I never thought I was going to be a writer. And it was mainly because of one reason: my hair. You see I’ve inherited my mother’s fine hair and I’ve always believed good writers, particularly good Asian female writers must have a head full of healthy hair to be taken seriously. Many writers who I admire like Arundhati Roy and our beautiful Gabeba Baderoon have these beautiful bouncy locks, all untamed and exotic. It really enhances the creative image if you can look beautiful without having seemed like you’ve tried. Unfortunately my mousy hair just cannot live up to the image of the strong Indian woman’s shiny black hair that suggestively whips behind as a suspicious breeze picks up. When I was at a literary festival in India earlier this year, every time I went on stage I would scrub my fingers into my hair a good ten minutes to give it some lift.
I have always had issues with my hair. During my tumulus teenage years my hair and I have often found ourselves at odds with each another. Somehow my moods have always extended to my hair. During one particular feministic phase I shaved off all my hair during a trip to Arabia. The odd looks were worth the freedom and mesmerisation of watching my hair grow into every style. Then came the half dye phase. My mother forbade me from dyeing my hair (since she hardly has any greys I reckoned I just go with it) so I dyed the bottom half of my hair blonde (the roots don’t get the dye – we compromised). And for a while I walked around campus looking, I suspect, like a hippie skunk. Then in Malaysia on a whim I attached blue and blonde extensions. Later in Bangkok I had all my hair braided at a dodgy shop that smelled of fish and petrol. So my hair and I have always had a bit of an unstable relationship.
As a Muslim woman my hair and I have also been at odds on another dimension. Sometimes I cover it with the headscarf and sometimes I don’t. As I get older I’ve found myself pondering the headscarf more. My hair is a part of my sexuality – it makes me beautiful and attractive to others. My religion calls for a certain level of modesty, a respectful request to keep my beauty for myself and for those close to me. We work so hard on making our hair look great because we know the power it has; over ourselves and over others. So I’ve found myself draping the cloth over my head too. My pride doesn’t like it all that much but my heart takes some sort of comfort in this vain-less act.
So I don’t have the big hair of good writers, and sometimes I do things like shave it off or make it blue or even cover it up. And that for me, means there is a kind of magic, a kind of power in hair with how it can affect us and other people. Hair is one of our more mystical possessions and I think the fact that we can’t figure out what it is about it that fascinate us so much proves that it has some spiritual power.
I don’t know what my hair will look like in a few months but I do know, that through thick and thin, throughout my life, my hair has always been there for me.
(Originally published in Glamour Hair, Winter issue 2012, The Daily News, May 2012, The Witness, May 2012)