It has been nearly two years since I last cut my hair. It was somewhere in January 2010 when I had it shaved off, just before dropping out of college and heading down to Hikkaduwa to work. At that point, I had no intention of growing my hair out, it just occurred. As the months went on, I traveled back and forth from Colombo to down south, and so did the hairs that kept growing alongside. They say your hair can say a lot about you, and quite literally as you can find traces of substances within the follicles. In those months I am quite sure I accumulated plenty substance to my hair, that is probably why it looks so full. Joke.
Eventually I was back in Colombo, out of school and with no intention of getting back into that cycle of meaninglessness. I spent my savings on liberating myself, if only for a short time, from the confines of family. Before I go on I have to make mention that I have not been constrained so much by my family, in fact I have had more liberties than I can count on my fingers. Even still, that personal sense of freedom that is within you can feel even the slightest constraint. So I left, for a while, and traveled around the country. With some friends I made some cross-country trips, covering most of the island just up until the birthday this year. And all the while the hairs on my head grew unhindered, not a single strand meeting a scissor.
By that time though, I was exhausted. I needed a break from the break I had taken. Yet it took me a little while to realize this. The Jaffna Music Festival came up and I decided to take a bus by myself and leave even my friends behind. I spent three days in Jaffna, meeting the blogger crowd there on the second night and joining them on their last day before heading back to Colombo. It was just what I needed, to be exposed to the kind of people who do not need substances to fill their day. We hitchhiked back from Casuarina Beach and I felt my hair being whipped back by the wind, like a dog with its head out of the window, I squinted my eyes to keep the sand away, yet I couldn’t keep from smiling.
After that though, I spent a lot of time doing nothing. I was at home, eating, sleeping, and just generally existing. I had returned to my parents and my mother was taking care of me. Obviously, they were worried. I wasn’t doing anything, and I showed no interest in taking up anything. They took me to our hometown where every person who saw me had to comment on the length of my hair. At that point it was actually quite fascinating to watch the curls that would come out of nowhere, the awkward stage. Yet this was lost on them, I suppose a cultural stigma which I find quite strange for descendants of Arabs. It is funny how short our memory can be, we forget where we come from and insult our ancestors by shunning their behavior.
For some reason I could not eat meat anymore. I had quit smoking and had been sober for months. It was refreshing, though the first three weeks were hell. Yet all this while the substance in my hair was the same. I guess you could say it was tripped out. I was vegetarian for a while. Eating every thing with dhal. I gained ten kilos up until I touched chicken again, then it all disappeared just as quick as it came. I had the “chokka” or chubbiness that my father’s family is known for. He smiled gleefully as he pinched my cheeks. Now I’m back to being the scrawny little stick I have always been.
In August I decided to reemerge and go out and meet people. I learnt of friends who had been through phases tougher than mine. I regretted not keeping in touch, yet we all have our own issues to get through. My absence had allowed me to thin out the herd and associate with only those I felt closest to. I hadn’t written anything in ages though, as is evident if you flip through this blog. It took time before the writer’s block ceased. What came first though were the drawings, I suppose the residue of everything that had gone through my mind over the year.
I eventually joined the newspaper near my house when I felt comfortable with society again. I hit a few nerves with my first article, yet I enjoy the work that I do and I take responsibility for it. I have never been one to please, I do what I do. My colleagues never questioned the length of my hair. The expected comments would be made every now and then, but it never bothered me. I make fun of people as much as they do of me, and I enjoy that. It is only when I am questioned and made to feel abnormal for my appearance that it irks me. Particularly when it is from those close to me, incidentally by kin.
I have longer hair than my mother now, and healthier hair than my sister. My father speaks of how he once grew his hair when he was young, and tells the people of our hometown that I am simply following his footsteps. My younger brother would grow his hair out too if his vocation allowed for it. Yet others in the family disapprove. Is it stigma all over again that permeates even the bond of blood? How limited is our perception that we cannot accept or attempt to understand the behavior of our kith and kin? Tolerance, and respect, are two very simple principles, yet when it comes to issues such as this, they are often overlooked.
I don’t care when a random passer-by shouts “ponnaya!”, or a bearded old man touches my hair and asks “idu enne idu?”. I simply grab at his beard and ask back “id enne idu?”. Some are dumbfounded by it, I just simply don’t get it. The human anatomy allows for hair growth on both male and female. If you really want to be able to tell a man from a woman, just look where you need to and get it over with, stop judging me by my hair.
I have come to identify myself with my physical being as I am now. And I will continue to identify with my being so long as it is my own spirit that influences my decisions and the actions I take. A scissor in any other hand, driven by any other motive would only corrupt this. And I will not have that. Yet I feel some day I will give in, if only to cease the nagging. Because at some point it just feels like you can not change another’s social conditioning. If they are convinced of something, it is difficult to change that conviction. And so perhaps I will be the bigger person and do as they ask, and I will consider it a selfless act.
It’s funny though, how some would call it selfish to behave in this way. But I suppose that is the irony of man. By the length of my hair, today I can say, I have yet to make a decision that I truly regret. And I hope I will not make one by cutting it off.
“Long hair is much more than just a thing of vanity for me. It is tradition, identity, and even spirituality. When I feel my hair on my back, I am reminded of the years it has taken to grow, and how I too have grown.” John Two-Hawks, nativecircle.com