The son’s always had a fetish about his hair. It must always be combed just so, usually completely contrary to what anyone above eighteen suggests. I remember when we’d gone for a long weekend to Corbett National Park. He was only three, but we missed every early morning elephant safari because he couldn’t get his hair parted where he wanted it – 5.68 inches from the left.
It was really no surprise, therefore, when one day, he announced his intention to get himself a Mohawk. It must have been the exams – I firmly believe they make your hair grow like only pregnancy can. The day the last exam got over, the son called the husband, ‘Dad, I want you to come with me to the barber.’ Dad was eye-deep in work, editing and cutting and pasting. Maybe that was what made him tell the son peremptorily, ‘I’ll do it for you when I get back. Leave me alone now.’ Or maybe he just thought the son wouldn’t be able to sit up that long. If so, he’d reckoned without STAR Movies.
Well, that was how one night, at 2 am, the husband and I found ourselves up to the elbow in hair, shaving off the sides of the son’s head, and fashioning a long spiky trail from forehead to neck. At the end of it, I looked at the sorry mess in front of me and said to the husband, ‘I don’t know what your mother is going to say!’ The husband looked crest-fallen. ‘Why didn’t you remind me she was going to be here this weekend?’ he asked. The son meanwhile had pranced off to admire his Mohawk and himself in a full-length mirror. ‘Isn’t it coool?’ he demanded. ‘I love it! Thanks guys!’
Amma was in her room when he rolled in in the morning. ‘Hey, Ams baby, isn’t this coool?’ Amma yelped – not at the ‘baby’, she’s used to that and worse – but at the sight before her. After that, you couldn’t get a word out of her for half an hour, nor all through breakfast. That’s a first for Amma. But she pounced on me as soon as he was safely away: ‘How could you do this to your only son?’ I did my best to look injured: ‘I didn’t do anything. I merely washed the razor, changed the water, and swept up afterwards. See how clean the floor is?’ I knew I was safe after that. Amma never ever says anything to the husband. He can do no wrong in her eyes.
Next step was the outside world. The son was pleased as punch with the reactions he got. He noted each one meticulously in his slam book, including the one where a man stopped him on the street and asked, ‘Are you okay in the head?’ The question that he loved best was, ‘Do your parents know about this?’
His friends, at least the male ones, were not sure whether they should laugh at him for a freak or blackmail their parents into allowing them similar haircuts. That’s one thing about the son: his swagger ensures a following, however motley. His female friends were more decided. The love of his life made clear her preference for his best friend. The son was undaunted, however. ‘She’ll get used to it,’ he said with a maturity beyond his years – or maybe a leaf borrowed from the husband’s book.
At school, harried by his seniors, the son came up with, ‘Well, y’see, there was this mad dog, and he bit me, and that made me kind of mad like, and then next morning, when I woke up, I found my hair had growed all wrong, like this. The doctor says I have rabies.’ Well, he meant to be sarcastic, but the seniors loved every word and spent the rest of the morning showing him off everywhere. He came home that day, complaining loudly, ‘It’s all because you don’t let me watch WWF Wrestling any more. Otherwise, I could’ve thrown a few punches at them.’
One teacher kissed him loudly, leaving red lips painted on his shaved head, and said, ‘You look so cute. Now go and show yourself to the Principal.’ Needless to say, he did no such thing. Another one said, ‘Well, his father has long hair, I guess it runs in the family. But not in school, son.’
The final straw came when I took him to office. When we reached home that day, he was fuming, ‘I always thought journalists were more intelligent. But you should have heard the silly questions they asked me. I’m sick and tired of answering questions. Can I get this cut off now?’
A little later, the deed was done. The son now sported a glitteringly clean scalp. Later, from the shower, we heard a wail, ‘Mum, Dad, c’mere! Do I shampoo this or soap it?’
First published in The Financial Express.