I was in a hurry to get back to office, since I had a meeting with my boss. The guy in the shop not only prolonged my agony by asking me to wait for a few more minutes, but also rubbed salt into my wounds. As I was fuming within, he was humming and listening to some Hindi song as he was editing my photograph. I had visited his shop to take a photograph of myself, for my upcoming appointment with the French consulate for a VISA. He clicked a picture, transferred the image to his laptop and started to edit it. The reason for my exasperation was that he was editing all the grey hair in my photograph. [I make an honest confession here. I always wondered why people call white hair as grey hair. Now that I am at the receiving end, I prefer calling it grey hair, than white hair!] He nonchalantly mentioned that the grey hair does not look good and was converting it to black as much as possible. At one point he even asked me “Sir is this enough or should I make it look black all over?” All of this happened while four or five other customers in his shop were watching him and me.

I was embarrassed, hurt and beaten. However I held back all my emotions [not that I had any other option] and politely asked him not to change anything in the picture. I explained to him that the picture was for a VISA and it is OK that I look the way I am. He finally stopped midway through his work of art, printed the picture and handed them over to me. I quickly paid him for his efforts and scooted away, conscious that the ensuing humor was cut short for the remaining folks at the shop. One man’s agony is indeed another man’s joy!

I first noticed it in a picture, towards the end of the year 2016. It was a picture taken during one of the team outings at office. I was with a few other colleagues. I noticed something grey… OK, I give up… I noticed something white on the right side of my head. I gave it a long hard look many times and finally consoled myself that bad lighting was the reason for the white patch. I stopped looking at the picture as well. But this pattern continued. Every photo of mine from thereon, clearly had this issue of bad lighting. In a few months, I realized that the poor-lighting issue spread to the left side of my head as well. Finally I stopped blaming the photographer; stopped blaming the camera and stopped blaming the light… I accepted that I have started to grey much earlier and much faster than anticipated.

Grey hair was not new to me. I had a few of them [very few mind you] right from my late twenties. I did not do anything to hide it though. My mother always used to advice that I dye them black. Being my mother, looks like she could not bear the sight of me looking older that what I was. Or perhaps she had the experience to anticipate what would happen to me in a few years. However I staunchly refused to do any of it, defending that I will just be what I am. Such heroics came to a naught now, since it was too late to arrest the damage. I definitely could not reverse the condition, and coloring my hair black now, would clearly not go unnoticed.

Having gotten used to this and being absolutely comfortable with how I am, I find it very funny seeing people who go out of their way to keep their hair anything but grey. Understandably ladies cannot sport grey hair, irrespective of their age. I have not seen many ladies who have grey hair… now that just cannot be naturally possible. My respect to the far and few who flaunt grey hair without any remorse. But for the rest, their hair color will be anything but grey. There are these particularly funny ones whose color of the hair changes akin to the shape of the moon. White at times, traces of white thereafter, pitch black very soon and then the cycle starts again. When I chide about this to the few who I know very well, they confess “Every lady does it, and so I am also forced to do it”. Peer pressure at its best. This is so omnipresent, that I have started doubting the authenticity of the hair color of all women who are beyond their mid-thirties. I can still understand the predicament of the ladies, but have never been able to come to terms with guys who try to hide their grey hair. Such blokes are easy to spot…. they will always be clean shaven. You see, white beard and black hair will give out their little secret! And how do you know that they have colored their… observe their hair on a Monday morning. Kiwi shoe polish will shy away from such blackness. When I ask them as to why they are taking such painstaking measures to look young, the most common answer I get is “Dude, I have started doing this and now I cannot stop it”. The funniest of the lot are the ones who have had a hair transplant. After all the time and money spent, these poor things finally look like they were born unfinished.

Greying early and not willing to hide it, comes with its share of challenges as well. I have to face situations, embarrassing at first and funny later, due to this abundance of grey hair sitting on my head. The easier ones are when people who are balding ask me about it. When they go “Hey, what happened… you seem to have greyed in the last few months”, I quickly retort “Grey hair is better than no hair” and also brush my hand through my hair, with full eye contact. It is no surprise that they quickly change the topic to Bangalore traffic or the weather or something safer for them. Contrary to this, the most difficult encounters are at family events, especially with the elderly ladies [aunties, grannies, et al] who come dressed in silk saris, resplendent in gold looking for their prey. And I am easy game for such predators. Even though I try to stay away from the epicenter of such events, usually sitting in some godforsaken corner, I get hunted down. One of them has to find me and the entire pride is rushing towards me very soon. “Look at you; you look much older than me”; “What happened to you; is your health OK? I know this doctor….”; “Do you have too many worries?”; “Imagine what will happen when you reach our age”. The list of such insensitive and embarrassing statements will flow continuously. Occasionally my mother will come to my rescue and shoo them away. But will make it a point to tell me “See, this is why I asked you to color your hair. This is what happens if you don’t listen to me”. Unlike them, my colleagues and friends are a kinder lot. Apart from the occasional jokes, which I thoroughly enjoy, they do not put me in a spot. While some tell me that it is good to see that I am not doing anything about it, a couple of them have gone to the extent of telling me that I have inspired them to stop coloring their hair. The most tragic moments are when I am compared with my wife. Although only a couple of years younger than me, her hair is as black as it can be and all of it is naturally black, without the aid of artificial colors. Damn! Cab drivers, hawkers, vendors, shop keepers, etc usually call her “Sister” or some form it and in the same breath these brutal people call me “Uncle”. How sadistic and painful can that be? As my wife laughs away in glory, I can only silently scream within and shrug off such episodes.

As I continue to brave the forces of this world, the only two individuals, whose views I have not been able to ignore, are my two daughters. Until a few years ago, when my elder one was still bubbling with innocence and I had less grey hair, I used to ask her what she thinks about my hair. She used to look at it closely, run her hand through it and say “It is all black Papa”. But with time she has seen it change and looks like she has observed others as well. Now, when I ask her, she tries not to hurt me and explains “There are a few grey hairs, but it is OK”. However the younger one speaks her mind more freely. She often tries to comb my hair and exclaims “So many white hairs Papa”… and all I can do is laugh out loudly.