I am not showing you my bare back without reason. I promise there is a story. Many moons ago, when I was a little girl, sleeveless blouses were revolutionary and scandalous. In my middle class upbringing, the idea of women showing their bare arms or wearing the saree in a way that the midriff shows was a big taboo. So what did my gorgeous mother do, despite the hushed whispers and raised eyebrows? She bought and wore sleeveless blouses. She wore it with style and grace laughing at all the snickers and criticism.

I, however, never ventured to wear sleeveless anything because my arms were like two thin sticks growing up. Also I was timid and conformist despite my firebrand mom constantly urging me to be confident. When I wore a saree for a special occasion, I always wore blouses with “airhostess sleeves”. When we went to get blouses tailored in my childhood/youth, the tailor invariably asked if we wanted airhostess hata (sleeves). That style was adopted by the stewards of Air India, the only international government airlines of the country. The sleeves of this particular style of blouse were long, the back was severe and covered. A saree, which is 6 yards of fabric, with an airhostess style blouse, if properly donned, could cover every inch of the woman’s skin. It was all very propah, professional and may I say, severe? When I left India in the mid nineties, I came away with that one style of blouse in my head and in my suitcase. I knew no other.

Unbeknownst to me, India burst into the fashion world with its textiles, talented designers, bold cuts, fusion designs and subsequently blouses for sarees saw tremendous improvement in terms of variety and cut. I was completely unaware of all the changes, being far removed from any kind of fashion. One year, I went back home and needed to get a couple of blouses stitched. I sought the help of my fashionista cousin sister. My little cousin took me under her wings like she always has since we were children when it came to fashion. She is a gorgeous woman who really knows clothes and style. Since she was probably 4 years old she had a pronounced sense of fashion and make up which only improved with age. She was tireless in her efforts to bring me up to snuff with make up and fashion. “Didi, wear your hair this way.” “Apply the kajol that way, it will showcase your eyes better.” “Use brown liner instead of black for a natural look.”… so on and so forth. She always urged me to color my hair to hide the white that are getting prominent each day. Except last year, when I went home and she saw my silver highlights, she approved. These silver strands in black hair is the popular trend, I was told. I felt elated to finally have her approval in matter of fashion!! My reluctance to learn how to apply make up did not deter her from trying, bless her heart!

Anyway, she took me to this tailoring shop called Senorita near Hazra road in Kolkata, gave them instructions on the type of blouse she wants for me, sat in a chair and started her scrutiny. The attendant listened to her directions and called the tailor to take measurements. The tailor who walked in was a man. I gulped! A man will be taking my measurements for a short, tight-fitting blouse? After the first few seconds of unease, I relaxed. He was a professional and knew what he was doing without making me feel uncomfortable. Then I yelped! I felt his measuring tape going way down my back, seeking permission from my sister where to stop, which meant how deep the cut of the back of the blouse was going to be.

As his tape went further down my back, I exclaimed, “No, no! Not that much! That is too much exposed. Stop!”

Now, I wear short dresses, shorts and I often wore my sarees in the past to show off my midriff and flat stomach (also a thing of the past). I have no inhibitions about showing my legs so why not the back? You have to understand, someone who wore severe blouses all her life and covered every inch of her back, this deep cut was indeed scandalous. I don’t know why such inhibitions (prudery?) about showing my back while I show my bare legs with no qualms.

Both my cousin and the attendant of the shop, however, paid no heed to my protests, promising me the cut at the back was classy and just right, very fashionable and not exposing any extra flesh that does not need to be exposed. I gave in. And you see the result.

Get out of my hair!

I grew up with the usual insecurities that girls grow up with, my looks, height, skin tone, body mass etc, but not my hair! Oh no! I was born with a head of luxurious, full-bodied, bluish black, shiny hair. My mother decided to increase the volume and beauty of it by shaving off my head five times in my childhood. I had no say, of course, but had to suffer in silence in school when girls teased me about my shining, bald head! But I did have the utmost satisfaction of informing her, as I got older and wiser that shaving heads did nothing to grow one’s hair any thicker! Don’t fight me on that one, I am not going to hear it!

My mother was very proud of my hair. She would tell anyone who listened how people crowded around me in hair salons complimenting the thickness of it and how they wished they had hair like mine. I said in my mind, ‘You can have it! Take it all!’ I, the black-haired Rapunzel, was not happy with my headful of hair at all. I had to wash it, brush it, detangle it….and I have already mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I am inherently lazy!

I kept my hair long because even the thought of cutting it short was somewhat sacrilegious in my extended family, ‘What? You want to cut off that beautiful hair! People would die to get hair like you!’ So I kept it long in a careless topknot on my head!

I met my husband and quite predictably, he loved the hair despite my exaggerated eye rolls and long sighs. When my daughter was born, she liked to clamp her little fists around my long earrings and pull with all her might. I got rid of earrings. Then she targeted my long hair! Finally, I found a credible reason to get rid of it. Don’t want the baby to put my hair in her mouth now, do I? On a whim, I went and chopped it all off. I will never forget Sean’s face when he saw me that day! He recovered quickly and said I looked great, whatever I wanted to do with my hair was simply fantastic. I look gorgeous either way! What can I say, I got a good one!

I asked him to back me up when I faced my mother with the new do. As soon as my mother saw me, her face fell. She couldn’t talk for a few seconds. Good thing I was an adult, a married woman and a new mother, or else I would have been grounded till kingdom come. When she got her speech back she turned to her baby granddaughter and said, ‘Now you have two daddies!’ Interestingly enough, my mother sports a very stylish page-boy hairstyle. Sean, my knight in shining armor, came to my rescue as usual. He gave this classic line to my mom, ‘She loves your look so much, she wanted to look just like you!’ I gave him a gratified look which said, ‘I knew there was a reason why I married you!’

I visited Kolkata with my super short haircut, only to be reprimanded severely by my uncles, aunts, grandparents. In india, long hair is a sign of beauty and I did away with that! In fact, a well meaning neighbor while lamenting my decision came right out,’Why did you do this? That was your only sign of beauty!’ Sean and I laughed so hard and appreciated the lady’s forthrightness!

We were living in India then, and I couldn’t withstand the pressure any longer. I let my hair grow back. Life got busy, I didn’t have much time to take care of it, it was either pulled in a ponytail or tied it on top of my head while I raised kids and held the fort. Then I started noticing long strands of gray! And that was the last straw! I was not going to go around with long salt and pepper hair. Some women carry it off well, unfortunately, I am not one of them!

I turned forty and made a momentous decision. I will wear my hair short for the rest of my life! I did just that and this time my husband declared that he loved my short hairstyle. What else could he do, poor guy! That was all I needed. My mother, miraculously, came around and said I looked fine with short hair! Oh, the joy! I feel liberated and free from the long tresses which I had to carry around unwillingly for a major part of my life. Friends from India still try to exert pressure by saying long hair gave me a softer look, short hair makes me look ‘stern’! Or “You looked so much better with long hair, please grow it back!”I always threaten them that if they don’t back off, I will write a blog on my hair and make them read it. I have done good on my threat. So there….