Babies haven’t any hair:
Old men’s heads are just as bare;
From the cradle to the grave
Lies a haircut and a shave.
– Samuel Goodman Hoffenstein
Nakul and I are not too different.
We have been friends forever. And we’ve been forever obsessed with our hair.
It all started in Primary school, when the blue eyed Aarthi told both of us how much she liked our hair and how nice it smelled. Our families did not realize that there was something wrong, until Dad’s aftershave, Mom’s skin lotion, the expensive perfume that was gifted for their wedding, started disappearing mysteriously. Nakul’s mom once even complained of losing the Phenol bottle from their bathroom. It was only when my mother broke 3 combs while combing my hair, and Nakul’s mother found his head smelling like the toilet, that they realized that something was wrong. Of course some violence at home ensured that we were back to our normal self, and Aarthi went on to like the tonsured Prabhu. But then, that was the start of a lifelong obsession.
I hated taking a shower as I was scared, I would wash off my hair. My mother, a very qualified 5th Grade Science teacher, educated me that it was common for us to lose hair every day. I knew how dumb the Class 5 guys of my school were and hence did not trust her at all. Nakul told me that he would collect all the hair he lost and then ‘re-insert’ them back. I tried it too, but it was too difficult to keep the head still or risk the inserted hair falling off. I ditched the idea and decided to stop combing my hair completely.
There were two things that I absolutely hated as a kid. One was the vacation trips to Tirupathi, and monthly haircuts. I had nothing against God, trust me. Considering the daily prayers I chanted to keep my mane strong, dense and healthy, I had the utmost respect for the almighty. But I cringed at the thought of offering hair to God. I considered it as evil as sacrificing animals in the name of God. I tried fighting off the trip, but then parents are parents. Every year, for 2 months after the vacation, I would wear a new, super cool cap that an Uncle had bought me from ‘Foreign’. Nakul would vouch for me every time and make the kids feel as if I was cool, even though he knew that the most distant relative I ever had was working in a bank in Bangalore. But then, what are friends for? As if this wasn’t enough punishment once a year, every month I was duly forced into the Barber shop down the street. Sasi Anna was only just learning the ropes from his father there, and Nakul and I were his favorite ‘lab rats’. But then with the years, the three of us grew very close to each other, and in our early teens, we became very very choosy with the way we wanted our hair cut. In fact, we became sort of the in house experts as far as hair style was concerned, and Sasi Anna’s customers began seeking our suggestions. We learnt a bit of the trade too, and once, I even tried cutting my Dad’s hair. That it had serious repercussions, is another story altogether.
Also, I hated my Dad… Seriously. He was definitely the most greatest father any boy could have growing up and my most trusted friend after Nakul. But then his receding hairline kept rubbing it in, that hair loss was hereditary in my family. Every time, he would comb over those few strands of mane to cover the barren patch over his forehead, tears would roll down my eyes watching my future laugh at me. The Autumn of my crown, wasn’t exactly something I was looking forward to. I also realized later that Appa was as angry with his Dad because of the very same thing. The bald portraits of grand old men hanging in the hall was a testament that the men in my family were blessed with hair loss. And that’s when I decided to become a genetic scientist and find a permanent cure for hair loss, and save the men of this world from insanity.
Sadly the world then taught me, that having an ambition alone doesn’t really help unless you have the brains for it. Nakul was no Einstein either. Thus sitting in the last bench of our class in the Computer Science building, we pursued the 3 year Bachelor of Science course for 5 years. We were the cool dudes of our college. Our silky black, shoulder length flowing mane was the talk of the campus. Our HOD loved our hair so much that he would run his fingers through them, grab them and drag us out of the class, every day, for no reason at all. We hated him for it, but then that’s what a college kid is supposed to do. We wore tight, black t-shirts, cool shades, and were practically Rockstars.
Everything was cool until that day in the theater when, a friendly neighborhood Romeo, sitting behind Nakul tried to run his fingers through his hair, mistaking ‘him’ to be a ‘her’, only for Nakul to turn back and give him a heart attack. Not just the Romeo, the girls in the college loved us too. It kind of got a little strange, when we realized that we were beginning to be surrounded by them much more than we really liked. It reached a new low when this first year girl walked up to me and asked in full public view of the entire male population of the college for any tips to keep hair strong and shiny. As flattering as that short conversation was, it also bordered on ‘total damage’ to our Guy ego. Nakul who stood a few steps away from this incident, apparently, bunked the next 2 hours to run off to the Barber Shop. Sasi Anna told me later, that he cried as much as I did when I went there in the evening for the same reason.
After college, I began to work in a small company that didn’t pay too handsomely as some of the other ones did. The work was equally less too, so I didn’t really mind. “Less tension, less hairloss” was what I cited as a reason when somebody questioned my choice of job. That I couldn’t clear any of the interviews in the other big companies was strictly between Nakul, Dad, the old bald interviewers and Me. 🙂 Nakul fared well in this aspect though and landed a job in an MNC with a handsome pay. I was happy for him. Happy that there was someone now who could sponsor those costly hair lotions for me. Working around serious 30 somethings at work, who were just getting started with the fall season of their heads, can be a terrifying experience, you see.
And then slowly, what we had dreaded began happening. It was in no way instant, but hit us slowly like age. In fact it was exactly that – age.
Don’t get me wrong, but both of us were not exactly, what you’d call old. Creeping up on the wrong side of 20’s this was when our families tossed the dreaded ‘M’-word around. Photos were requested, and I went deep into research to find out the angle of the photo that showed the most amount of hair on my head. I honestly felt it odd that my parents screamed, when I gave them a photo of me in a helmet on my bike.
Ah Helmet… Us and that wretched thing go back a long way too. As with any normal guys, we also had the best bikes that we could emotionally blackmail our parents into buying for us, as soon as we entered college. Little did we realize, that with great power, came a stupid responsibility. Helmets… My parents wouldn’t let me touch the bike without a helmet. But there was this sinister, urban legend about the helmets that scared us out of our skins. Apparently there was this powerful curse that anyone wearing a helmet would lose hair faster than you could say ‘aiyayoo’. Just to please Mom and Dad, I would wear one till I left the gates of the apartment, after which it would proudly sit on the fuel tank. I knew it wasn’t safe to drive without a helmet, but I never crossed 45kmph in the city traffic. I was scared, the wind and pollution would blow off my hair. 🙂
But then, one fine day, it became a law to wear a helmet. Nakul and I had this thing for challenging the rules, and we were promptly stopped by this ‘abdominally unchallenged’ traffic cop near the Mount Road signal. It would have been easy if we had just nodded to the sermon administered on road safety and importance of helmets, and paid the 500 Rupees fees for it, but no… As soon as the cop took off his cap and advised us that life was more important than hair, Nakul winced his eyes, put on his shades, looked at the shining second Sun before us and said as sarcastically as humanly possible – “Oh yeah, you would know, won’t you…”. 2 hours and 2000 Rupees later, we were still not convinced that we were wrong. At least we did not land in the jail. 🙂
And as time passed, life moved on, barren patches of experience began dotting the lush thicket of youth, and we began to accept the changes. I married Lakshmi and settled down in Chennai. Nakul on the other hand moved to London with Suja. We kept in touch with each other on Facebook, and rejoiced in watching photos of each other seeing who had more hair. Gradually, a good ‘hair day’ became as simple as having enough strands on the head that day.
And after a good three years he landed in Chennai. We decided we will meet at the beach, our regular hang out. I drove in to the parking lot, helmet and all, checked the hair and marched to meet someone who had seen through the thick and thin with me. Nakul stepped out of the car looking dapper and with much more hair than I expected. We shook hands, grabbed a coffee from the nearby stall and walked towards the beach. 3 years was a long time, and there was way too much to talk. It was a delight to again be hanging out like a bunch of teenagers. Friendship was in the air.
And then, without warning, a strong gust of ‘unfriendly’ wind blew.
Few minutes later, after we fetched our ‘stuff’ from the sand that the cruel wind had knocked down, we looked sheepishly at each other. We were silent for a while and then laughed our hearts out. No, Nakul and I weren’t too different at all.
I don’t consider myself bald, I’m just taller than my hair.
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca