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Rukmini Goes Bald

My name is Pranati, currently aged 48 and living in Bangalore. This is the story of the frequent hairlessness of my family members – male and female.

My mother-in-law, Rukmini got married when she was already 37 and her husband Ramesh was 43. Her son, Chandrakant was born the next year and the couple were advised against another pregnancy. When Chandrakant was 8, Ramesh died of a heart attack. Rukmini was heart-broken but was determined to put Chandrakant on a firm footing. She was working as a high school teacher teaching social sciences and language. The loan on the house her husband had purchased had been repaid. Hence, means of livelihood was not a problem.

Being from an orthodox family, she insisted that Chandrakant tonsure his head for the funeral rites of Ramesh. Chandrakant, though young, resisted but was too young to have his way. Hence, he gave in to Rukmini’s pressures. A year later, Rukmini who had by now become the Head Mistress of her School took Chandrakant to Tirumala. There again, she made Chandrakant to get a full tonsure of the head in Kalyanakatta. Chandrakant did not relish it but had to succumb to his mother’s pressures.

However, the momentous thing was that 47 year old Rukmini also decided to get her head tonsured, partly in reverence to her departed husband and partly as prayashchitta (atonement) for not heeding his advice to tonsure her head 8 years ago. She opened her hip long braid and sat in front of the barber. He thoroughly wetted her hair as 9 year old Chandru with his freshly shaven bald head looked on helplessly. The barber bent her head fully forward and started scraping at the back of her head. Rukmini felt strange sensations in her body. Oh! It is such a nice feeling to get tonsured! she thought. In five minutes he shaved off all her hair smooth and clean. She really looked great with a nice round head, good hair line and fair skin. Later, looking at her own image in the mirror, a smile spread across her face. She thought that she looked good that way and hence decided against buying a scarf. Her young son did not agree with her view but she did not care. She thought that she had made a mistake of not doing this 8 years ago, when Ramesh had pleaded with her to go for a tonsure after Chandrakant had become one year old. Ramesh had given up and did not press for it again. If only she had got tonsured then also, she would have made him happy.

She attended school with bare, bald head and smiled confidently at anyone who stared at her. The first few minutes of the classes she took were difficult with everybody shouting ‘ho!’, `baldi!’, etc. Other teachers, especially the female ones giggled on but she cared two hoots. But she was a very popular and good teacher though strict and things became normal quite fast. Even the management had to digest a bald headed Head Mistress. She had decided to protest formally about religious rights if they had objected. Thankfully, they did not object. Rather, the Managing Trustee complimented her on her boldness and piety.

To her eyes, young, bald Chandrakant also looked great. She felt a thrill whenever she caressed his or her own bald head. She hoped that she could make him shave his head every year. At least, could she make him wear his hair short with back and sides neatly hand-clippered and the top cut to around an inch? The way her departed husband used to have his hair? But then, Chandrakant did not like short hair and refused to keep his hair short.

The great feeling of that tonsure experience attracted her to male and female baldness. Whether Chandru approved or not, she vowed that she would again tonsure her head along with the first tonsure of Chandrakant’s first child. May be she will get a daughter-in-law who will also like to tonsure. At least she would try to persuade the d-i-l to do it. But then, that would be too far off in time, at least 15 years hence. By then she would be a grand old woman of 62. Certainly, she would not look as beautifully bald as she does today. Why not one more tonsure say in about 5 or 6 years?

So, when Chandrakant passed his SSC exams with 96% marks at the age of 16, her joy knew no bounds. She suggested he offer his hair at Tirumala as thanksgiving. He was religious and well behaved, of course. So he did accompany her to Tirumala. But he did not like to get his head tonsured. So he refused mother’s request. He was too old now for her to force him like last time. So she did not press him further. But he did not come in the way of her tonsure. At 54 she looked still young and attractive. Her hair had grown to her lower back. No trace of grey hair could be seen as yet. She joyously offered her head to the barber telling him to make her head extra-smooth. Chandrakant was resigned to seeing a bald mother. So he watched her going bald with a smile. The barber wetted her hair thoroughly, scraped the hair starting from the back and denuded her scalp in about 3 minutes. He wetted her hairless head once again and ran the blade all over again making the head extra smooth. With a wide grin Rukmini got up. This time also she walked around bald. This time she made another decision. She would keep her hair short for a year. She would sport a nice short crew cut.

So, three months after that Tirumala tonsure, she visited the barbershop her son and previously her husband used to go to. The barber was astonished to see a lady with about two inch long hair all over her head. He asked her what she wanted. She said she had come for a haircut for herself. Initially he hesitated but reluctantly he agreed. When her turn came, she told ‘crew cut – close clipper cut at back and sides and about half inch on top’. The back and sides of her head was hand clippered close to the skin to about an inch and a half above her ears with about a quarter inch dip at the back. The top was scissored close to her head with less than half an inch hair. The transition to the bald sides and back was very gradual. So the cut looked extremely good. Since then Rukmini stuck to the style for about a year. Once in a month she used to get shorn to the same style. Her colleagues initially chided her, made fun of her and what not. Tirupati tonsure was one thing and generally acceptable. But a crew cut for a Head Mistress was quite another. But she did not budge and both the management and the colleagues piped down. Even with her crew cut she looked beautiful, what with her kumkum, nosestud and earstuds (she had not removed these after her husband’s death.)

In the beginning of the next academic year – June – she asked the barber to hand clipper closely the whole of her head. He obliged. She enjoyed the cut greatly. Henceforth she would grow back her hair she decided. She would again go for tonsure along with the first tonsure of Chandrakant’s first child as vowed earlier. That would be another 9 or 10 years.

Years rolled by. Rukmini’s hair grew back though a bit slower and not as long. In about 5 years it reached just the mid-back. Chandrakant passed his engineering exam and joined a reputed private company as an engineer. Rukmini retired from service and decided to relax at home. However, she longed for company. She started searching for a suitable bride for Chandrakant.

She short listed several girls whose horoscopes matched her son’s and whom she thought were good in other respects. One among the short listed girls was myself. When all these were told to me by my m-i-l a few weeks after my marriage I had giggled a lot. M-i-l also had joined in the giggle.

To be continued ….

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