Friday, March 20, 2009

Hair, Hairs and Sikhs

I wrote this for my personal blog, sometimes - 2, and then I got to thinking. We as Sikhs are a little known and often misunderstood group. What better place to get to know us a little than on this blog that's all about GlobaLove? This is a rather light-hearted look at our attitude toward hair.

My husband is again annoyed at all the money I spend on my hair. I think this is normal. Women do tend to spend a lot of money on their hair.

I was discussing this with a friend online. What are the things most women do to their hair? Straightening, I mean, relaxing, perming, weaves, cornrows (where did that name come from?), braids, extensions, all kinds of styling and, of course, cuts.

She said that she spends about $100.00 a month at the salon, in addition to home care products, such as shampoo, conditioner, gels, mousse, sprays and a weekly deep conditioner. That can easily add up to another $50.00 per month. Then there are brushes, combs, ties, and ornaments. I am going to disregard them, as I have no way to approximate that.

My expenses are somewhat less. In twenty years of marriage, I have been to a salon - not even one time. Wait, I was in a salon once. I'll tell about that later. I have never used or paid for the services of a salon even once. Well, once...I'll tell that story, too..

Given those figures, the average American woman would have spent about $36,000.00 over twenty years.

My expenses are somewhat less. I buy only three products for my hair: shampoo, conditioner and hair oil. Although I refuse to use that hair garbage from the dollar store - it makes my hair, which is very dry, break off and my scalp itch - I do not use the expensive salon items. I buy what is on sale at the local grocery/drug store. Shampoo and conditioner cost about $7.00 each for a bottle. One bottle will last me about a month. Hair oil, even imported from India is not expensive. The kind I usually use costs about $6.00 a bottle and lasts a couple of months. But let's say, I use a bottle a month. That all adds up to to $20.00 per month. Over twenty years, that adds up to a grand total of $4,800.

That means I have saved us about $31,200 over the twenty years of our marriage. I'd say I'm quite a bargain!

About that trip to the salon. A friend asked me to meet her there. With some misgivings, I agreed. I do not think any keshdhari Sikh could possibly feel comfortable in such a place. (For my nonSikh readers, being keshdhari means following the distinctively Sikh practice of leaving the hair unshorn and in its natural state.)

I am keshdhari. Going to a hair salon felt a little like going to a brothel. Interesting, a bit disgusting, quite daring and very uncomfortable. I was very much out of place, rather like a lioness at a dog show.

I first noticed the smell. A hair salon smells a bit like a chemistry lab without fume hoods. Ammonia seemed to predominate, along with some smells I couldn't identify. Someone had lit some incense, I suppose to cover up the noxious odours. It didn't work. Both my nostrils and my eyes were assaulted and I felt vaguely sick to my stomach.

The sights that met my eyes were a bit shocking. I mean, I know what goes on in these places, but to actually witness it! Here were all these women, all seemingly having a good time, mutilating their hair in various ways with these toxic chemicals. I could almost hear their tortured hairs screaming out in agony. And on the floor lay strands and strings of amputated hairs of all sorts of colours, some natural, most dyed. All dead.

My friend was in another room, but the receptionist recognised her name when I asked her. I left a note asking her to meet me at a near-by coffee shop and got out of that chamber of horrors. That was maybe 15 years ago; I have not been in one since.

I will be honest. Many years ago, while married to Mani, I did go to a hair salon for a service. I took it into my head that I wanted to get my hair professionally conditioned. I think mostly I was curious at exactly what went on in there. I found out.

I explained that I just wanted a deep conditioning. As this was in Montreal, of course it was all in French. I'll spare you and write in English. The young woman who was to serve me had bright blonde hair of an improbable shade puffed around her face to make her head look very round. She approached me. saw my neat bun and reached up to take out my kangha. I let out a yelp and fastened it to a sort of string around my neck. Jeanette - I don't remember her name, but that seems appropriate - loosened my hair which fell and fell and fell. She actually let out a little gasp and said she'd never seen such long hair. There was no approval in her voice; in fact her tone was accusatory. She picked up the ends of it and with several hmm, hmm, hmms, examined them closely "Virgin hair," she murmured.. "You have split ends. I'll have to trim them off before it can be properly conditioned."

"You'll do no such thing. Cut a single hair and I'll have your," I caught my breath and choked back the obscenity that had been on my lips, "cosmetology licence."

"Do you belong to some weird religious cult or something that won't let women cut their hair?"

"Or something," I growled. "And men don't cut their hair either."

"Well, you should break free and become your own woman." She picked up her scissors. "Long hair is really not becoming on you with that long neck. You have such a high forehead, you really need some cute bangs. You really need a sexy new hair style. Let me help you get free from all " - she held up my precious kesh - "this."

I admit that I sprang out of the chair and got out of there fast. I suppose she still thinks that I came from some strange cult and had inadvertently wandered into the Twentieth Century.

After that I conditioned my own hair - or rather Mani and I did each other's hair, which was not only safer, but also a lot more pleasant.

I have one more thought about long hair. I once watched on The Oprah Winfrey Show, an episode that greatly disturbed me. A bunch of women - and one man - with very long hair were to get makeovers. The main point was to cut off that awful, old-fashioned, ugly, long hair. Give these people a modern, "sexy" look. I admit they did look very different, but BETTER? Not in my opinion. I had the same reaction I have when someone suggests I'd look better if I wore make-up. I always respond,"Better? No, just different." The man went from a strong, masculine man with a full beard and mustache, and hair as long as - although not as healthy - as a keshdhari Sikh to a somewhat girlish metrosexual. I did not like at all.

At least the shorn hair was donated to Locks of Love, a charity that makes human hair wigs for children who have lost their hair, usually as the result of cancer treatments. A worthy cause.

Now, in case you are thinking that these Sikhs are a bit daft with this whole hair thing, allow me a brief explanation. We believe that our Creator knew what it was doing when it made us and we couldn't be more perfectly made. We have hair for a reason, in fact, several practical reasons which I am not going into right now. Even if we could find no practical reason for hair, the fact is that Akaal Purakh (God) gave us a gift of our hair and it is for us to gratefully accept and cherish this gift. (Of course, there's more to it than that, but I think that'll be enough for a start, eh?)

If we still seem a bit daft to you, that's OK. We don't mind. Most of us anyway.



Mai said...

*enters and looks around*

I'm afraid my ego is showing, but the only way I can get comments emailed to me is to subscribe here. So that's what I'm doing.

*bows prettily and leaves*

Anonymous said...

Interesting take on human hair!

The human obsession to remove hair from the body (by whatever means)has existed for millennia. One of the reasons for this obsession is 'social acceptance'. It's almost mind-boggling to imagine the lengths to which people go to conform to something as subjective as 'social acceptance'.

Oberon said... is sexy.

Mai said...

Dear Anonymous,

Yes, the search for "social acceptance" can even become tragic, even deadly.

As for hair, I can't speak for the men, but as a woman, I can tell you that I've caught plenty of social nonacceptance with my hairy legs and armpits. One advantage of my age is that those parts of me are now rarely, if ever, publicly seen.

Dear Oberon,

If I may quote myself: "I come from a community where sex simply does not exist. Little Sikhs appear from the aether much to the amazed astonishment of their startled parents."

Hair is definitely sexy while growing on the human body. It becomes gross when lying dead in cut clumps on the floor.

Anonymous said...

My hair is long and gray... not as long as yours, but long for an old lady of 55. I stopped coloring it years ago and went natural. My hair is a paradox. There are always a number of folks who really, really wish I would cut my hair... they just can't stand to see it natural, they want to style it and color it. Recently, I've canceled two appointments to cut my hair. For every person who pressures me to cut my hair, there are two more who compliment me on my hair, and the compliments always come back to back, right about the time someone is after me to cut it... beauty is in the eye of the beholder... and in the heart.


Mai said...

Dear Anonymous 2,

LOL, I am an even older, old lady of 57. For some unknown reason - genetics maybe? - I don't have any grey hairs as of yet. I am often accused of dyeing them! Wouldn't dream of such a thing, of course.

As for your own lovely locks, dear lady, I can only suggest to follow your own heart and inclinations; we are both old enough to know these things about ourselves.

When someone insists I ought to cut my hair - "Really, dear, you're far to old to have long hair, it's just not becoming!" - I tell them, "What's the point in cutting it? It'll just grow back."

Anonymous said...

Mai, that's a very good reasoning... and to heck with that "you're too old" stuff. I think folks like that are jealous that they don't have the nerve to grow their own, instead of giving into the need to fit in. Indeed, I am old enough to decide for myself... I'm like you, it was meant to grow. I'm not opposed to short hair, I just like having a choice.

Mai said...

Dear Anonymous2 (again), I think you're Anonymous 2 again - Of course, my hair is sacred to me, all of it. The point isn't long or short, the point is to leave it natural.

On purely esthetic grounds, I love long hair. On both sexes. You cannot imagine how wonderful a Sikh man's hair - never cut, never exposed to the elements, always kept clean and combed - is. (I grew up with 7 older brothers, all keshdhari, as well as my Dad.) But even unprotected hair in gorgeous. I was truly blessed to be a teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Remember?

This fad now of shaving the head...Again purely on esthetic grounds, to me, it's ugly.

Our personal appearance is really a very personal choice; it's great we don't all want the same look. I do wish all Sikhs kept kesh, though.

Kristin Marie said...

Thanks for your blog! I was looking up the Sikh religion to learn a few things about it and came across your blog. On, there was an article about sikh's serving in the army, and that they were against cutting off the hair/beard for serving purposes.

And it got me interested. Your blog is hysterical! I am actually interested in trying Jasmine oil, my hair is super thick and super dry.

Thanks :)

Mai said...

Thanks, Kristin! I was hoping this post would help educate people a little about us while having a laugh or two. I'll share with you that when I first wrote it, I tried to read it outloud to as friend, but we were laughing so hard that she ended up having to read it herself. I'm glad you share my rather strange (I'm told) sense of humour.

This thing about obervant Sikhs in the US military is the Cause Celebre of the US Sikhs - and Sikhs around the world - right now. In fact, I have two very recent posts in my primary blog, The Road To Khalistan,

Thanks much for the CNN link!

Now my parrot is screeching and I casn't think straight, so I gotta go.

Chardi kala!

Anonymous said...

Well no wonder ur hair is dry. Pantiene is a clarifying shampoo. it strips the hair. if u have very oily hair, or want to strip color use pantiene.
i also wud like to know, do u trim ur toenails an fingernails? and if not, why the double standard?

Mai said...


Mai said...

Dear most recent Anonymous ji,

I have switched to Fructose and it works much better, and I still use Ambla Oil.

There are numerous differences between hair and toe- or finger nails. First is that hair is alive while the nails are made of dead skin; really they come closer to dandruff than they do to hair. Secondly, our nails would be naturally worn down if we lived as we evolved. They grow long only because we don't live as our ancestors did. They naturally break off. If you are really interested, there is a short online book called "Hail Hair" that will explain the answers to all your questions. Nails and hair is discussed on page 10.

Actually, though, there is my double standard. Guru asked us to keep our hair; there is no such order/request concerning the nails. As a Sikh, that is what matters most to me.