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I was 20 when I was married off to a large middle class Bangalore family in February 1972.  My husband, Sriram was 25 and working in the State Government as a clerk.  His father, Ramayya, 51 was then a school teacher.  Sriram’s mother, Vinuta, 44, was a housewife.  Sriram had two brothers, Daasharathi, 22 and Sitapati, 16 and three sisters, Kanjakshi, 18, Kamalakshi, 14 and Jalajakshi, 12.  Daashu was in the last semester of his BE while Situ was studying in I PUC.  Kanju was in I BSc, Kamalu in 9th standard and Jalaja in 7th.  Come June, all the four would be in higher classes while Daashu would have 2 months to complete his BE.

I also come from another large middle class family from Hassan.  Our richness lay in education, religion and culture.  So was it in my in-laws’ family.  Fortunately, my mother-in-law (mil) looked after me well and I became one with the new family within a few days.  All my bil(brother-in-law)s and sil(sister-in-law)s loved me as their dear Attige.  My husband also loved me deeply.  I wrote to my parents that my in-laws’ place was really great and I was very happy.

Around the end of April, mil told me something about their family that both shocked and surprised me at the same time.  Every year around June, the family makes a trip to Tirumala for an annual pilgrimage.  The four males would get fully tonsured while the females would snip off a fraction of an inch from the end of their hair.  And once in about four years the females also would get their heads shaved fully.  This year the family would be going there in the first week of June.  And things were so this year that all the eight of them would be getting their heads fully shaved.

Looking at my awed face, my mil quickly put me at ease saying “You do not have to worry, Rukku (my name is Rukmini).  In early July you will be going to your parents’ house for the Aashaadha.  I do not want you to go there in an unhappy condition.  Only thing is if you choose to join all of us in getting fully tonsured two good things would be done.  One will be that you will be continuing the tradition started by my mil and followed by myself.  The other will be that if you choose to go bald, all the nine in the family would be bald – a happening which would never again occur.  Anyway, I leave it to your choice.”  I had buttock long thick plait.  I had never cut it, ours being a highly orthodox family.  I was already imagining a bald husband with a wry face.  But more than that, a bald mil and bald sils! That too college going Kanju and Kamalu!  Add to that myself, a young woman married for just four months getting her head fully shaved!

I asked “But why shave the heads of women?”  

My mil gave a detailed reply.

“Our family is no less orthodox than yours.  We also do not cut our females’ hair except in religious places like Tirupati.  My mil did not get children even after three years after marriage.  Some religious man who visited the house told my father-in-law (fil) to pledge her hair in Tirumala for getting a child.  She did so.  And your fil was born.  When he was two years old my mil completed her tonsure vow in Tirupati along with her two year old son and husband.  She felt so much elated that then on every four or five years she used to tonsure her head in Tirupati.  Since my fil also felt she looked good that way he did not object.  She went on to get four more children, two boys and two girls.  She saw to it that even the girls were tonsured once in four or five years along with her till they were married off.  When I got married, she told me that it was really great to get tonsured once in a while.  About three months after my marriage, we were all supposed to go to Tirumala where all would get their heads shaved.  But mil told me that I need not do it if I did not like it.   I thought over it.  I wrote a letter to my mother explaining the strange practice in my husband’s household.  My mother wrote back that being the daughter-in-law (dil) it was my duty to adjust to the traditions and practices of the husband’s family as long as they do not create discord and fissure in the society.  Since religious tonsure does not fall in that category, it would be better if I toed the line of my mil’s wishes.  Basically being religious I agreed to get tonsured along with others.  Later I realised that I had set a bad precedent of approaching my parental family for an issue of my husband’s family which is a serious breach of marital trust.  I resolved that I would never again do it.

“So, just three and a half months after my marriage, we all went to Tirumala.  I was nervous all the way.  At that time even getting a tonsure was an ordeal.  Private barbers used to collect people and tonsure a strip on each promising early service.  All the eight of us sat in a row for the tonsure.  He wetted our hairs.  I was really nervous.  With great difficulty I resisted tears.  Since my mil had given me the option of not doing it if I did not like it I could not afford to shed tears.  The barber shaved a strip on each of our heads one after the other.  When he shaved the first strip on my head, the feeling of the blade was, I thought, good.  The barber went away to ‘book’ some more clients.  All looked at each other with smiles.  Mil looked at me with a benign smile.  While she had a bald strip starting from the left side of her forehead and running towards the left ear, he had shaved a strip on my head right down the middle from the forehead all the way to the crown.  After one hour he came back, wetted the head of each again and finished the tonsure.  By the time mine was over, I felt that the feel of getting tonsured is good after all.  When I saw the heads of my mil and sils and their wide grins I also grinned.  When I ran my hand on my bald head I felt really great.  So did I feel when I felt the heads of my husband and the two sils.  I thought my mil and sils did look good after all.  My fear of an ugly and bald husband was totally misplaced.  He did look very good with his smooth, greyish, round, bald head.  When I looked in the mirror, my jaw dropped.  I really looked good with no hair.

“On the way back, all kept their heads uncovered.  Mil offered that I could buy a scarf and cover my head if I so wished.  But I thought that I looked good this way and said so.  Two months later I went back to my parents’ house for a month of Aashaadha with one inch of spiky hair.  All my folks smiled benignly at my new look but put me at ease saying that I looked great.  By then I had decided that I would follow in the footsteps of my mil – of getting my head shaved once in four or five years.  I introduced the same to my kids also.  They also enjoy it.  And my husband is fully in agreement with me.  Of course, we still stick to the tradition that no haircut for women outside religious places.

“It is no big deal that the men get tonsured every year.  For my daughters, however, I have introduced a small change.  Till they are ten, each daughter is tonsured every year.  Between ten and fourteen we may decide to tonsure her head if she wishes to.  Thereafter, they are compulsorily tonsured at fourteen and again after they attain eighteen.  In between 14 and      18 I want them to grow l
ong hair.  In fact, immediately after a daughter attains eighteen I plan to get her nose pierced to wear a nose stud.  A month or two afterwards she gets tonsured.  And I plan to tonsure my head along with each of my daughters at her 18th year tonsure.

“Now, Kanju will be eighteen next week.  Kamalu is fourteen.  So, both have to be tonsured.  It is good that both have already buttock long hair.  Jalaja need not be tonsured, but she has expressed a wish to get tonsured again and we have agreed.  Though it is only two years since her last tonsure, she has shoulder length hair.  It was when Kanju was fourteen that I got tonsured last.  And as I just told you, I plan to tonsure my head with the girls when they attain eighteen irrespective of the length of my hair.  So I am also going to get tonsured.  That will make all the eight of us bald.

“You are new to this thing.  If you happily consent, it will be good for you and the family.  You will be carrying on the tradition started by my mil, which I have realised is a good tradition.  But if you do not like to do it you need not do it” my mil concluded.

I thought of seeking my mother’s opinion.  But remembering mil’s comment about the bad precedent, I thought that I only have to take a decision.  I deliberated for a week within myself.  Once, I asked my mil about the reaction of others when she got herself tonsured for the first time.  She said with a smile “Many did make wry faces.  But many also smiled and appreciated.  None of these mattered much since my husband really loved my bald look.”  I asked my husband whether I would look good being bald.  He said with a smile “Do not worry about that.  I will like whichever way you look.  And I am sure that you will look fantastic.  Though I do not insist, I do suggest you also take the plunge and enjoy the tonsure.”  Now I made up my mind to get tonsured along with the others and told the same to my mil.  She said that once I make up my mind one way or the other it should not be changed.  We would be doing ‘sankalp’ a day before the journey.  Before the ‘sankalp’ I should finalise my plan, she said.  But I told her that I have decided to get tonsured and the decision will stay.  My mil was very happy at my decision. Later, I just informed my parents about the impending tonsure.  They wrote back asking me whether I could postpone it to after Aashaadha.  I replied ‘no’.  I would go bald in early June and I would come home the next month with hair about half inch long.  My mother meekly agreed to what I planned to do.

In early May, Kanju’s right nostril was pierced.  The wound healed in about a week.  She started to wear a nice nose stud.  In early June all went to Tirumala, a day after doing ‘sankalp’.    We all climbed the Hills by foot.  By now, private barbers had been banned in Tirumala and the Kalyanakatta was in place.  The next morning, the nine of us trooped into the Kalyanakatta.  The other eight got their heads tonsured one by one.  But I was in for a surprise.  None looked bad though fully bald.  In fact, all looked stunningly beautiful – especially my mil and Kanju.  So was my husband.  I was the last to get tonsured.  My initial wariness had given way to intense anticipation.  I was eagerly waiting for the first hair from my head to hit the floor.

My mil unbraided my buttock long hair.  The barber wetted the hair thoroughly at the scalp.  Those were the days of solid straight razors which were sharpened once in a while.  He took the razor in his right hand and bent my head down with his left.  For the first time in my life I would be bald.  The whole of my body had a strange experience once the first scraping – from crown to the forehead was done.  Oh! What a feeling!  Some more scraping.  Very nice feeling of the razor and very cool breeze on the exposed scalp.  He turned my head to the left and shaved off the hair in the right.  Then the left side.  Now he bent my head fully forward and shaved off at the back of my head.  Now I was fully bald.  Already all were smiles at my new look.  The barber passed his razor once more all over my head making it smoother.  The whole process had taken about five minutes.  I rose up with a smile and caressing my bald head with both hands.  I had finally done it!  I had jumped into the great tonsure world of my in-laws’ household.  I felt a rare satisfaction and happiness which is indescribable.  I resolved that I would never jump out of this world.  I would emulate my mil in this by getting tonsured once in a while, I decided then and there.

The way back home was one of the happiest moments of my life.  All the other eight looked so beautiful, radiant and spiritual looking.  Even my mirror reflection made me so happy that I frequently looked into it.  And my mil looked so beautiful.  Back home, I happily went to some neighbours with Kanju to distribute prasadam.  They were all aghast looking at a bald me and Kanju.  Yet all of the elderly ladies blessed us happily.  Kanju happily went to her second year BSc college with her head uncovered.   When I asked her how she would face ragging on her bald head, she said with a smile “Who cares?”  I invited my mother to come and have a look.  A week after the Tirumala trip she and my father came with apprehension writ large on their faces.  But they were taken aback at the beauty of my bald head and those of my mil and sils. All of us had about a few mm of hair growth.  My mother hugged me with tears of joy.  Caressing my head which had a dark turf, she exclaimed “How beautiful you look this way, Rukku!  Do this once in a while.”  I was so happy to get my thought endorsed by mother!  As for my husband, he could not take his eyes off my bald head.  Exactly thirty nine weeks after the Tirumala trip, my first son was born.

    In June 74, Jalaja and the gents got tonsured while the rest, including myself, got the ends snipped.  My son was too young and in his second year.  So nothing was done to his hair.  The year after only the gents got tonsured with others getting their hairs snipped a little.  My son’s first mundan was also done.  By now, Kanju was 21, had completed her BSc and had enrolled in BEd.  We got a good match for her and the marriage was also over in Dec 75.  She completed her BEd and joined a high school as a science teacher.

    In May 76, Kamalu’s nose was pierced.  In June we went for our annual tonsure again.  As a special case, Kanju and her husband accompanied us.  With the permission of her mil, Kanju again got tonsured.  So did her husband.  This time, barring Jalaja everyone including myself got tonsured.  Even my three year old son Abhishek and 11 month old daughter Anagha got tonsured.

    As years went by, my bils and sils got married.   My in-laws are no more now.   My bils are also following the annual tonsure but they go separately.  Being the eldest son and dil, we are in the ancestral house.  In May 96 my daughter was married away.  In her 20 years with us she got tonsured in 1976, 80, 84, 88, and 92&
nbsp; and on each of these occasions I also got tonsured.  A few months after the marriage I got tonsured again to keep up my four year itinerary.

In Dec 98 my son’s marriage was conducted.  My daughter-in-law, Shruti, is from a slightly modern family where females do get their hair cut in beauty parlours.  Shruti’s parents had got her head tonsured after her SSLC before allowing her to sport a boy cut during her PUC.  Her mother and younger sister also have boy cuts only.  Shruti refused to grow her hair long and had a boy cut even when we went to see her for the marriage.  She looked really pretty in that style.  I had told her not to worry but keep it so if she liked it.  So she got married with a boy cut.  After marriage, I told her about our tonsure practice.  She readily agreed for it.  She only requested that she be allowed to keep her boy cut in between.  I agreed for her request if she in turn agreed to get her right nostril pierced and wore a nose stud always.  And she should always wear kumkum on her forehead.  She agreed and got her nose pierced.  I further requested her that whenever she gets her head tonsured she should keep her hair uncut for at least six months.  She agreed.  So she stopped going to parlour for a while in early 99.  In June 99 her six inch long hair was shaved off in Tirumala along with my thirty inch long hair.  She felt very much elated.  But she continued to keep her hair a short boy cut.  In 2003, she and I again got tonsured along with others.

Last June we all went to Tirumala for the annual pilgrimage.  My 59 year old husband, 54 year old myself, 33 year old son, 29 year old daughter in law, 6 year old grandson and 3 year old grand daughter – all got tonsured happily.   Shruti has also felt happy about it and has said she would continue the tradition.  However, she has got bored with her boycut and will grow her hair long for her next tonsure in June 2010.  I look forward to seeing her flowing locks tonsured.

Looking back, I got tonsured in 1973, 76, 80, 84, 88, 92, 96, 99, 2003 and now 2006 – ten times till now!  And every time I have enjoyed it thoroughly.  Though my hair grows back fast to my lower back, my friends like to call me ‘Bodi Rukku’.  And I do not mind it one bit.  When I got my car driving license in 96 and when my passport was to be made in 2003, I insisted that it carry my latest bald photo only and they carry just that.  However, the greatest happiness I got recently is when I ran my hand on the nice, smooth head of a happily bald Shruti in June this year.  With a nosestud in her right nostril, quarter inch dia kumkum on her forehead, sindhoor on the hair line, jhumka in the ears, a neatly worn saree and blouse and a benign smile -  oh! what a beautiful sight my bald daughter-in-law is!

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