It all began with the hair oil. One night as we were eating mangoes on the porch after dinner with 3 of our male Indian friends, the topic of hair oil came up. One of our friends casually asked Natalie if she used hair oil. We didn’t really understand and asked for some further explanation. They proceeded to explain that they used hair oil, all Indians used hair oil. That confession quickly illuminated why so many Indians we’ve seen have such shiny hair! Our friend Kunwar went inside his room and returned with a small bottle of jasmine-scented oil, which he offered to put into our hair to make it shiny. Natalie refused but I said I’d try it. I was treated to a lovely head massage and left with hair somewhat oily but really soft and shiny. I thanked Kunwar for the mini spa experience and we asked the other two boys about their hair oil use. Our other friend Divyesh told us that though he is 23 every time he returns to his home in Gujurat, his “Mommy” puts hair oil in for him and massages his head for about half an hour. Now how’s that for a welcome home present?
With thoughts of hair products percolating and the possibility of a new hair regime to bring back to the US, Natalie’s mind shifted to the possibility of a haircut. The heat combined with the difficulty of washing longer hair using just a bucket and hose led her to begin talking of the possibility of an Indian haircut. But where? The closest city is about 2 or 3 hours distance from us and we haven’t seen many salons for women in the villages—only men’s faces being lathered up and shaved with dangerously sharp looking objects. I told Natalie that in the worst-case scenario, I would give her a hair cut with my nail scissors (but that really would be the worst case scenario because I’ve never given anyone a haircut, let alone with miniature scissors). We asked around and found out that it was indeed possible to get a woman’s haircut in Bagli, the nearest larger village about 40 minutes away. So, faced with a free day later that week and with reassurance that no matter what happened her hair would grow back, Natalie decided, though not without utter trepidation at the results, to take the plunge.
We arrived in Bagli with Divyesh and asked some people in the office where we might find a place to get Natalie a haircut. We were in luck—there was a salon right below the office! With such convenience and luck going our way, it really didn’t seem possible for Natalie to back out at that point. Despite comments from Natalie like “Am I really doing this?” and responses from me like “Come on, I promise it will grow back by the time you get home,” we pushed open a door with an inviting “Push Me” sign in cursive letters. We used Divyesh as our trusty translator, even though he felt slightly uncomfortable having never been inside a women’s salon (though I think this would just barely pass as a salon). Natalie wanted her hair washed, a standard hair cut practice in the US, and hair oil after the cut, a newly discovered hair practice in India. The woman, hairstylist (?), agreed and we showed her how much hair Natalie wanted cut. Natalie contemplated asking her for angled layers in the front but decided that it would be too much for Divyesh to translate, without the proper knowledge of women’s hair and more importantly, could lead to disastrous results. So she went for just a basic trim, hoping for the best.
What we thought would be the hair wash was actually just a spray bottle that wet the tips. Then the scissors came out; they were certainly a step up from the nail scissors I had offered as my weapon of choice but resembled the sort of scissors kindergarteners used to cut construction paper. But with the red hair-cutting cape on, there was no time for second thoughts. The trim that resulted was only questionably even or straight; no drastic diagonals or anything but it is perhaps a bit longer in front. With an only slightly horrified face, the hair oil session began. The hairstylist stood on a stool and rubbed in what probably amounted to about 4 ounces or ½ cup of hair oil in Natalie’s hair. As each additional amount of oil was vigorously
rubbed in, Natalie’s face grew more and more terrified. At the end of the haircut, we asked how much we owed the hairstylist and were told that this once-in-a-lifetime experience haircut would cost Natalie just 25 rupees! Her face could not have been more astonished, even after the shocks caused by the realization that her haircut was uneven and that she had massive amounts of oil in her hair.
But that’s not all—on the wall behind the bench where I was sitting during this whole hair cut experience was a whole selection of bindis! Divyesh told us that we should definitely get some to add a dash of Indian flair to our look; he also included the fact that young men really like bindis on women. We were obviously sold. And the fact that each pack of 20 bindis was just 3 rupees helped us decide to buy them without question. We’ve worn them once or twice when we’re in the mood for a little extra sparkle and our faces aren’t too sweaty to put them on. Every person at SPS with whom we have shared the details of Natalie’s haircut, particularly that it occurred at the salon underneath the Bagli office, has laughed hysterically.
Equipped with hair oil and bindis in our arsenal of Indian beauty tricks, we wondered what else could help us look more Indian? Bangles! Luckily, in one of the villages where I was interviewing women for my project, I chanced upon a woman who makes bangles in her home. She invited me in, along with the 2 others who work with SPS and have been helping me with my interviews, and offered me both water and sweets. She showed me her wares, which she sells to sellers in the bigger city of Indore in order to make a larger profit. I told her I’d come back after my interview. Funnily enough, when I returned she was in the process of combing and oiling her 8-year-old daughter’s hair. Clearly, this woman knew about Indian beauty. I was swayed more by the thoughts of supporting this woman’s fledgling bangle business than by a real desire to own 6 rhinestone studded and extremely sparkly bangles, but that is what I came home with at the end of the day. A day when I wear a bindi and bangles is a real special one.
We’re thinking that our next Indian beauty venture might be buying saris; after telling our friend Jittu of this possibility in jest he approvingly commented that we’d look “so damn pretty” in saris. It definitely makes up for him telling us that we look bad in Indian clothes just a few weeks earlier…
We’ll keep you posted!
Becky (& Natalie)