If there is anything that defines me, it’s angst. I think I was pretty much born an existentialist, if indeed an existentialist is someone who is a great deal afraid and anxious. I come to this conclusion because I now realise that I am a worry wart in denial, and that it is time to embrace that knowledge.
According to existential philosophy, angst is the dread caused by man’s awareness that his future is not determined but must be freely chosen. Can there be anything scarier than that? My earliest memories of angst-filled feelings include:
1. The fear of lighting matches and stoves. This is because I observed my mom turning on the gas and lighting a match. The resultant mild explosion with which the stove lit up did not faze my mom in the least, but I was struck with horror as I contemplated the consequences of doing this myself, and I worried about growing up and having to do these kinds of things too.
2. Watching my eldest sister going to college all by herself and travelling by bus and crossing roads and stuff. Oh the anxiety at ever having to cross a road and go to college! It was enough to make me never want to grow up.
3. Getting married. Would I ever find a man who was as lovely as my dad? I didn’t think so, and it made me as anxious as the female equivalent of Oedipus.
4. Observation (movies) and ill-informed discussions with the peer group revealed a whole bunch of facts about the birds and the bees, which opened up a whole new can of worms. The biggest question was ‘how’?? And the answers delighted and shocked and horrified all at the same time.
5. Giving birth, after watching melodramatic Indian movies that depicted women screaming and crying for mercy while in the throes of labour. How was I to wilfully put myself through that kind of inhuman pain and indignity?
No one could have guessed what a worried little child was. I always appeared happy-go-lucky. But I’m 37 years old now and still muddling my way through more confusion and angst. It never ends until it all ends doesn’t it. I did my worrying about death and lying in a grave and ceasing to exist altogether and am halfway over that now. Wrinkles, and getting fat and grey hair are the new death.
The first strand of white hair in the front of my head caught me by surprise. It was very noticeable in my shock of black hair, a fact that was pointed out to me repeatedly (as if I wasn’t all too aware of it already….silly people). Slowly and surely, the number of white strands started to multiply until it reached a point where I could no longer count them. My family puzzled over this, since I am the third in a line of four daughters, and my elder sisters did not have any gray in their hair AT ALL. Am I the runt of the litter? I joke and say that I think about stuff and have multitudinous subconscious worries, and this is why my hair is turning white, but it’s too true! This should be proof that I am not the blithe spirit everyone seems to think I am!
Maybe history is cruelly repeating itself, as my mother greyed the earliest in a family of eight siblings where she was the third daughter!
But apart from getting down to the bottom of the cause, I now had to worry about what to do with the rest of my life as far as my crowning glory was concerned and here were the options:
1. Should I be the cool arty type and go the Durriya Kazi way and wear lots of kajal in my eyes and don ethnic earrings to accompany a not-so-thick white braid?
2. Should I be funky and dye my hair indigo and crop it into a trendy bob to look post-modern?
3. Should I just let it be and age gracefully and stay myself without having to adopt an identity and make some kind of a statement?
Decisions, decisions. What path to choose? It isn’t easy to face the world when your hair betrays you. People’s eyes cannot help but flick upwards while conversing and I know they’re thinking what’s up with her hair? until they come right out and blurt it. ‘Why is your hair turning white?’, they ask simple-mindedly, as if there is a subversive reason. What do I tell them? That I am crushed by the angst of the living and my hair is beginning to reflect it? ‘Why don’t you dye it?’, say the fashionable lot for whom changing colours is not about hiding something but about novelty. Don’t they realise how vigilant you have to be to make sure the roots don’t show when the hair grows, and how frequently you need touch ups? It all reeks of unsustainability if you ask me.
‘Aap ke baal tou bilkul safed ho rahe hain’, says the girl who does my hair at a salon, as if I am struck by a terrible disease.
I stoically bear my cross and develop an attitude about my silvery streaks and people say I look stylish and glam…..but only if I make the effort and straighten it and style it and spend some time on it. If I don’t, I just look and feel like a hag. I know if I start using chemicals on my head I stand to lose not just lots of money but also lots of hair.
Life is so hard 😦