Wednesday Wiseness: Funny Hair. A Not-so-funny life.

My nose is like a mountain, in-your-face-kind-of unavoidable. My dark skin makes me want to go through a permanent whitewash. My skin colour is ghastly transparent, like a cross between Casper and Aloe vera gel.  I have crooked teeth, strung together like abstract art. I have a pimple brigade fighting for territory on my face. My chin has its own continent. I’m thinking of using my scrawny hands and feet for a scarecrow business. I’ve decided to rent out my butt, it’s taking up too much space.

Are those some things we grew up saying or thinking about? Maybe our versions weren’t disguised in such light-hearted banter. Maybe our versions were more alive, more heart-breaking, and more horrific.

What makes us turn on ourselves like parasites? There is one answer that makes more sense than others. It begins real close. At home. At School. At a friend or relative’s place. In the playground. At the mall. It begins in our bedrooms, in the kitchens, with permanent abodes in our bathrooms; where the mirror plays a huge supporting role.

And this is how it starts. Replace the characters, plot, dialogues and setting, but the heart of the story remains eerily similar.

One fine day, a happy little toddler becomes a pre-schooler. Subtle sparks of thought and the alien concepts of comprehension begin to sprout in that little head. It almost feels like spring, with so much to marvel at and discover, until it doesn’t.

“You have funny hair“, says a friend, on an unfortunate day, to the unfortunate little lady. Nearby class fellows gather around, make a circle and start snickering and pointing.

Sure, her defences creep up, like mutated tree roots, sheltering from outside crap. She might say something mean in return. She might even push or shove, feigning bravery. She might stay silent and act as if it doesn’t bother her.  Oh, but it does. It bugs her bad. Her defences are not strong enough to shield her from the worst critic of them all, herself. That remark right there and then, imprints a painful and permanent bruise, like a medieval branding iron meant for lifelong torture. Next time the girl stands in front of the mirror, with half-opened eyes, trying to brush her milky-teeth, she notices her hair. For the first time. And she doesn’t like what she sees.

Family isn’t too welcoming either. As she adds a few inches to her height, squiggly strands transform into frizzy monsters. Or so her siblings say, in between occasional teasing ventures by other loved ones. She smiles at first. The second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth,…millionth time too. But then she doesn’t.

She painfully sheds her pre-puberty skin and discovers the world of, and for, the ‘pretty’. Makeup. Clothes. Fashion. But the pin bursting her bubble is always her hair. She wants to show-off her pretty-card. She is desperate.

Then, she discovers magic. A device that could crease out the ugliness. She saves up her pocket-money and birthday money to buy her enchanting wand. She turns thirteen with her new best friend safely tucked in her bathroom cupboard. Her hair straightener.

She straightens her hair more than she eats. More than she laughs. More than she cries. Because she can’t imagine stepping out of her room with Medusa-like entities hanging over her head. She sometimes hates her hair so much that it hurts her heart. And unknowingly, her hair too.

Along with the hair hazard, she gathers other common inflictions of her age, like insects on sugar. The weight bug. The skin bug. The voice bug. Her self-esteem melts away, like the wicked witch of the West. Wicked, because it is a cowardly, sad little excuse of an emotion that is too weak to stand up for itself.

  One day, she opens up to an old friend. With tears blurring her pupils, she says that her hair’s as dead as a door. And that she sometimes thinks of letting it stay in its natural form. But when she  catches a glimpse of her burnt mop in her bathroom mirror, she quickly reaches for the straightener.

She tells her friend that she doesn’t have the strength to fight.

She never did.

Or, that fateful day many years ago, she would have gone back and told her mom and dad everything. And if her parents had the hindsight, they would have convinced her that she had the best hair in the world. And that she should never let anyone make her feel otherwise.

Next day, the girl would have gone back to school, a bit scared but ready to take on the world with her funny hair. 







Through their peephole

I remember reading “view your profile as others see it” on some social community websites and thinking about its effect in real life. Imagine downloading an instant summary of what people think of you with a simple click of a button. Then I thought some more, and the gravity of the idea came to light! Life without such quirks is already unlivable at times. Imagine peeking through everyone’s peepholes just to see yourself standing on the other side, stark naked (no, not Tony stark of Iron Man); stripped off all your beliefs, secrets and fears!

What I am about to jot down is a universal and timeless fact. Something every person (I by no means am excluded from the ‘human’ category, though certain teenage years had me in doubt) is stuck with; deep down in the smallest possible crevice of  our existence lies uncontrollable fear of what people think of us.  Ever experience that nauseous feeling just before you stand in front of a crowd to speak and your throat runs as dry as the desert? That rhythmic thumping of your heart like the hooves of a horse galloping towards the finish line; That abysmal state of daze as you realize you are not who you think you are. In fact you were never really that person. Through their eyes, two plus two is always a number beyond your knowledge. Those judgmental organs of skepticism are a deathly duo out to destroy anyone who crosses their paths. Whether we admit or not, these are powerful people we are dealing with. Maybe the Illuminati could learn some important pointers on mind control. How judgmental utterances and glances cripple years of carefully accumulated self-esteem, is baffling. The greatest of self-help writers have failed to come up with ways on how to ward off carping criticism and remain unaffected without going for the bottle, pill or ever worse.

Why? Essentially, we  are a fault finding species. Its our favorite pursuit, second only to obnoxiousness! I am willing to bet my precious stash of notebooks that women even during the stone ages spent hours passing baseless judgments. I can almost envision the new neighbor who was deemed unfit for friendship because of her terrible taste in  mammoth fur! It’s also not difficult to imagine how much time the stone age men spent obsessing about the new colleague in the “tool” department; who was unfortunately the only known vegetarian of their time (well, him and triceratops).

Even the animal kingdom is not as ruthless. Those supposedly brainless creatures tend to look out for their own kind. I don’t reckon banishment of a lion from its pride on account of a feeble roar; or a duck being ridiculed for a quirky quack. Fortunately ‘The Ugly Duckling‘ was an imaginary tale meant only to describe a pesky human flaw. In real life though, ugly ducklings don’t always get second chances or miraculous makeovers. If only the author had paid attention to this small detail. We hungrily grab at any chance to make fun of someone who walks a certain way, or has an odd voice, or simply because we know no other way. We stand in front of our children, unabashedly snickering at some unlucky man simply because his accent was way off our normal acceptance radar. Then we expect our children to be fair little angels with halos the size of Texas. If only these poor children knew that High School never really ends. Sneering, backbiting, gossiping and prejudice only mutate into unimaginable monstrosities. I sheepishly admit that I am no different. We  are all a bunch of Judge Judy’s, waiting to strike our gavels the minute someone lands on a puddle.

Times have progressed. Literacy and education have deluged our lives. Yet it is hair-pulling-head-banging frustrating when  stereotypical notions remain deeply etched in our minds like leeches on blood. Every time we utter a gratuitous statement about someone, we only end up damaging our own selves with all the negativity and shallowness. The world may be divided by boundaries but one truth maddeningly stands as firm as Obama’s stance on drone attacks; no matter where we go, chances are that somebody out there is casting you into a mold of their liking.

Far from any proclamation of self-righteousness, this is a reminder to myself and to those who are unfortunate enough to be caught in this endless verbiage; DO NOT JUDGE! Like some twisted game of Chinese whispers, you might just end up at the wrong end of the circle, with words you wished you had never heard!