New Delhi, Nov 14 (IANS) It has been called the richest ornament of women. In some Indian cultures, it still is a decisive factor while pinning down on a bride. So when a woman decides to get rid of her tresses and go bald, it's not just heads that turn, what also takes a 180 degree turn are society's deep-rooted perceptions about beauty.
While most would think of it as the end of their dating life or as the beginning of a body image issue, there are a few who would happily chop off their long locks to make a statement or just to get rid of the weight off their head.
Take for instance 29-year-old Sumati Jain. Five years ago while she was pursuing her masters, the Bangalore-based homemaker plotted her hair assassination after her parents started dropping hints of marriage.
'My hairline was also receding and I also wanted to do something for kicks. It was this crazy, daring, wild phase of my life,' she says with a chuckle.
She exposed her shiny scalp to the world after three stages of relentless, heartless mane chopping.
The first visit to the parlour left her with a bob cut, then followed a shorter crew cut and she finally visited a men's saloon on a quiet Sunday for the finale.
'My mom didn't speak to me for a week. But my dad and grandfather, who's also bald, were really cool,' Sumati told IANS.
'I got extreme reactions...Some thought it was really cool, some laughed behind my back, some even thought I'd turned into a monk,' she adds.
But the ironical part was that Sumati got engaged while her hair was just a few inches long. 'My husband was fine with it. He thought I looked cute,' she adds with more chuckles.
But not all men hold similar notions of beauty. 'I would like to wait for a year,' says 25-year-old Saurabh Dabbas, when asked if he would date a bald woman.
The barren look is not for all women, cautions hairstylist Sylvie.
'It suits those with oval heads and good skin. It's a complete no-no for those with lots of wrinkles; it makes you look more aged,' said Sylvie who runs a saloon in Delhi.
Ananya Bose, a Delhi-based journalist, went bald just after delivering a baby.
'I had such long, lustrous hair. I remember when the parlour woman chopped them, the one standing next to her freaked out and asked her what the hell she was doing.
'But it was such a weight off my head. I felt so, so free and light. You feel as if you get rid of all the troubles,' she says.
However, in Indian society women with shaven heads have much deeper connotations.
'In many Indian cultures, widows' heads were shaved. It's also associated with sadhvis or monks. It's a sign of celibacy,' says social scientist C.P. Bhambri.
However, these connotations don't deter those tempted to take the plunge.
'I think it would feel real good and free to have no hair to take care of. Though I like my tresses, they are very frizzy and at times unmanageable,' says Shikha Arora, a professional.
'Going bald will be hassle-free. I would definitely love to do it in the hot Delhi summers,' she added.
But being bald comes with strings attached, says Sylvie.
'It requires a lot of maintenance. You have to moisturise your scalp regularly. People usually call a barber home every month to clean the growth,' she adds.
Also, there comes a stage while you are growing back your hair when it's neither here nor there -- just plain clumsy.
'Though growing it back is a good idea as you get a new crop of hair, the stage when your hair is 10-18 months old is very difficult,' says Sylvie.
Adds Ananya: 'A strand would come out from one side, another from the other. It can get really messy.'
It took Sumati three years to grow back her hair to what she describes as a 'respectable length'.
Internationally, pop star Britney Spears and actress Natalie Portman have famously sported the bald look. Back home, actresses Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Antara Mali, Lisa Ray and model Diandra Soares have tread the same path.
However, all said and done, there are many sceptics of the unadorned look.
'It completely baffles me why any woman would voluntarily want to go bald. A woman would like to look like a normal woman. There's the whole cosmetic industry which runs into trillions to make you look good,' says Bhambri.
(Mohita Nagpal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)