looking like a bedraggled buzzard. Utterly irreverent with your god-given hairline, and routinely violating basic principles of haircutting, a bad barber is much like a mad scientist experimenting on your scalp.

And you will never get what Adhuna and Osh, the brains behind Juice, one of the most avant-garde salons to hit Mumbai, call -- a consultation.

This means ascertaining everything that clients do to their hair. Do they use combs, brushes, or both? Which type of shampoo, conditioner? How often? Other products? Only when your stylist has all the dope on how you treat your hair can he tell you where you're going wrong.

Clients are not the only troubled souls in this hairy scenario. Stylists, too, have problems explaining to those of their clients who are not of Caucasian descent their hair will never look like Brad Pitt's however much it is waxed and tweaked. That Brad probably has a battalion of experts to wax and tweak him before he's photographed or filmed is another thing altogether.

Natasha, of N&Y's shares a hairstylist's classic nightmare, of a client who said, "I don't want to shorten, layer, colour or perm my hair, but I want a change." Good humour got her out of that one.

Pay attention to the manner in which your stylist, after his labour of love, breathes new life into your hair with comb, fingers and product -- especially product. Myriad similar products, marketed under funky names by different brands can boggle the mind almost as much as pizza toppings.

So, although delighted with your hair when you leave the salon today, use products indiscriminately, and you run the risk of looking like Medusa at your best friend's wedding tomorrow.

The fact is, we all have hair -- at least to start with. So it's about time we conquered the hairy hydras on our heads.

Maybe it's better to be bald?

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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