Hair has been on my mind for some time. Every time I see a young woman swinging a plasticky sheet of it around her face in any one of the ten thousand ads we see on TV for hair oil, shampoo, hair colour, conditioner and whatever else, I think of my generation’s aspirations. They were not for glossy straight hair. They were for waves.
Waves could be lightly secured on both sides of a centre or side parting with clips made to look like butterflies, strawberries or ladybirds. They could be tied in two bunches on either side of the head with pink or red satin ribbons. They could be trained into the most envied thing of all: ringlets.
Belinda down the street wore ringlets. At school there was Sherry of the plump pink cheeks, and ringlets that bobbed deliciously up and down. None of us wore our hair short so we could never compete with either of them. But hope wasn’t dead. We could leave long brushes of hair loose at the end of our plaits and turn those into ringlets.
Every now and again a hopeful straight-haired friend would excitedly pour into our avid ears yet another secret for making ringlets; and yet again we’d go home in high spirits to try it out and return to school with our obdurate brushes still straight as brooms. I remember one of these secrets even now. You had to coil your plait end brushes tightly around a shoelace, twist them into little knots, then dip the knots in tea dregs and sleep on them. Next morning when you undid the shoelaces, hey presto there they were, your dream ringlets. Well, as I said, it was always, hey presto, there are your brushes again.
Ringlets, we decided, were unattainable. But waves? Surely those could be managed? My model for wavy hair was Nalini Chitre, the late poet Dilip Chitre’s cousin. All his three cousins were blessed with curls, but the other two had frizz. While this was infinitely more respectable than straight hair, one would turn to it only if waves failed.
In those days an older cousin of mine from Nasik was staying with us. She was indefatigable in her determination to make waves. Earlier she would do what many still do---make tiny plaits on hair washing day and be blessed with a frizz in the evening. It lasted for a couple of days and then wore out. But those two days were Saturday and Sunday, important days because she had a boyfriend nobody knew about. When she announced that she wanted to marry him, her father, my uncle, hauled her back to Nashik where she found her next boyfriend and eloped!
Anyway, when this cousin had no time to make tiny plaits on hair washing day, she pushed her hair up into a series of ridges around her head and pinned them down with long bobby pins. This trick produced results. I tried it out a couple of times but for god’s sake, how could I waste weekend mornings on elusive things like waves when exciting games were being played downstairs on the street?
Meanwhile, my craze for curls had got around the neighbourhood. It prompted the Pereiras downstairs to do an amazing thing. One of them worked for the Army and Navy Store in Fort, and he got me a home perm set for my 11th birthday. It had blue bone shaped curlers, squares of tissue paper, rubber bands and two bottles of liquid. My mother frowned at the liquids. “Chemicals!” she said and put them out of bounds.
For a couple of years after that, I would meticulously lay tissue paper squares at the ends of equally divided strands of hair, wind them up on the blue curlers and secure them round my head with rubber bands. But without the curling liquids all I got, when I let down my hair, was zigzags, which even I, blinded by hope, could not call curls.
This precious home perm set was called Toni. It was advertised famously by a pair of twins with glossy curls. The copy went, “Which twin has the Toni?” Who cared? I knew I was never going to have it. So go away. Get lost!