Saptami, 2017. An extremely crowded air conditioned bus trudging its way down VIP Road. I did not realise that it was so crowded as I boarded it. As the doors closed behind me, it was too late to disembark. Here I was stuck. For people in Kolkata or who have been in Kolkata, this is a common thing. However, there was a difference, this was the regular office crowd. The bus was crowded with pandal hoppers deciding to leave early to catch a glimpse of the best pandals in Kolkata. After all, it was Durga Puja, the biggest festival in West Bengal. Kolkata was bedecked and shining. There is a certain fervour and energy in this pandal hopping. People in their best were out with friends and family, clicking pictures and eating their favourite food. No rules, no diet, no restrictions. I was on a totally different purpose though.
I was struggling to get a foothold in the bus. The air conditioning did not seem to work. Instead the fans inside the bus were on. People were grimacing and were angry at the state of affairs. I was angry at myself having boarded this bus. People inside the bus were all feeling stuffy and uncomfortable. This was the common sentiment voiced by all. I said aloud that it seemed as if the air conditioning was not functioning, the bus conductor vehemently disagreed. Squeezed between rows of people, almost bending on a lady on the seat in front, I could not help but notice that the lady kept looking at me very intently. Did I know her? I could not recollect having seen her. She kept looking as if she was trying to place me. I kept looking elsewhere and the crowd and heat was disturbing. When I voiced my complain aloud, the lady opposite me took this as a cue and said that she had been looking at me for quite a while. I smiled back.
I had nothing to say. Yes, all that staring did make me uncomfortable but here in India, we say nothing about it. She then went on, she said she had been admiring my look, my hair in particular. “It speaks volumes she said about how you have left your hair so natural”. I smiled, Ah! That was it. “It is not an easy thing to do, she said, but you have done it and you look fabulous”, she went on. “It just looks so good.” “I dye my hair, you see” I have not been able to give it up”. It surely made me feel good. I had to tell her that I had been working on it, thinking about leaving it the ‘natural’ way for quite some time now. I told her that I used to use mehendi (henna) to colour my hair, but have stopped it for some months now.
My first grey hair made its appearance when I was studying in college. I was a tad bit upset but then my dad said my genes were to blame and that certainly made me feel better. That was when I started using mehendi to colour it. As years went by the grey quotient was on the raise and the frequency of colouring my hair increased. Henna gave it a nice deep reddish tinge, I liked that look. Since last year I have been toying with the idea of leaving my hair the way it is. I did not want to colour it. I must admit that one of the prime reasons was that using mehendi was a cumbersome task, it took so much time and energy. I had to work a lot on that too. Moreover, I did not like all the smell of mehendi. Someone suggested I should use hair colour, the market was full of them. That was something I did not want to try. As it is I was hating to have to do mehendi, I was in no way going to try out something else to colour my hair.
For almost a year now, I had been toying with the idea of leaving my hair just the way it was. I was planning to stop using mehendi to colour. Close friends said no, it was too early to don the salt and pepper look. Well, in my case, it would be more of the salt and less of the pepper look. I took some time to go ahead. I did not say anything to my dear ones. I stopped using mehendi to colour my hair. Over some days, the grey near the ears starting showing, then a little more. A dear friend said I should colour. That was when I told her, I was not going to colour my hair. She disapproved of it and kept quiet. More and more of grey started revealing itself. Friends asked me if I was leaving it on purpose. There were still some of the red strands along with the white and black. I decided to wear my hair much shorter than I had been wearing. I get mixed reactions, some approving, some saying that the earlier look was better, some saying that the grey added to my new look, some said it was good, my nephew said I looked older. I liked the reactions, keep them coming. I like the way my hair looks on me now. I guess that is what matters at the end of the day. Of course, that lady’s response to my look made me feel nice surely. Now, who does not love compliments.