Penguin mode.

12247831_10153751997469108_8612285296065445471_oLet’s face it: I’m fat, fifty and ninety percent white. And I’m sick and tired of having to colour my hair every week. It’s like this. I had a brain aneurysm this July, and was laid up in the hospital bed for ten days (getting operated upon and fussed over), which threw my hair-colour-schedule off balance. Strapped down in the ICU with tubes all over me, touching up my roots became a tad difficult. A month went by. I used to glance at the mirror – “ugh” – glance away, and groan “God, I’ve got to colour my hair eventually”. The interval became longer and longer, until I spontaneously decided that enough was enough. I’d been dyeing my hair for the last twenty three years, and I wanted to stop. Here was the perfect opportunity.

This was a simple decision for me to make, but I had no clue as to how I looked in the eyes of others. Post-operation, lots of folks dropped in to see me. And to them I posed the question “What do you think? I want to stop colouring my hair”. I was hoping they’d say encouragingly “Oh, wonderful! You look much better already, dye is harmful for your hair, etc etc” so I would feel vindicated in my decision.

But instead, most people looked a little askance, and the immediate reaction would be “Oh, you colour?” (in spite of my visible roots, like it had just been revealed to them that cars didn’t run on their own). My response would come back pat “Yep. I started going white from my mid-twenties, just like my daughter.” They’d say “Oh really? Well, it’s not looking bad, but I think you should carry on colouring”. How disappointing.

On the phone with my mom, I hopefully repeated the exercise. I sounded out my plan only to be met with “Tor dike aami takate parbo na! Aami benche thakte-thakte tui shada maatha korish na” (I won’t be able to look at you! Don’t you go white while I am still alive!) Her reaction just strengthened my resolve, most of which I ascribe to my innate rebelliousness – whatever my mother says, I must do the exact opposite, whether I’m fifteen or fifty.

I was going to stop colouring, period. It’s given me nothing but pain. Not to mention my infuriating husband, blessed with genes that have kept his hair and figure youthful despite being a nearly decade older. And when I think of the approaching Delhi winters, when the mere thought of taking a bath is abhorrent and I resort to once-a-week showers, the idea of battling for an hour in the bathroom with hair dye seems like avoidable agony.

For all my contemporary peers who dye that are reading this – you know what I’m talking about. You prepare the colour, apply it while contorting your whole body so that maybe this time you could see the back of your head (and ultimately entrusting it to God), wait around with a head full of chemicals desultorily watching TV, then you rinse, shampoo, and condition. The whole process is a tedious ordeal. Sonam Kapoor is lying when she chirps ‘Hair colour is fun!’. DO NOT believe her.

But the process of letting yourself go grey means measuring every day how much percentage of each strand is black or white. In frustration, I asked my hairstylist to just bleach it all. He recoiled “No, no. It’ll make your hair very rough, just let it grow out”. Haircut it was, then. My plan was to chop it so short that only the white roots remained, dreaming  of pulling a Nafisa Ali, who shaved off her hair in Tirupati and said goodbye to hair colour. My daughter wailed “Ma, you’ll have to get a buzz cut. You’ll look like a baby bird or worse, Salman Khan!”

I relented, but sneakily looked out for a chance to rebel. During an unplanned visit to a mall, I came across a glass booth advertising ‘Express Haircuts for Rs 99!‘ All the hairstylists inside looked suspiciously inexperienced, but what did I have to lose? In I went, dragging my daughter behind. I got the most horrendous haircut ever, luckily stopped from getting a buzz cut by my prudent daughter. Now, as the haircut has grown and settled, I am left with a proper penguin mop, fifty-fifty black and white just like a chessboard. I am reminded of a poem I read in a British children’s magazine when I was eight and I had never heard of hair dye.

I am a little penguin
short and fat.
White is on my front part,
and black is on my back.

With my life experience now, I’d like to make some amendments.

I am a little penguin,
white and black
I have stopped colouring
and I’m never going back.


18 thoughts on “Penguin mode.

  1. great decision Sumita…Rebellion is in my d and am so so happy i have found an equally rebellious person….jokes apart, coming to the crux of the matter…ur surgery and hospitalization came as a shock my friend. Am hoping and praying u are fit and fine . what about school? shall call u soon for all the details


  2. This action of yours was required long back but it is never late. It takes lot of courage to go against years of habit. You look good already.


    1. Sumita although I also have told you to dye your hair, don’t do it if you can’t bare it anymore . It is absolutely your personal decision . Everybody will be habituated. Stay healthy and happy! Health is wealth! Nothing matters more. You are looking more dignified in your salt and pepper hair.


  3. I met you for the first time last week and I thought how striking you were…You have one of the most animated visages ever and there’s so much of realness about what and how you emote! By the way, great resolve and tenacity…i have been trying to get there for a while now 😉


  4. Sumita,
    I’m fat, I’m fifty should be followed by “i’m fabulous!”
    I never understood the need to dye my hair, pluck my eyebrows, wax my hands etc and all other ordeals girls go thru routinely for something that is so momentary, it has to be repeated frequently. I have given up on all treatments which do not have a bearing on my health. If it is only to do with looks and nothing else I don’t do it.
    Kudos to you!


  5. God! Hw do u write so well? N why didn’t u start writing earlier? I cd nvr imagine a writeup on such a simple topic…it’s so well written!! All the way i kept smiling as i remembered ur face ” r rong korbo na…ki bolish?”


  6. Great decision, Sumita! I love your new look! Toke koto bachar jenechi, chool color kortish, jaantam na! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. : )


  7. Your spirit and personality was always your biggest trait even when we were 5th graders. Never change. The vanity is only for us. If u like the new change stick with it. The mirror is your biggest friend. If u smile at it it will smile back ..loved your words and stay healthy.


  8. That was a great decision! I love your new look, adore the wonderful way you write and your amazing spirit. I have always coloured my hair reluctantly when I absolutely have to…feels so good to discover people like you who care two hoots about what people say or do. Inspiring!


  9. Love your free spirit! Remember life only begins at 50….and we have a long innings to bat. Its a mere waste of time worrying about others opinion. Live life to the hilt my friend…..your an inspiration to many!!


  10. Hey! Really enjoyed your delimma , angst and liberation. The penguin rhyme is so apt ! Never been up this alley I.e never attempted to colour and felt it is mighty brave of you to have put up with all the effort for 23 years . Anyway enjoy the freedom. You should have asked me at the outset to convince you about how pleasant and dignified your natural self is but we would have missed this drama in words.

    Liked by 1 person

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