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Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Feature: One shade of gray

One Shade of Gray
 
The gray in my  hair is attracting as much attention as good `ole Christian Grey.  
 
Okay, I’ll confess all. I made it happen. I orchestrated its debut.

I’m talking 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.

But yes, I’ve gone gray. And here’s the thing: I don’t hear a chorus of `big deal` in response.

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?

Grace period

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 lamented. `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.

My 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.

Sheesh. So much gravitas.

Larger implications

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.

It`s just hair!

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.

What I 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.

This appeared in INDIA TODAY WOMAN of December 2013.

 

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Sheila Kumar • December 9, 2013


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