Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Old Customs in India

When he was 12 he found out that some sensation always happens to him whenever the hairdresser Ramu visited their home for the family's bimonthly haircuts. As Ranjit was born and brought up in a joint family where the family head was his father's elder brother, there were in total 13 members in their family and all residing under one roof. There had always been a strict rule regarding hairstyles in their family, as all the men and boys were given a military cut every fifteen days by Ramu and he had strict instructions that not a single hair should remain more then 1/4" on the head of any male member, any shorter was not pointed out.

Ranjit was very much fond of his grand mother. He felt great excitement whenever his grandmother asked him to oil her head, because she was bald and was not allowed to keep her hair as it was a tradition and cultural practice in those days in some part of India. Women have to shave off their head after the demise of their husband. This practice was only amidst upper caste Hindus of India and that too was concentrated in particular regions.

After his haircuts Ranjit always watched all of his family member's haircuts including the shaving of his grandmother's pelt. Her head was also shaved every fifteen days as some short strands of hair emerged from her pelt every fifteen days. The young girls under the age of 10 of the family (there were only two of his cousins under the age of 10) were given monthly trims by Ramu, their hair was kept short up to their neck, so that it was manageable for them. Once they started to grow older and approached their puberty time they were not allowed to cut their hair as now their hair was only for their future husbands and the longer and thicker their hair, the more beautiful they will look. In those days marriages in India were arranged by elderly people. One of the most essential features of selecting a bride for their groom was how beautiful hair the girl had.

Ranjit's elder brother was married to a very beautiful young girl - her name was Prava. She also had very beautiful long hair which was almost up to her knees. She always wore her hair in a single plait and it took almost an hour to tangle free her hair and make a nice single plait. Everyday Ranjit watched her in the afternoon when after housework she relaxed in her room and at that time she did her hair. Her hair was straight and black and was very thick. Ranjit always wondered how she would look without her hair. And always dreamt that some day he will get a chance to stroke her hair and also to cut it. He got very excited by imagining this.

One day his elder brother went to the city for some work, he was supposed to be back on that day itself but he didn't came back alive, he died when the boat in which they were crossing the river sank midway and all the passengers in the boat drowned. The news created a shock wave in the family. Prava, on hearing the news, fainted. His body was recovered from the river and was burned. The whole family was in grief. Next day morning many relatives and friends came to give their condolences and also to be present to view the ceremony where Prava's hair was to be shorn off. As per the tradition from now on Prava could only wear a white sari (six yard cloth worn by Indian women). Ramu was called to complete the ceremony. Prava was upstairs in her room, Ranjit was told by his mother to call Prava downstairs. Ranjit went to her room and called her, she was lying on her bed and her flowing hair was not plaited as in grief and sorrow she had not taken care of her hair, it was all around her cascading like a river. Ranjit, who was now 16 years old felt a bulge in his stomach and he got an erection immediately just thinking that her hair was going to be shorn. He called her but she didn't respond, he came near her bed and touched her, she was in sleep, probably after so much shock and deep sorrow she must have fallen asleep. Ranjit knew that the ceremony will take some time to start as many of the relatives had still not come. He also knew that no one was going to come up as they all were busy downstairs taking care of arrangements. He slowly touched her hair and lifted the mass of her hair very slowly and steadily, oh how beautiful her hair was he thought, he started to stroke her hair gently. She was only 18 years old and now for whole of her life she will repent and would have to stay in a corner of the house and follow all the deeds which were to be followed by a widow in those days.

An idea came to Ranjit's mind. He slowly got up from her bed and closed the door from inside. He went to the Prava's dressing table and inside a drawer found the pair of scissors which Prava used to cut clothes and other things. It was a scissor with six inch long gleaming blades. Ranjit thought that if all her hair was to be cut, then what was the harm if he could also cut some hair from here and there and also so that no one would come to know that hair was also cut before.

He had seen this ocassion before when his neighbour was dead and his wife's hair was cut, he was present at that ceremony and had closely watched the proceedings. The grief-stricken neighbour's wife was brought to the place where the ceremony would be held, the barber was sitting on the floor with his box of tools. The lady also sat on the floor before the barber facing her back towards the barber. The barber brought out a pair of scissors and comb from his box and started to cut her hair. It was scissor-over-comb technique, he was cutting hair very close to her scalp and was doing it very fast.

Ranjit remembered the scene and was sure that no one was going to notice that he had cut some hair. He lifted her hair and started to cut very small sections at a time and also was trying to cut from inside the mass. Snip, Snip, Snip, the sound of scissors and little pulls in her hair awakened Prava, she was surprised to see that Ranjit was sitting on her bed with a scissor in his hand and also with some locks of her hair in other hand. She didn't understand what was going on then all of a sudden she started to scream, "Don't cut my hair, please don't cut my hair." Ranjit immediately had an idea - he very quickly placed the scissors on the table and inserted the cut locks of hair in his paints pocket. He then opened the door of the room and started to call his mother and aunts. Two or three women of the family came hurriedly and asked what happened. Prava was still shouting like a hysterical patient, "Why are you cutting my hair?" and "Don't cut my hair."

All those who were present thought that she was shocked to hear that her hair was being shaved off so she was shouting and didn't want to cut her locks. This also happened many times as many women did not want to shave their heads but other family members forced them to do so. Ranjit's relatives thought that Prava was also not ready to part with her hair and as per tradition they will now have to force her to do so. His aunt and his elder sister entered Prava's room and forcefully lifted her from the bed but she struggled very much and was impossible for two of them to get control of her. Seeing this Ranjits aunt called him and told him to help them take Prava downstairs. They both caught Prava by her hand and Ranjit was asked to push her from behind. He held Prava by her hair and forced her downstairs in front of Ramu. All the relatives were present, Prava was still crying and shouting, "Please don't cut my hair," but Ranjit's sister and his aunt held her hand firmly and he was very tightly holding her hair from back. His aunt then told Ramu to start his work.

Ranjit was enjoying a lot as he was holding her hair and was sitting behind her. Ramu approached with a pair of scissors and dug the scissors in her hair just above his grip. The grip suddenly started to loose as Ramu cut and cut and cut, loose hair strands were filling his hand, he was enjoying the cut. Prava was still sobbing and Ranjit was holding her hair so hard that his face was facing the ceiling of the house. As the last snip was made by Ramu on the hair which was in Ranjit's grip her head came down. All her hair was now covering her face and was only up to her shoulders, some strands which were not under the scissors properly lay long. It was a very cruel and uneven cut, she was sobbing. But the final jolt was yet to come as Ramu brought his straight razor out from his box. He also took a leather strip and started to rub the razor on the strip. After some rubbing he checked the edges of razor and asked Ranjit's sister to bring some water. Ranjit's sister brought a bowl of water, Ramu took some water from the bowl and sprinkled it on Prava's head to wet the hair. After wetting her hair he picked up his razor and asked Prava to turn and face him. She was sobbing and Ranjit's aunt almost pushed her and turned her to face Ramu. Ramu with his left hand pushed her head in front of his face and sectioned her front hair from the temple of her head and the scratching of razor began. Ranjit was very close and was watching the scratching of razor. Wet strands of hair were falling in Prava's lap. A path was created between her hair, and her centre parting dissolved as it turned to a very big parting now. Within 5 minutes all her hair was gone, she was watching helplessly and was looking like a dressed chicken with hair all around her. Then for the final time Ramu once more wet her head and shaved her head to smooth.

This is a thirty-year-old incident - all these things are of old days. You will be surprised to hear that Ranjit married Prava 10 years after this incident. He still has the hair which he cut on that day. Now Prava has grown her hair again and it is now past her shoulders and is given a monthly trim by Ranjit. And she knows that Ranjit feels great after giving her a cut.

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