By Swetha Kannan
I was at a mehendi function recently and I couldn’t help overhear two young women deeply engaged in conversation. Both women had long, flowing hair, although the older of the two women was the winner by several inches.
When the younger woman said she envied the older one’s long locks, the older woman comforted her by saying, “Don’t worry, your hair will reach my length one day. I’ve been married for longer than you’ve been, it’s my seven years versus your two. So obviously mine is longer.”
I wondered what marriage had to do with the length of one’s hair. The two women, who were sisters-in-law, saw the quizzical look on my face and decided to relieve me of my mental agony.
The younger of the two women said to me, “Well, in our family, the women are not allowed to cut their hair. My in-laws don’t approve of it.”
“Oh,” I muttered.
“Yes,” said the older woman. “I would like to trim it a bit at least. My hair is long, but it is so thin and squiggly at the ends.”
Did I notice a tinge of sadness and exasperation in her voice? Or was it just my feminist antenna rising again? Was I just imagining feelings and emotions? I do not know. But I refuse to believe that the woman was happy not cutting her hair.
Not the kind of person to let such a conversation end so quickly, I prodded a bit.
“So that means not even trimming the eyebrows? Because that’s hair too,” I said.
“Yeah. No threading too. I don’t remember when I visited the beauty salon last. My husband doesn’t like all that,” said the younger woman.
One may argue that these are trivial matters. But are they? It may seem silly dwelling over bans on hair-cuts and salon visits when there are greater crimes being committed against women. But the underlying issues and concerns are the same, if you look closely.
Do women actually believe ‘small’ sacrifices are essential for the larger good and peace of the family? Does the household have no unwritten codes for the men? (I didn’t see any long-haired men around. Hence the question.)
Or am I, as usual, making a fuss over nothing?
I am certainly not judging all of society based on this one episode in a Tamil community. All I am saying is, such episodes are not uncommon, even today.
My mehendi was done and I was getting ready to leave. Just then, the four-year-old son of the lady with the longest hair in the room walked up to his mother and said, “You better not be putting any mehendi. I don’t like it.”
I left the place, hoping the woman found the courage to rebel against a four-year-old at least.
Swetha Kannan is a freelance writer in Chennai. She has worked as a business journalist with Business Line.