‘Hair,’ my marhoom friend Shafiq Allaina, who was blessed with thick, almost unmanageable mane of wiry hair once disclosed at a Banyani saloon in Tanga, Tanzania, ‘is everything. Without hair, a person is inadequate, almost like a man without manhood.’ The Hindu barber, with a pate as shiny as a simmering desert wasteland, nodded his head sagely, strangely; Shafiq was a generous tipper.This was when I was about sixteen, a very impressionable age, and this fact, from apparent experts, filled me with indescribable dread.
The hair on my crown, you see, was thin and fine, especially at the tips. Any attempt to grow it fashionably long and over the ears, like then Bollywood actors, make me look comical, at best. The locks above both ears had minds of their own, they changed course and ascended to the heavens in defiance of gravity, instead of coming down to earth. No matter what and how much I tried, these tips were hell bent to frustrate me. No matter I spent an inordinate time in front of the mirror taming them, using water, expensive, high-priced sprays (there were no fancy gels then), various (smelly) oils and even spit, my hair stayed rebellious. If there was one issue we siblings clashed about the most, it was my time spent in the bathroom, in front of the mirror, disciplining wayward scalp hair. So I stayed in fashion sidelines, forced to content with fine hair cut well above the ears. Jeetendra from Bollywood would have been most disappointed; his most ardent devotee not even able to match his hairstyle, let alone pursue maidens around rose shrubs in tight fitting white pants, white t-shirts and matching shoes.
At about age twenty-one, dread was replaced with terror, absolute panic; not only were my scalp hair disobedient, they started abandoning me. Not one or a couple here and there, no-no, this was exodus. They came away in clumps on my towel after a shower, they clouded the white bathroom sink when I combed standing over it, they lay glinting with mischief on my pillow when I got up in the morning and they dropped on to my shoulders unannounced; I began wearing dark shirts, much to Mama’s annoyance, ‘It’s not Muharram yet, you know, and I’m still alive!’ She’d quip. For me, it could have been many Muharrams put together; such was my anguish. I feared the worse - no girlfriends, no marriage prospects, people calling me baldie, or taklo, or worse. If the time I took in the bathrooms was lengthy before, it was now eternities.
I tried fighting back against nature; buying the most expensive shampoos available in markets, stood inverted on my head for hours on the advise of my gym guru, applied raw egg yolk before going to sleep, rubbed fresh lime juice on my scalp…alas, the hair kept a-falling. All this did was deplete my savings, give me frightening headaches, have Amina Bhabhi look at me suspiciously when she saw the soiled pillowcases and kept my young nieces and nephews a fair (odor-free) distance from me. I would not allow anyone near my scalp, touching was sacrilege, would invite instant and furious rebuke. I hated the wind outside so the windows of my car never left their closed position, much to Mama’s ire. The mirror, any mirror, many mirrors, became my constant buddies; I disappeared to washrooms and cursed the fallen fuzz I met but blessed and prayed for long(er) life for those that hung on.
When I proposed marriage to a maiden at a very tender age, she accepted, much to my shock and surprise; poor her, little did she know she would soon be forced to defend her future husband’s desolate scalp with couplets like ‘koon kehta hai mera aadmi ganja hai, chaand pe khabhi baal dekha hai…?’ I was much relieved however.
Marriage revived by hairy fortunes – somewhat. Much latter did I learn hormones and hereditary played an important role in my scalp’s fortunes. With pressure off and hormones under control, my hair fall steadied and even spurted back some, so I enjoyed few years of respite from the battle. But I was on always on guard, however.
Then came Rogaine and hope for men’s vanity, mine specially, brightened considerably. I smiled more readily (which made my boss and coworkers look at me oddly), sang in the shower (which made my ex-wife eye me with suspicion), walked with a spring in my step (which made others warily yield way) and kept all windows in my car open in Minnesota winter (which almost gave my ex-wife a scary pneumonia, sinuses that she still may very well be suffering from). This euphoria lasted until an exasperated dermatologist looked at me in the eye and told me to stop being a fool, wasting money and dabbing into the unknown. He assured me my scalp and remaining hair were fine and opined that although Rogaine did help (some) men re-grow (some) hair, it also worked wholeheartedly in wholesome growth of hair on shoulders, the back, ears and buttocks as well. I swallowed hard, painfully, felt the floor spin and open up, swallowing last hopes of saving my hair.
It took hairdresser Maria, a divorced Hispanic mother-of-two from Austin TX, to finally install confidence in me. She was reasonably priced (you will not believe the money people pay for a haircut in Austin), very good, quiet attractive and worked a fair distance away, but both my nephew Sibtain and I patronized her. She would trim my hair short, the military way and then admire her labor lovingly. She once remarked I had a perfectly shaped head, which made me blush silly but when Sibtain revealed I was single and she made known her interest in dating me, why, I giddily floated in fluffy clouds. Wow, if an attractive gal like Maria was interested in me, who cared about an ever-expanding barren scalp?
Maria lost interest fast-fast when she found out alcohol was not part of my lifestyle and temporary marriages were not part of hers. ‘Santo hijo de María!’ she exclaimed, ‘even if I were to agree marrying you temporarily, I would have to be sloshed as hell…sober men are so very boooooring!’
After all this, it is now fashionable to sport a shaven scalp, ha!
I wish you lots of ready, happy laughter for 2012.