One Shade of Gray
BLURB: The gray in her hair is attracting as much attention as good
`ole Christian Grey, says Sheila Kumar.
confess all. I made it happen. I orchestrated its debut.
about one switch of silver- gray that springs back from my left temple and cuts
a narrow swath back a distance of about three to four inches. Some of the gray
has spread a teensy weensy bit to the right side, too. Indira Gandhi, you exclaim, and I pretend not to hear.
Whatever its genesis, it has been this way for many months now. And I’m quite happy to have it
this way. Dashitall, I made it happen, didn’t I?
No, I’m not old. No, I’m not past it,
and am always up for a discussion on
whatever `it` is. Roadside rowdies ( our desi version of NYC’s
construction workers) still leer, whistle and `pass comments.` I’m still capable of giving sexy men the
Diana look… you know, the upward- from- beneath- the- lashes gaze? I still rock
a pair of short shorts, and you ought to see my version of the Harlem Shake.
I’ve gone gray. And here’s the thing: I don’t hear a chorus of `big deal` in
I’ve had premature gray strands in my
hair since my late teens. All the color I applied back then was not to hide the gray, I was just playing with my hair.
Auburn, blonde, mahogany, cinnamon, deep red, even flaming orange.
Highlights, streaks, lowlights, I tried it all.
Then, one fine day, I just tired of it
and kickstarted the cease-and-desist operation. Basically, I
was chanelling the French beauty Maxine de la Falaise who said, “Try to look as
beautiful as you can. Or try to be interesting.” Being of a pragmatic turn of
mind, I knew what I had to do: be interesting. I’d had years of practice at that. All was thus, well.
Or was it?
The first few months were the grace period. People would look at the gray and
look away, for all the world as if they’d just caught a smutty montage
unspooling on my head! Some months on, they realised it was a Look, not a case
of missing salon appointments. It was epiphany time. For them and me.
Even as I
revelled in the freedom of going gray, I realised I was giving tress trauma to
most people I came in contact with. I had turned into Dita Von Teese, fully
clothed but with a (lewd) streak of silver somewhere about me.
The looks I could and did ignore. The
comments were hard-hitting and mostly far from praise.
`Too young to dye,` some friends
`My god, you look so…different.`
`Oooer, this is radical. `
`Well, with your personality, maybe you
can carry this off, too…I think. `
``Why,`` wailed my mother, who in her
seventies, still coloured her hair. My husband, ever the master of tact, smiled
enigmatically, supportively. The Kid ( I
have just the one) started off as stout loyalist and said it looked great. Then she pulled a turncoat act and
said it looked odd.
``Do you know how much gray I have? ``
declared a glamorous gal pal. `` I just can’t imagine stopping colour.`` The
implication was clear: no woman ought to stop colouring, unless it were to
announce the eminent arrival of her Age of Unattractiveness.
jharoo-poncha maid started a litany: ``Colour podu, ma,`` she entreated in piteous fashion, every time we passed
each other, in my house, on the stairwell of my apartment block, even down by
the kirana store.
As has been chronicled elsewhere, there
are larger, dismaying implications in going gray, as opposed to going with Mr
Grey. Hair has always been the barometer
of a woman’s charm, down the ages. Let’s not discount the fear factor, either:
the fear of ageing, the fear of appearing old. Quick, name three Hollywood
actresses who have gone
gray gracefully, naturally. You can’t, right? Closer home, look at the in-law/outlaw soaps: do you notice any mother-in-law or
grandmother really getting older via her hair?
NYT columnist Maureen Dowd, she of the
waspy word, has sent up women’s notions
of sex appeal in the
most derisive manner off and on, but even
she states that colour on the hair is imperative.
Of course, there is the matter that not
many women can carry off gray with
élan. Apparently, you need to do
something to sport silver in your hair: write a book, head an NGO (not an MNC,
mind you, hair colour is mandatory there), take over the Political Affairs
chair of some university.
I opted for
what to me seemed the easiest solution: I wrote a book. Alas and alack, that
did not impress my irreverent close circle one bit; they depressed my Alice Munro
pretensions with malicious glee, and urged me to get myself to the nearest colourist.
But here’s the thing: it’s just hair,
folks. I totally rock my silver strands. I own it, proudly. So, it’s your problem, not mine.
I seem to
have unwittingly made a statement when I went gray. A statement difficult to
retract, not that I want to retract it.
All I’ve had to do is `up` both my
personality quotient (bright, vivacious, witty, you know?) and my eye make- up,
even on days I want to dress down. That’s the downside but it’s something I can live with.
cannot deal with, is the quick, furtive look at the ostensibly offending
section of my hair, and then the quick guilty look away. Honestly, guys. If
it’s smut you are after, go look up the other Grey.
copywriter- turned journalist/travel writer/copy editor, Bangalore-based Sheila Kumar
is the author of a collection of short stories titled Kith
Labels: Feature, Features, gray hair