Nepali Times
Guest Column
Looking grey-t


Its two years old now, this salt-and-pepper hair, It took me two years to give up henna and go completely \'natural\' and let the white hair outgrow its tint. Two years for me to appear in my true colours.

Grey hair is no stranger to my family. My parents and then my brothers went prematurely grey, and at 40 I was considered a late bloomer. When a few odd strands of grey started appearing about five years ago, I camouflaged them under a sheen of mehndi. When the strands started gathering force, using mehndi still made sense. In fact, the henna added trendy streaks of red-highlights that young girls would pay fortunes to have. But two years ago white hair started sprouting up from all over: white hair with an attitude, fierce and adamant, spearheading their way out of my scalp, refusing to lie supple and silky like the rest of their dark colleagues. "We\'re here to stay," they seemed to declare.

I heard them loud and clear, and called a truce. It was quite a headache trying to cover up: if I didn\'t use henna for three weeks the white roots would start teasing me. So one New Year\'s Day, more than two years ago, I made a resolution to go natural.

Two tortuously slow years spent with tri-colour hair-black, white and red. There was not much I could do to hasten the transformation, with the white hair creeping from under the roots. I tried to do away with as much of the dyed portions as possible by cutting my hair short. Now it\'s all gone.

Accepting grey hair at 40 when my grandmother-in-law has less white hair than me was not easy. But once the decision was made, I felt a sense of liberation. Freedom from the unseen, unwritten rules of "have to dos." I made up my mind that I would accept the dictates of my body and present myself as I was: whether society liked it or not. It was their problem, not mine. In my mind I\'m still young as ever.

Hennaing hair is an elaborate ritual. Every fortnight I had to plan 24 hours ahead to prepare the henna mix. The schedule went something like this:

1. Take an iron pot, the rustier, the better.

2. Take six heaped tablespoons of henna, add a whipped egg and some mustard oil in enough cold tea and coffee brew to mix to a thick consistency. Stir from time to time to ensure all of the mix gets into contact with the sides of the iron pot and borrows the resulting black oxidised colour.

3. Next day when the hair marinade is ready, with a crust of healthy black on the top and sides, search for a pair of rubber gloves without holes (blow them to find out). This is important so that the fingers don\'t end up with orange spots that linger for a week.

4. Plop the gooey henna on your hair, ensuring that every root is trapped in the greenish-brown paste.

5. Wrap your hair in cellophane to "keep the moisture in". Hide the ugly mess under a fancy scarf so as not to scare away unsuspecting guests. Keep yards of tissue handy in order to blot away henna seepage.

6. Two to three hours later. when the body heat has gently steam-cooked the henna and when the outside of the glob begins to feel like a pie crust it\'s time to wash the thing off.

7. Get under the tap real low so as not to let the brown slime splash and splotch your shower curtains, tiles and tub.

8. Rinse with water and apply hot mustard oil to \'fasten\' the colour; And so it was. every fortnight, after spending a couple of hours with a headful of cow-dung look-alike, I was forced to spend another night with a head reeking of wasabe. My husband and children gave me looks that were a combination of awe and disgust.

Two henna-free years later, the sense of being me, just the way I am is deeply satisfying. No pretences, no deception, no showing what\'s not there. Looking grey\'t is feeling great. Those who know my family and their greying tendency are surprised at the strength of the hoary genes. Friends who have not seen me for sometime do double takes. Many male acquaintances and young females appreciate the \'bold\' and \'smart\' look. Then there are the slightly older females, and most often those who colour their hair, who seem uncomfortable and vehemently oppose my decision to go \'prematurely\' grey.

These days when I see men and women strutting around with outlandish henna hair, I feel like screaming: "Let it be, don\'t hide behind the dye, don\'t live in a lie, let it be."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)