While my Spanish, French and Mauritian friends are spared the barber’s sharp tools at a tender age, as an Indian baby, I had to undergo mundan during my recent visit to India. This ritual entails the tonsuring of one’s head and the gifting of the hair one brought from within the womb to the Gods.
Now all this sounds very nice, but hey, I was not prepared to turn bald so early in life! Nor was I given fair warning. I had been hearing my parents discuss and debate mundan before we even left for India, but I was an innocent babe then, unaware of the implications of their plans.
We were in India for two weeks and while I reveled in the discovery of my great big Punjabi family, my parents plotted and planned against my hair. I do vaguely recollect hearing my Papa endorse the local barber, while my horrified Mum thought a salon would be more appropriate. I think she was more emotional about my hair and managed to postpone the inevitable until after a family wedding, so at least the photos of that occasion have turned out well.
And then, one evening, just a few days before we were to return to Ivory Coast, my Papa and his Papa whisked me off to the neighbouring Muslim barber, who had emerged after his Eid festivities. Mum packed me off with a humongous number of toys to keep me distracted and even while we left the house, she kept calling after Papa to take good care of her baby. I think that is when the fear really started setting into me. Honestly, my Mum sounded like I was going to get my head, and not just my hair, hacked off.
While Papa held my head steady, the barber made quick work of whatever hair he could spot. I did produce the requisite wailing sounds, but honestly, I was hooked to the mirror where I could see the carnage in all its gruesome details. Meanwhile, the barber’s lackey was put to the task of recording the historical event on video.
Before I knew it, I was being carried back home. Papa presented the new and bald baby to everyone with the pride of a preening peacock. Mum hugged me as if I had returned from battle. The ritual was not yet over. My grandmother applied yogurt on my head (the smell of which made Papa recoil in disgust for the next three days!). I was bathed and dressed in new clothes and sooji halwa was prepared in my honour.
Over the next few days, I watched my parents look at me warily, wondering if I was the same old kid they’d brought with them. On the occasions that I sneaked a glimpse of myself in a mirror, I too gazed in admiration at the change wrought in me. The scorching June heat felt more bearable after I was relieved of my heavy mop of hair. I did, however, cringe a little when I returned home to Abidjan and my girl-friends stared at me in horrified wonder. But it has been a few weeks now and everyone has become used to my new avatar.
Yet, my hands often roam upon my head in search of their old friends. In the absence of my own hair to pull and pluck at, I have taken to tugging at Mum’s hair. It isn’t the same as before, but I still get the thrill of the game without the pain of it. Not a bad bargain, I guess.
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.