Published: Friday, May 31, 2013

Musings

Of Departed Hair and Living Combs

mu01There are wondrous things we come across in life, thoughts that we sometimes need to share with others. Has it ever occurred to you that the comb is a most significant appendage to life, to people who value the hair on their heads? There used to be a time when people of my generation were absolutely carried away by the likes of Dilip Kumar, Mohammad Ali, Dev Anand and Waheed Murad and, to a certain extent, Nadeem. These men, if you must know, were thespians of repute in their time. And they had an abundance of hair we envied.

But, of course, we too had a lot of hair in our youth. There was a profusion of it, so much so that the neighbourhood barber had a good time of it almost every week. Our fathers, irritated at the sight of all that hair falling across our foreheads, marched us off to the barber’s and snip snip snip went the man’s scissors. None of us liked that autocracy. We were mad at our fathers and secretly planned to wait in an alley for that barber in the dead of night and give him a lesson he would remember for the rest of his life. That didn’t happen, of course.

Ah, those were good times. We observed our movie heroes, as we called them, and tried copying the way they wore their hair. And then we did what romantic young men always do at that age. We biked all the way to the nearest girls’ school or women’s college (depending on our age) and simply stood there, hoping that those beautiful people going in or coming out through the gates would notice us and admire our handsome features. And some features they were! One in our group had a beautiful tummy, almost in the shape of a football. Another was proud of his muscles, even though he didn’t have any idea of where to make use of them. A third one kept humming the latest movie songs as he leaned on his bike. And yours truly was a truly thin, almost emaciated creature who tried to be a cross between a good student and a passionate poet. It was, now that we look back at the past, a society of perfect, incorrigible fools.

And all of us stood there, for weeks and months together. None of those girls and women, depending on the age we were in at the time, took any notice of us. Indeed, some even laughed in a way that sounded more like scorn than admiration. They smirked. But all that was long ago. These days, much or all of that hair that was our pride is gone, with the wind. There is something about the wind which keeps us in thrall of it or makes us desperate to get out of its range. In our youth, we love it when the wind runs through our hair, when it plays in the hair of the women we fall in love with. But then comes that moment when the wind causes all that effect of weathering on our features, which begin to stamp on our faces that sign of aging we would rather not have.

That said, the worst that the winds of time do to us is to have our hair desert us, strand by precious strand, as we, at least some of us, move into middle age. Now you could argue that bald men are often handsome men. Think of Yul Brynner. Think of Telly Savalas. Think of Mikhail Gorbachev. Think of Jawaharlal Nehru. Such knowledge is certainly music to the ears. But what happens to the comb you always carry in the back pocket of your trousers? Ah, but didn’t you know that it is always people with no hair who carry a comb with them, always? Perhaps they do that because of that certain sense of nostalgia which comes of a remembrance of the days when hair was all around and over and across the head.

Forgetting is hard; and memories are a consistent part of the consciousness. Often in the mornings, indeed throughout the day, bald men are observed pulling out their combs and letting it pass all across that spot on the head where hair once was. And every time they do that, a fresh few of the remaining strands of hair come back with the comb as it is taken off that glistening, almost clean-shaven head. It breaks the heart of the owner of the head, for whom every strand of hair divorced from the head is a mark of dying heroism or youth or both.

For balding men, the comb is testimony to a rich past. It is a memorial to glory and glamour that have passed. But, yes, there are the men who, buoyed by thoughts of stoicism, have defied the process of balding brought on by a fall of hair. They are the minority; and since life has conditioned us into thinking that minorities are not to be pampered, that the majority is all, we ignore such brave men as being of little consequence. They understand not the value of a comb. It is not the law of diminishing hair that is important. Of more significance is that comb, whose permanence is a perpetual reminder of happiness that once was. The comb is that ageless mountain or that perennial cockroach which remains, defiant and part of creation, even as the earth has changed shape and the rivers have dried up.

Keep a comb, if you are losing hair. It is the comb which stays loyal to you even after your hair has committed treason of a most appalling sort.

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.