Hair Today, Shorn Tomorrow?

For the past several months, it has been a topic of discussion between Amit and me and whoever we happen to meet: should we, or should we not, shave the twins’ heads?

Most (about two-thirds) of those we’ve spoken to say that we should, because their hair will grow out thicker, straighter, and blacker after shaving. The remaining one-third argue vehemently against it, saying that it makes no difference, or that it makes it worse, brittle and wiry instead of soft and silky as it is now.

Looking on the internet didn’t provide many answers – surprisingly. Most of the comments were from people who’d never heard of this custom before and therefore were predisposed to be shocked or horrified by the idea and virulently opposed to it. Some went so far as to consider it cruel and inhuman and advocate that parents considering this be locked up. There were a few comments from people belonging to other societies where babies’ heads are customarily shaved, who were, like me, wondering about the pros and cons of this custom.

What I discovered were the religious/ritualistic reasons for shaving babies’ heads. What I didn’t find was a single rational and scientific voice either for or against it. Some people (apparently lay people, not experts in the field) argued that hair characteristics are genetic and cannot be changed by shaving. While that sounds logical, I’m not sure that it’s true – there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that hair characteristics do get altered by shaving, and not just on heads (or on babies) but also facial and body hair on men and women. It is also popularly believed here, that the quality of water used for drinking and washing, use or absence of hair oil, type of shampoo and many other such external factors (how about chemotherapy?) do affect hair growth and characteristics. (And that’s without considering perms, bleaches, dyes, gels, curlers and so on.) If so, then why not shaving?

So anyway, after discussing the matter for months, and vacillating and prevaricating as much as possible, Amit and I decided to go ahead and get the girls shaved. The addition of holi colour to their hair made us think, “If we’re going to do this, it might as well be tomorrow.”

So on Sunday morning, I picked up Tara and went off to the nearest children’s salon, determined to get her silken locks knocked off. I returned home a mere 20 minutes later, with a much neater Tara in my arms, her hair sweetly trimmed at the sides and back making her look a lot more boyish (and cute).

What happened? asked Amit, surveying with some surprise the hair still amply covering her skull.

A slight breeze riffled her hair, as we left home, I explained, and it looked so soft and silky and lovely that I just didn’t have the heart to get it all taken off, I confessed, abashed. I had been the one arguing most ardently in favour of getting them shaved, but all along I had had this little voice at the back of my head telling me I didn’t really want to be doing this. Now that I had come face-to-face with the act of getting their heads shaved, and had at last given in to that little voice, I felt so relieved. If my daughters didn’t have absolutely thick and flowing hair when they grew up, they could decide to shave it themselves. Perhaps, as a doting mother, I should have done this for them; but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Anyway, I took Mrini to the hair-dresser next, and had the same trim done on her. While Tara had been only slightly discomfited by the process, Mrini wailed and screamed as though we were pulling her hair out strand by strand or doing some other terrible torture to her. If that’s what the merest trim does to her, what would she do if we had her head shaved, I wonder? Thankfully, it’s a question I’m not going to be getting an answer to anytime soon.

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