I had not seen Smita since her vacation to India. I remember her being very excited about her trip. She had not seen her family and friends since she had left India eight years ago when she was 17. She had just returned two days ago. I was looking forward to seeing her and hearing the latest news, as she and I are from the same place. Plus I had also asked her to get some items for me from India. So, I went to her apartment to see her and do some catching-up. When I saw her, the very first words out of my mouth were, ?You cut your hair!?
Smita had always had the longest hair of any person I had ever known. She had flowing long black hair almost to her hips. She was one of those females who would towel dry her hair after a shower, part her hair down the middle, wear it in a plait or a bun and step out of the house. She was very simple in her appearance. After her trip however her look had changed. Now before me, stood a young woman with shoulder length wavy hair, wispy bangs over her forehead and nice slim eyebrows that were shaped perfectly thin. She looked good but she looked different.
I had always admired Smita?s simplicity. It was very refreshing being around a person who cared more about other people than they did about their own outward appearance. Her hair, her clothes, her style of dressing was a marker of her inner state of mind. As long as I had known her, which was 5 years running now, she had always resisted getting a haircut. She would always trim her hair to be rid of split ends but never anything more than that. When I saw her new hairstyle, I could not imagine such an action coming from the Smita I knew.
?Why did you cut your hair?? I questioned her in a manner that expressed my dismay about all her beautiful locks being chopped off.
?I did not want to,? she replied. Seeing the look of confusion in my face, she explained the chain of events that lead to the haircut. She had not been to India ever since she had migrated to Canada. And Smita had not changed much from the way she looked when she was in India to the time she was here. If you looked at her photographs in India and compared them to her photographs from Canada, you would be hard pressed to find any difference except for a growth spurt of a few centimeters and more mature features. Apparently when she first saw her family in India, after many years, their comments to her and her mother were along the lines of how she ?had not changed at all in appearance?, that she ?still looked Indian? and nobody could tell that she ?had ever been to the West given her appearance?. This was also apparently said in a manner that Smita found extremely ?critical?.
?So,? I said, ?I still don?t understand why you had to cut your hair??
?Well you know how they can be back home,? she said glumly. ?They kept comparing me to Shilpa, my cousin in Dallas. She is the same age as me and she left India around the same time as me. Well she came back last year, and she was looking quite good I guess. And here I was, and I had not changed. I think their jabs were all my mum needed to start nagging me. You know how my mum is always asking me to cut my hair and look smarter.?
?But you never cut your hair here,? I said interrupting her.
?Yes, I know. But their comments were bugging my mum, and she was bugging me. And one day I got tired of listening to the same thing over and over again with the folks that we met. One day, an old neighbour of ours who we hadn?t met in a decade told me the same thing, that I looked like I never left India and then went on to tell me about Shilpa and that she looks so different and pretty, and that nobody would be able to tell we were cousins. I hated the look of disappointment on my mum?s face when she said that. That day I decided that I would cut my hair. So I went with my aunt and mum and I cut my hair in the evening. I just could not stand listening to people anymore,? she said looking frustrated.
?Were they satisfied after you cut your hair or did they say anything else?? I asked.
?Well there was my dark skin, my height, my teeth, my eyebrows that were mentioned as well,? she said. ?My dark skin and my height we can do nothing about. My eyebrows were done when I had my hair cut. I have an appointment with the dentist in two weeks to fix the crookedness of some of my teeth.?
?But I am not going to the dentist to fix my teeth. I think it should take my mum about one week to be rid of this idea of perfecting me. Plus I am not going to have people comparing me to my cousin here as they have never met her. Besides, I should have some flaws. After all I am human,? she said smiling with a twinkle in her eye.
We both laughed. And I went on to look at her photographs from India and sample some of the foods she brought back. Some of the photographs were taken before the haircut and some after the haircut. She looked good in both hairstyles. But the real Smita likes to keep her hair long and up in a bun with little fuss and worry. In the photographs with her old hairstyle, she looked the most relaxed and most like herself with a big grin and smile. It is too bad that some people find her lacking as her real self and project on her an image of inferiority.
I looked at her as she flipped through the photographs and chatted happily about her trip. She is still the same old Smita. Still sweet, still sensitive and still unable to appreciate all that she is. But knowing her as well as I do, I am certain that once again her hair will almost be kissing the floor sometime next year. That is until her next trip back home.
Author: Tanya Pinto- Canada