Saturday, May 21, 2011

Diana Cut

“Diana Cut.”

My mom was quite amused with the name. She almost flushed red in her cheeks. This whole business is still very new to her. The business of getting a hair cut. To have your hair cut so short that the nape of the neck is visible.

She thinks we know this business well. After all it was we, her two daughters, who wore their hair short for a good eighteen or nineteen years of their lives. She forgets that we never really had to choose. It was always our parents – initially dad and later on, mom – who would accompany us and finish the business with one quick decisive utterance: ‘Boy Cut’. Anyway, we feign expertise while panicking inside to find a way to get this right. Mom has asked that we choose how her hair should be cut.

The salon where we usually go has a 45-minute wait after which they will close. But this can’t wait. Mom is travelling in two days. So we start walking around and spot this swanky new salon that’s opened up down the road. The brightly lit lavender-coloured board is certainly a bit tacky but we decide to at least peruse the place once. 

It looks ok. So we tell them our mom needs a haircut. They seem perfectly fine with it and ask her to come inside. A lot of women in Bangalore get this done regularly. For them this is daily business. For mom it’s not. After having to bear with a bad haircut at places of her choice twice or thrice she has entrusted this responsibility to us. She insists that I accompany them and tell the girl how exactly to cut mom’s hair. I hate to tell her that I usually just leave it to them to give me a cut that’ll suit my face. More often than not they do wonders with it. With mom, it’s different. I fight the strong urge to say ‘Boy Cut’. I just end up saying the same thing meekly – just give her a cut that’ll suit her face. And the girl puts an apron around mom.

My mom always had long hair. In her younger days she used to have a thick plait follow her everywhere and used to care for her mane with Reetha, Shikakai and all the traditional recipes. Then her hair thinned down a little. Change of water when she moved after marriage, she used to say. But she still had long black hair for as long as I can remember.

And then they fell out. In clumps. Found on her pillow every morning. As if it weren’t enough for her body to be physically strained battling Breast Cancer. As if the pain inflicted by chemotherapy weren’t sign enough of suffering. There had to be more emotional trauma than what she was already undergoing. She went completely bald in less than a week’s time after chemotherapy began.

Two days before her Mastectomy she had asked me to take a picture of her with her long and healthy hair. Before she lost them all. And then I saw her only after all her chemo sessions were over. She was wearing a scarf on her head when I met her. Only when I had settled down in the house and freshened up, she removed the scarf. Still a little hesitant. Like I was an outsider. Like she didn’t want to see me react to her having gone completely bald. Frankly, even though I knew it in my head that she would be bald when I would meet her, I don’t think I was prepared to really see her bald…the image of 24 years somehow intact in my head.

Strangely, when she removed her scarf is when I realized that the image of 24 years that I was so scared would get shattered was still the same. When I looked at her that evening, all that I could see was her face. Not her hair (or the lack of it), not her body. Just her face. And her hesitant smile. As if searching for acceptance of this new image…which for me had never changed. 

Beauty is made out to be many things – soft and supple skin, smooth and healthy long hair, luscious red lips, perfect noses. And it is very easy to lose this beauty…by roaming about in the Indian sun without sunscreen, by growing old, by having acid thrown on the face by miscreants, by falling prey to cancer and then undergoing chemotherapy. It takes from a few minutes to a few years to lose it all.

Real beauty is that which remains when one is stripped down to the bare minimum in terms of appearances due to various reasons. When there is no pretence left of any kind.  Like my mother that evening when I saw her bald. Her skin was lifeless and her eyes looked tired. She looked battered and there wasn’t a single strand of hair on her head. The fight with cancer seemed to have somehow left her with enough energy to just sit straight. But there was dignity in her smile that seemed to say that it was all over now and she would be well soon. Even through her tired eyes I could see her triumph. She had fought valiantly, silently bearing all the pain and come out victorious. And there was grace in having accepted God’s will to give her that pain and then to go through it with His help. It seems like an odd thing to say about my mother and her fight with cancer but it gave me the opportunity to witness real beauty and be inspired to fight on in the gravest circumstances in life…with a smile.

Mom’s decided to wear her hair short post her recovery. I have never asked why. So there she is sitting in the newly opened salon with her hair freshly cut in ‘Diana Cut’ as I watch from the corner, half-guilty of cramping up the space, somewhere embarrassed that my mom even asked me to accompany her inside. She looks at herself for a few seconds before turning around to face me. That searching look from two years ago has returned to her face…as if she were looking for acceptance all over again, approval. I try to see her whole head but I can only see her face again and nod in approval. She will always be more beautiful than good skin and long hair can make her seem. I think somewhere in the moment, she knows that too.

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This post was written for the Indiblogger Dove Real Beauty Contest and I personally found some of the blogs on Yahoo Real Beauty (the Dove Real Beauty page) to be quite interesting. If your idea of beauty is more than what meets the eye, you should definitely visit the site and also consider participating in the contest. Let the world know what beauty should really be about!