Dog ears

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on December 06, 2020


On the way to the hairdresser all I can think is, “I DON’T want a haircut!” The clouds hanging low in the sky overhead mirror my mood: Dark and gloomy. The unwillingness is based on my belief that, whatever I might hope for, the experience is going to be a failure. So why am I forcing myself to go? Because if I don’t go to a hairdresser then I’ll cut it myself. And that will be another kind of disaster.

The problem with hair is that it lives its own independent existence, parked on the very top of a person’s head. It constantly changes its length and shape — unlike a lion’s mane, for instance — and it won’t submit to any permanent cosmetic treatments. Instruments of torture such as hot-irons and straightening agents only work in the short run. It’s like an extremely annoying tenant that can neither be dismissed nor ignored. We might perm it or let it grow wild or shave it all off — WHATEVER we do, it defines us in ways that we can’t control.

Here in Elsewhere, hairdressers were not originally considered “essential”. In the early weeks of the pandemic many of them had to remain closed. My hair grew out for three months before I cut it off in a fit of bravery: Tied it in a ponytail at the back of my head and sawed away at it with a pair of scissors. Surprise! The result wasn’t too awful. But now, two months later, the sawn-off look has grown out. I look once more like a moth-eaten spaniel, with two limp grey “ears” hanging on either side of my face.

This wouldn’t normally matter very much. But Zoom sessions have punctured the isolation of my quiet little life. Not only am I visible to a couple of dozen others but I’m forced to gaze at myself too! Much as I like spaniels, I would prefer not to look like one. And so: The dismal walk up the road, to the hairdresser. I made an appointment three days ago and was give a precise time and date. Also, there’s a cancellation charge: 50 per cent of the $40 fee will be shaved off my bank account if I fail to show up.

I get there in good time. It’s a cheery place. There are three other customers present. We’re all wearing masks. The receptionist remembers my long surname and her eyes crinkle up in what passes as a friendly smile in these days of enforced veiling. I’ve signed up for a “dry” cut, having washed my hair earlier in the day. My stylist greets me with crinkled eyes and settles me into her chair. Ten minutes later, I’m done. Pay my dues, exchange farewell crinkles and leave.

It’s a mediocre cut: Neither neat nor stylish. Still, I grin at my reflection in the mirror at home. For the price of four large pizzas I now look like a spaniel that’s had its ears trimmed. Good enough for Zoom.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on December 06, 2020
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