Friday, 8 March 2013

Family's Transformation

 Being a cute girl of 18, I passed II PUC with average marks.  Even the CET marks was very poor.  My dad was totally unhappy with my marks.  But he brushed it aside. “Look, Geeta, you will get married and settle to be a homemaker.  A BA or BSc should be sufficient.  With 68 % in PUC you will easily get admission to B.Sc.  So join for B.Sc. and complete it.  You will be 21 by then.  Don’t worry. You will get a good groom.  I will marry off you immediately after B.Sc. Okay?" he said half mockingly.  I got annoyed by his talk of marriage.  But I did not have much defence at that moment, what with my poor marks.
I was quite beautiful with a fair complexion, good features and hair upto my waist when braided.  Much of my time was spent in my looking after my hair – comb it, oil it, unplait it, replait it, comb it and so on.  And the remaining time was spent on reading English novels.  My mother also scolded me several times for fussing over my hair so much and spending time reading novels.  But I did not listen.  So my concentration on studies waned.  And the result was there for all to see.  Even my only brother, Rahul, two years younger and just finished 10th standard with 96% teased me over my fussing on my looks.
But I had a dream of big things – engineer or doctor.  With this marks, it was almost impossible to get a seat in either of them.  I was crestfallen.  The next day, I pleaded with my father.  “Appa, give me a chance.  I would like to go to atleast engineering – whatever subject is available.  I promise that I will concentrate and do well."
“Look, I am not rich enough to get you a payment seat.  Your rank is too poor to get a seat in Bangalore for any subject except Civil Engineering (There were not many takers for Civil Engineering those days.  The demand picked up steeply in mid and end 90s).  No question of sending you outstation to hostel and all.  I cannot afford it and I know you will while away time doing little. No point dear.  Better you join for BSc.  You do not have to study too hard.  You can comb your hair eight times a day and read a dozen Harold Robins a week. And still get average marks.  You can lead a jolly life.  Why do you bother?"
“No appa.  I do not mind joining even Civil Engineering. I know many girls are studying it nowadays.  And I promise that I will stop reading novels during the semester.  And I will not fuss over my hair so much. Promise".
My father was a senior Mechanical Engineer in one of the leading public sector industries in Bangalore.  Ours is a traditional brahmin family.  Mother is a devout housewife.  My father  is a loving person though very strict in some ways.  He was much more strict with my brother, Rahul.  Now, in front of my mother he said “Okay, Geeta, I will allow you to take Civil Engineering in Bangalore on some specific terms. If accepted, BE. Else, B.Sc. Choice is yours." His tone told both of us that his decision will be unalterable.  With alarm, I asked him to spell out his terms.
“No reading except that required for your course.  No roaming around with friends.  You have to come back home direct from college.  Read, write, read, write – that will be your routine.  If you do not get 75% in both of your first two semesters, I will stop the Engineering non-sense and you will sit at home. Not even BSc after that."
A big bomb indeed.  But I had to endure it.  I meekly nodded my head.
“Look, dear.  Your nodding will not be sufficient, young lady.  Once you join Engineering you will have to achieve big.  Just passing or repeat appearances in some papers – no such thing is acceptable.  And it will be my duty to put you in the straight path to achieve big.  Else an ordinary B.Sc. would be good for you.  I know your habits.  It will not be easy to give them up.  So, listen to my one more condition."
“What?" I asked with anxiety.
“Your habit of messing with your hair cannot be easily given up.  It needs a drastic action.  If you really want to do engineering your hair will have to go."
I could not believe my ears. What is appa talking about? That too in our family where we do not even trim ladies’ hairs, let alone cut it off.  And he is suggesting ‘it will have to go’.  What does he mean by it?  Just shorten it or shave it off? I shuddered for a while thinking a bald me.  I asked him “You mean bald?"
He nonchalantly said “Yes, why not? And of course later a boycut."
Amma smiled at appa’s statement.  ‘Dear, are you seriously suggesting a tonsure for her?’ she asked appa.  Appa replied “Yes, Janu (short for Janaki, my mother’s name).  I am not joking.  But precious time spent on hair instead of studies costs the youth itself.  I am not suggesting any murder.  Many teenage girls get their heads shaved on one pretext or the other. Many girls keep a boy cut or bob cut.  Are they not living good life?"
Amma said “May be you are right.  But I suggest that you think again on this."
But appa would not budge. “I have thought clearly and listen to my condition carefully.  If she wants to enter engineering course, apart from what I have already told she will have to do this.  Immediately after getting admitted to the course, we will take her to Tirupati, get her head shaved off.  Thereafter, she will keep a short boycut till end of second semester.  If she gets minimum of 75% in each of them, she can start growing her hair without further cutting.  If she fails to get that much in either of the semesters, immediately she will stop going to Engineering college, sit at home and start growing hair.  She can read whatever novel she wants to read.  Two years later she will be married off.  By then she will have enough hair to braid, so no problem.  Though her counselling for engineering seat is a month away in end June, only 5 days are left for entering BSc.   So think well and give your decision in a couple of days.  If she wants to keep her long hair NOW, then let her join B.Sc.  If she wants to study Engineering, let her have short hair for a while.  The choice is hers"
I was not left with much choice.  Somehow I was too enamoured of Engineering course to just give it up because of losing hair for now.  Going to BSc. would make me feel too small in front of my friends.  What to do? Boy cut? May be I will pull it off. But why Tirupati gundu?
Next day evening I asked him the same. “Appa, why do you want me to have Tirupati gundu? A boycut in parlour should be okay, isn’t it?"
“What? Beauty Parlour? You must be joking. Listen, dear daughter.  Even after gundu, you will have boy cut, not in parlour but in barber shop! Do you think I am a fool to encourage squalor?  A haircut in barbershop will cost 20 rupees and in a beauty parlour it will cost 100 rupees or even more.  Add to it all other junk in parlour – pedicure, manicure, etc. etc. You will learn less of Civil engineering and more of beauty products."
“And you asked about Tirupati gundu, isn’t it?" he continued.  “See, we are a religious family.  So far, we never cut your hair. I do not want such nice, long and virgin hair going to the dust bin in a barber shop. Let it go to temple. And a gundu will be good for you spiritually.  If you do it with devotion Grace of God will be bestowed upon you making you more responsible.  So gundu is a must" he said firmly.
I did not have  any answer for that.  I slept over it on that day.  Next day, I went to meet Rekha.  She is one of my best friends and is a classmate since my primary school.  We studied PU also together.  Now something about her family is in order.
Her family consists of Rekha’s father’s parents, her parents, her elder sister Radhika three years elder to her and her younger brother two years younger than her.  Both are very good girls and are very well behaved and have helping nature.  Especially Radhika, with her mature behaviour, is the darling of their parents.  She not only is very mature and responsible but also very talkative and always makes others happy with her nice words and jokes.
In this family occasionally heads of all in the family including females are shaved off in some temple for some vow.  They did it once when Radhika passed her 5th standard.   Again after Rekha completed SSLC with very high marks, i.e. in 1991, her entire family, including the females came back from Tirupati with nice bald heads.   At that time Radhika was to enter II BA.  I had made fun of Rekha’s and Radhika’s bald heads.  They had taken it sportively.  In the two years since then the two girls had got back about 18 inches of hair.
The two girls made frequent visits to my house and became friends with my mom.  Radhika’s good and friendly nature won over my mother. I respect Radhika a lot.  It was her association which taught me very good English, both spoken and written.  And it was her association that taught me how to enjoy college life without becoming irresponsible.
Now Rekha had got very good marks in both PUC and CET.  She was angling for MBBS and she got it in one of the prestigious colleges of Banglore.  I told her about my predicament.  She laughed at it. “I told you so many times to concentrate on studies.  You are brighter than me but wasted away your time on silly things. I tell you that what your father is suggesting is entirely sensible.  Accept it, Geeta.  You will do good."
“But, to go to engineering college with a gundu (bald) head? How is that possible?"
“Look, Geeta, I also thought so before.  But the gundu I had two years ago changed my outlook.  Believe me, it was very enjoyble.  Go ahead and accept it happily.  You will be able to concentrate on studies much better with no hair for a while.  Even Radhika also said the same thing.  Of course, on a happy note, I will tease you a bit.  But that is all in the game.  Do you know that both myself and Radhika are going for a repeat gundu a couple of months from now?  She has already started going to B.Ed. classes.  About a month after my MBBS classes start both of us will visit Tirupati for the gundu.  We are eagerly looking for it."  I was shocked once more.  My dear Rekha is going to go to Medical College with gundu head!
I lost the only hope I had of getting support for my opposition to gundu.  I came home and told mom about it.  She said “Geeta, I also thought over it.  I think what appa says is correct.  Better you agree for a Tirupati gundu and boycut.  You will look good and you will be able to study better."  Hearing her words floored me.  I asked her why she started supporting appa.  She said in her mind she also wanted for a long time that my head should go bald once, especially after seeing the beautiful bald heads of Rekha and Radhika.  But initially she thought that Appa’s proposal was more a reaction on the spur of the moment.  The moment she saw that appa was serious about this she was very happy about it.
I thought for about an hour or so in the afternoon.  Pull of Engineering was proving too strong.  Rekha is saying gundu is highly enjoyable.  At that moment I gave up.  Okay. Let me experience it and get into Engineering, I thought.

After Appa came home, I announced that I am agreeing for gundu and later boycut, but I need to study Engineering.  If it is Civil so be it.  Appa was very happy to hear it.  Amma also smiled and stroked my long hair fondly saying “Do not worry, dear.  You will get back this hair by the time you finish engineering.  But do this happily and not with tears."  By now, I had given up.  So there would be no point in crying over it.  Better take it with a smile.  So I said, “Certainly, Amma and Appa, I will do this happily".  Immediately, Rahul, with a big grin, pulled my braid sharply as he often does.  I shouted at him “Leave it, you monkey" with mock anger lightly slapping on his head.  He shouted back saying “Last chance, Akka!

 The next day onwards, appa was at my back “Read this, write this, do this calculation, do this essay" and so on.  Even before my BE classes started, appa was at me making me more capable in various faculties – good, legible and fast writing, comprehension, mathematics, etc.  And if I am a successful and much sought after civil engineer today, I owe it to my appa’s strict handling of me those days.  He even told me once “Look, Geeta, the game has started and I am not the one to quit.  You have to do what I say." I understood his seriousness.
Joining B.Sc. was dropped.  And my counselling was held on the last day of June.  I got Civil Engineering in an ordinary Bangalore college.  I had to travel 12 km in college bus everyday in one direction.  I got admitted to the college the next day itself.  The college would open in six weeks time.
Three days later, Friday evening we left for Tirupati.  Appa put a bomb on Thursday.  Five weeks before, during the discussion about my haircut, amma had privately asked him whether she also could go bald along with their daughter? And why not all the four?.  Appa was dumbstuck for a while at her strange request but could gauge that she was serious about it.  Once, secretly he had dreamt of her having a nice boycut.  Who knows? He may be able to achieve it now.
Appa told her he did not have any problem with that.   Would her in-laws (i.e. his own parents, currently living with his elder brother in Mysore) agree for that?  She said she would check up in the morning.  And she did check up.  Ajji (my grandmother and m-i-l to my mother) listened to what all happened, agreed that my hair could go considering modern ways but Amma should not cut her hair.  Ajji had other plans.  Ramu’s (her elder son) two sons would be married in the next three-four years and she wanted the whole family (my grandparents, their two sons, their wives, the sons and wives of their first son, the two children of their second son) to visit Prayag and the married women to offer Venidaan (with full mundan) and the other gents and myself only mundan.  My mother normally respected her m-i-l and did not cross her decisions. But this time she pleaded with her that she really wanted to go bald and she would grow back hair for the Prayag visit which anyway was about 4 years away.  She thought over it and finally agreed with the condition that my mother should grow the hair to a braidable length in the next three years.  Also, we all should go to Mysore immediately after our Tirupati balding to show it to them.  So all the four of us – Appa, Amma, myself and Rahul – would become bald in Tirupati.  Amma had hair upto her midback. I saw a rare happiness in Amma’s face.  I asked her about it.  She shyly said that she had harboured the idea of becoming a baldy for a long time but did not have the guts or occasion to bring it up.  Now this is happening at a happy time of you entering Engineering.  I asked her whether she would grow back upto her current length or keep cutting it.  She said that as per Ajji’s diktat she should grow it back.  “We will see that later.  First let me enjoy the bald head for a while" she shyly added with a giggle.  Hearing that from Amma I lost whatever hesitation I had and started looking forward to my tonsure eagerly just like Amma and Rekha.
In Tirupati we all went to Kalyanakatta, got 4 tickets.  At that time there were no female barbers and unlike some modern chicks, none of us really bothered about getting tonsured by male barbers.  We four were distributed between two barbers.  In one queue myself and Appa were there and in the other Amma and Rahul were there.  In each queue three people were there ahead of us.  In my queue, two gents and a young lady – apparently wife of one of the gents – were there, all for clean tonsure.  In Amma’s quere there were four people – two gents and two girls of my age.  All of them were going to become bald.  In 15 minutes my father’s turn came after the lady rose up bald and in about 5 minutes he also rose with bald head.  Now I sat for my tonsure – first in my life time (Neither I nor Amma was tonsured in childhood also).  I glanced at the other queue.  The two gents had gone away, one girl was standing bald and the other was being shorn bald.  My head was being wetted and massaged by the barber.  I tried to concentrate and enjoy my tonsure instead of looking at the other girl’s tonsure.  The barber bent my head down and I suddenly had a scraping feeling from my crown towards my nape.  Oh! What a nice feeling!  In quick strokes the feeling expanded in the back of my head and it started feeling very cool.  Now the barber pulled his blade from crown towards my forehead.  For the first time I saw my own wet hair falling to my lap in front of my eyes!  Next he bent my left ear and scraped behind it.  What a beautiful sensation it was!  In a few strokes my left portion was bald and in a few more strokes the right side also was bald.  The barber ran the blade all over my head again making it smooth.  I rose up caressing my bald head.  Yes! What Rekha told is true.  This tonsure experience is really, really good!  No wonder, she and her  sister are going to tonsure again this year.  No wonder that the girl undergoing tonsure in the next queue had that satisfied smile on her face!  I already started thinking about a possible repeat tonsure for myself like Rekha
When I rose, Rahul’s tonsure was also over and he also rose up.  Now my 41 year old beautiful mother sat there with her butt lenght hair about to be shorn bald.  She was beaming with joy.  Looking at a bald me she gave a wide grin.  The barber wetted her hair and massaged it as usual and tied her hair in two knots.  He quickly got into the act – a scrape starting from mom’s forehead to her crown sealed her ‘fate’.  She resolutely avoided giggling. So happy she seemed to be on getting shorn.  In the next three minutes she was completely bald with a smooth shining pate – the barber ensured that with a repeat play of his razor.

Later we all took bath, had darshan of the Lord and started our journey back to Bangalore in the evening of Saturday.  Appa asked mom to buy a scarf which she resolutely denied – either for herself or me.  “She is also happy about her gundu and so am I.  Let us both enjoy showing it off for a while. No sky will fall.  Isn’t it Geetu?" She asked for my support.  And I wholeheartedly supported her.  And neither of us ever covered our heads.  And neither of us could desist from repeatedly stroking our own bald heads and enjoying the sensation.  And from then on both appa and amma started calling me ‘bodi’ with affection.  The epithet stuck and even today I am known as ‘bodi’ or ‘bodi Geeta’ to my near and dear ones and in my office even when I have sufficient hair.
As per Ajji’s wish, on Sunday early morning we all went to Mysore to show our bald heads to our grandparents, uncle Ramu, aunt Vasudha and their two sons – Kiran 26 and Varun 24.  And Ajji was beaming with joy looking at her bald daughter-in-law.  She said that she never imagined that her d-i-l would look so beautiful with a bald head.  She also blessed me saying that I look no less beautiful than Janu.  Uncle, aunty and my cousins also appreciated our looks.  Then Ajji threw a surprise. 
She (though she is 75 and ajja is 78 they are very healthy and active) told us to tag along with them to a prospective bride’s family.  Around 10 o’clock, the ten of us went to a house in three autorickshaws.  The family welcomed us.  The bride’s name was Satyabhama, B.Sc., B.Ed., 22 and working as school teacher.  She had a brother Vijay 20 and a sister Lakshmi 18.  The family was a traditional family.  They were happily surprised to see a family of four bladies.  Ajji proudly explained about our Tirupati trip the previous day.  Bhama’s mother was very happy.  ‘Bhama and Lakshmi also have Tirupati gundu vows.  Bhama wanted to go bald immediately after getting employed.  Lakshmi wanted to go bald immediately after getting a seat in Engineering College.  But we restrained them from executing the vows in view of marriage alliances for Bhama.  Lakshmi is still young and could wait till Bhama’s marriage is over’ the lady added.  Ajji said that she was happy about it but it will have to wait for some years as our family has its own calendar.  The alliance was accepted on both sides.  The marriage was fixed on 6th January 1994, Thursday.
We returned to Bangalore the same evening.  I was eager to show my bald head to Rekha and Radhika.  On Monday Rekha and Radhika came to my house, ragged me nicely about my bald head, ragged my mom also a bit though with enough respect.  And we all had a good laugh with Rekha’s hands not leaving my bald head.  She and Radhika also started calling me ‘bodi’.   I saw the sheer love in them for me and accepted it happily.
Time passed quickly.  My studies with my father watching over me went on.  In about six weeks, all of us had grown about 3/4th inch of hair.  With my college to open on Aug 16th Monday, my father made a proposal on 14th – tomorrow would be my first visit to barbershop.  I could get a repeat tonsure and start going to engineering college a bald girl or I could start off with the boycut.  Of course with the hair length I have grown, the boycut would be more of a military cut.  Either of the two cuts is a must. Choice is mine.  Even if I chose bald, the next month’s cut would be a military one.  And a cut on the first Sunday of every month is a must henceforth in the next year.  Amma said a repeat bald is better since I would be better off bald in the college beginning.  And a military cut during entry into college may look a bit punkish.  Finally, I endorsed Amma’s stand.

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