A Hairy Tale – By Gopikrishnan


Translated by Latha Ramakrishnan

I don’t know what you think of ‘Hair’. For that matter, I don’t know how many strands of hair are there on my head. Lots of work. No time to stop and stare, sorry, count. Further, Hair is not like, say, teeth. If you ask me how many teeth I have, I can count them and answer you immediately. If you throw at me the query “How many fingers?” then also I can catch it without any difficulty and answer back in no time. But, this issue called ‘Hair’ is not an easy thing to comprehend.

All Toms, Dicks and Harrys have hair. This contention doesn’t exclude Rosys and Chandras. Illiterate – literate, rich – poor, doctor – patient, man – woman, college-professor – elementary- school teacher, immaculate beauty – intermediate beauty… Anybody and Everybody possesses hair. When our ‘bigwig’ Secretary and ‘bigwig’ Chairman too possess it, just imagine its reach!

I have been living for a long time and have been meeting very many persons. And, the heads of each and every one of them have hair!It is wrong to refer to ‘Hair’ in the singular form. For, there is not just one hair on one’s head. If it is to be so – that there is just one hair on one’s head, then, preserving it would prove a Herculean task. All those in Chennai have hair. It is in the length and breadth, strength and shade that there exist several differences.

I had been on a tour once, for the purpose of collecting historical and otherwise information about ‘Hair’. Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Coimbatore, Kanchipuram, Chidambaram, Neyveli, Pondicherry – so I went about, from place to place, till my pocket turned penniless. What a surprise! The people in those places too had hairs! If so, Hair is a common human feature. Hair is an equalizer. While pondering over a person it is not easy to recollect him or visualize him without his hair. None can overlook or ignore ‘Hair’ just like that.

Hair is not something cheap or a ‘two-pence’ affair. And, to hide it wearing a hat, it is no shameful nudity also. And, there is a lot more on Hair. I am a ‘Hairologist’. Or rather, an expert in the Science of Hair!. You may be surprised. I have studied Anthropology. In our practical exam the Museum Curator gave me a long hair and asked me to name the ‘race’ of the man it belonged to. I examined it minutely for fifteen minutes and told that it was not human hair at all. My answer proved right. And, I came out a winner in the examination. A hair had paved the way for my victory means, how important and significant it is! It is high time we had realized it. As per Anthropology, human hairs are of four types. That is not included in this story.

This hair (don’t ask me which hair, thereby obstructing the flow of my story) has interfered in my life on so many an occasion. It may do so in the future also.After marriage the realization dawned on me that I was not a handsome hubby to my wife. I was a ‘hairsome hubby’ to her.

Afterwards, when I was going by cycle I had a hairline escape from an auto-rickshaw coming towards me at a hair-rising speed. It was then that I had come to know the length and breadth of a strand of hair. Only that knowledge born of one’s own experience is real and wholesome. True. Thus, I am enriching my knowledge of ‘Hair’ step by step. At least in one Trade one should be a Master. Why not it be the Department or Faculty of Hair? In my boyhood, when I was an ignorant lad I came across a one rupee note wherein the name ‘Malini’ was written in the tiny little space of the valuable paper. And, the name was underlined and underneath the line the words, ‘hair-pauper’ (Mayiraandi’) could be seen. That is, I should divide ‘Malini’ by ‘hair-pauper’. I have always been a dull-headed fella when it comes to Mathematics. Hence, I felt that I should go, seek the help of our tuition-master.

But, I didn’t, for fear and apprehension came in the way. But, Paulraj master was a very soft-spoken and an affectionate, friendly person. I asked my class-mate Sahadevan. But, saying, “Like you I am also very weak in Maths”, he went his way, without lending me any help. Even in the fifteenth year of my age I was unable to know the answer as to how many times the ‘hair-pauper’ can be distributed into Malini. How to unravel this mystery?

Recently I was pondering over the phrase ‘hair-pauper’ (‘Mayiraandi’ in Tamil) for quite a great deal of time. In Tamil ‘aandi’ means a pauper or a begger or a mendicant. Then, Mayiraandi means one who doesn’t have hair. So, henceforth we can call those bald-headed ones as ‘semi hair pauper’ in English.

Upon my head a small little space would be vacant. Taking this factor into account I am also a ‘hair-pauper’ or ‘semi hair-pauper’, to some extent. But, the vacant spot would be invisible as it is covered by the hairs on the other sides of the head. If I am a man of integrity, while combing my hair I shouldn’t try to hide the vacant spot, spreading the hairs on it but leave it as it is, empty and barren, for all the eyes to see. But, as it is not so, you can call me either a ‘fakemayiraandi’ or ‘mayirfake aandi’, as suits your whims and fancies.

A Point to Note : There is no need to regard this term as an abuse and confuse yourself. No need for wig, artificial hair and all that. The world is inclusive of all sorts of people. Those with ‘mayir’ and also ‘mayiraandi’. A seat or berth in heaven would be surely reserved for you. Or, at least your name would be in the ‘waiting list’.There is still a lot more to be said on Hair. During our teens four of us would enter inside our college canteen. We would place our order for ice-cream. This Gopi too possessed a kind of playful meanness. After finishing half the ice-cream, plucking a strand of hair from his head and dropping it into the half-empty cup, he would shout,”What is this? Hair and all are added in the ice-cream… what the hell is happening in the canteen?. At once he would be supplied with a new cup of ice-cream – full and brimming. We would address Gopi as ‘Hair-pauper’. Sometimes he would get angry. Still, we wouldn’t care. Truth can be uttered by anybody, anywhere, anytime.

The heart –hair connection should be dealt with in detail in this story. Without that the story would be incomplete. Due to some amoral (Immoral and Amorous combined) feelings or stiffness of the heart, or, due to exam fear and the subsequent heaviness in the heart, some male or female students would pluck off some strands of hair from their respective heads and throw them away. They won’t feel the pain. This is something done unconsciously. Due to this act there would arise a black round vacant space or spot on some part of the head. This is a kind of Mental Illness’. I don’t remember the name of it.

In 1991 my brother had come from America. I asked him whether those people in New Jersy too possessed hair. My query flooded him with dreadful confusion.It took a long time to make him understand. I told him that I was involved in an intense research about Hair and that I was finding out whether the people all over the world, without the exception of anybody had hair and that I was collecting relevant information either through the books or by having a dialogue with those coming from other countries. He congratulated me and conveyed his best-wishes for the success of my strange and unique Hair-Research. Further, I told him that if only I had the money I would go on a global tour and undertake field-work and so find out directly whether the people all over the world did have hair. My brother applauded my great thirst for knowledge.In 1995, sometime in November, a student from Sweden by name Maria had come to our section for acquiring practical training in the Field of Social Work. She too had hair. It was slightly brownish. After a day or two I asked her whether the inhabitants of Sweden too had hair. The query shocked her very much. Then I enlightened her about my research. She promised that as long as she stayed in Chennai she would help me in my research in all possible manner.I felt a kind of relief in securing a supportive soul. But, that was only temporary. By the end of December Maria returned to Sweden.

There is a college in our office campus. Foreigners would come there for some seminar, symposium etc. Most of the time we would also be invited to ‘grace the occasion’. I became interested in seeing the foreigners. All for the sake of my Hair-Study only.

In the seminars lunch would be offered to all. Self-Service only. Serving our own selves we can eat to our hearts’ content.

Once, in the ‘symposium-briyani’ a Caucasian hair was mixed. That gave me immense happiness. The worthiness and real value of Hair is known only to experienced ‘Hairists’ like me. I was overwhelmed by the urge to share my happiness with somebody. With the hair-mixed briyani plate in my hand I knocked at the door of the college principal’s cabin and asked, “May I come in Sir?”. Permission was granted. The sight of a man entering inside with a plate full of briyani must have given rise to some strange sensation – a mixture of surprise and fear in his mind. And, he opened his mouth to say something. But, I overtook him.“See, there is a fabulous Caucasian hair in your briyani! See how beautiful it is!” – So saying I held it in my hand carefully and extended it towards him. That unsettled him greatly; shook him to the core, to say the least. That a fine hair could cause so much imbalance in one, that too holding such a high post and being in the higher strata of the society was beyond my wildest imagination. I felt extremely sad at his utter lack of ‘hair-sense and sensitivity’. I came out of the room feeling miserable.In the mean time Maria had written to me. She had conveyed her enquiries and best-wishes to my co-workers and also enquired after my research and the progress I had made in my mission. Writing a detailed letter I posted it to Sweden. I closed the letter saying, “I pray to all the Chennai-based Almighty’s for the well-being of your hair”. Maria’s brunet hair came to my mind.

You would have come across those innumerable shampoo advertisements on the Small Screen wherein young beauties spread and swing their voluptuous strands of hair hither and thither, far and wide. I don’t know what sort of impact those scenes have on you…but, viewing them I would always get the itch to caress them. Once, I disclosed this itch to my better-half. She called me a womanizer. ‘Let anyone call me anything. I would be ceaselessly researching in right earnest, bent on unraveling the mysteries of Hair’. So I firmly decided.Centering around ‘hair’ an incident took place in my life recently. A month back, a small growth could be seen in my left cheek as like that of a mole. I could have left it to remain where it was. I went on fiddling it with my fingers and it grew bigger. My wife said, “In the old movies the villains would always have a big black round patch like this on their cheeks. You look exactly like that. In other words, you look every inch a villain. For god’s sake, go see the doctor”. I tried raising my voice and arguing that I had a right to look the way I pleased, but it paid no dividend. The Chief Social-Worker of our Project Office suggested the name of a great Nature Cure. Tying the mole with a strand of hair tightly and so keeping it, the villainous mole would drop on its own in one or two days”, said he. But, I didn’t consider it seriously.

The Dispensary which I would usually visit gave me a recommendation letter to the ‘Skin Department’ of a big hospital in that locality. I went there the next day. The doctor there was the very personification of love and compassion. He listened to my complaint with great concern and put forth several questions related to the problem at hand. In the end, he gave me a recommendation-letter for another bigger hospital. In the out-patient slip, under the heading Disease he wrote ‘contagious disease’ and that ‘Cryo-therapy by surgery is recommended’. But, if the mole would be removed by surgery then such growths in any other part of the face would surface on their own free will’, said he. He also asked whether there was any such growth in any other part of the body. Taking off my shirt I showed him those two patches on the left side of my chest. The doctor subjected them to minute scrutiny, inspecting them for a long time. At the time of taking leave he told me in a tone of real concern,“Please come and tell me afterwards as to what Treatment they gave you.” The care and concern he had for follow-up action moved me greatly.The next day I was in the ‘Skin Department’ of that bigger hospital. There was a young lady doctor. The two senior doctors who were in charge of performing ‘Cryo-therapy’ had been transferred to different places, said she and also informed that the treatment facility was available in the Governemnt General Hospital. Or, if I wanted I could have the general surgery done in their hospital itself, said she, as an afterthought. I went to the Surgery Wing.A young doctor. After examining my body he wrote ‘Condyloma-Multiple’ in the prescription-slip. If I were to go in for surgery there would be every possibility of my acquiring such growths in other parts of the face, informed he. He treated me with so much care and compassion that I almost swooned.

The next Tuesday I was in the Skin Department of the Government General Hospital. An elderly doctor. In front of him five Medical College female students. The doctor asked where I was employed. I told him the name of our Social-Work Organization and that I was working there as a social-worker. “These things are common for social-workers. Nothing surprising about a social-worker getting such growths”. Much as I tried, it proved beyond my comprehension to realize the connection between such mole-like growth and social-work.

Then, I told him that which the young doctor at the ‘big hospital’ told me, that if I were to go in for ordinary surgery I would surely get such growths in other parts of the face. This angered him very much. “This is no Condyloma-Multiple. This is a wart. You are talking too much. If one talks too much he is bound to become confusion-confounded. No need to advise me what I should do and what I should not. Shut up”, roared he. My face turned lifeless. I shut my mouth tightly and hung my head. The doctor told me something. My ears didn’t hear anything. I got up abruptly. Two feet away a medical student pressed a slip in my palm. Receiving it, I left the place without a backward glance. And, without fail, I brought back the hung head to its original position.

After coming out I glanced at the prescription-slip. Under the heading ‘Disease’ it was scribbled DPN’ and further below, “Come on Thursday at 8 a.m and see the doctor…”

True. A doctor decrying the diagnosis of another physician is the done thing here, if not everywhere. There is nothing surprising about it. Still, the whole day I was feeling low and miserable. ‘Instead of being treated and cured by a doctor who woefully lacks the feeling of fraternity and the ‘milk of human kindness’, it would be better to carry on with the illness’, I decided.Thursday came. I didn’t go to the General Hospital. When I returned home in the evening, the Nature-Cure recommended by our Chief Social-Worker came back to my memory. I told my wife. Taking a strand of hair she tied it tightly round the origin of the mole or wart or whatever it was. After a few days she repeated the exercise with a new strand of hair. The next morn the growth and the patch were not to be seen. They had gone with the wind!

I cried out all too happily and informed my wife about it. I felt light and relieved. In the office I told about it to our Chief Social-Worker, thanking him. He spoke at great length on the glory of Nature-Cure. Whether you would agree with me or not, Hair is something unique, precious and unparalleled. And, it has a very significant and exclusive place in the Society.

( The above is the translation of Gopikrishnan’s short story Mayirae Thunai, from the collection, Mudiyaadha Saman )

About the author:

Despite his mother tongue being Sourashtra, Gopikrishnan wrote in Tamil, mostly in small literary magazines till his untimely death on the 10th of May, 2003. A post-graduate  in Psychology and Social-Work, he had worked in various NGOs & social welfare organisations. He was well-versed in the field of anti-Psychiatry also. He penned quite a number of important works,especially in the short story format. The author had deep compassion for the have-nots , the down-trodden and  those labeled “mentally ill” and this comes forth tellingly in all his works. His stories are significant for the way they present the unpredictabilities and the monotonies of life and also its injustices and disparities , in a light-hearted, at the same time poignant, vein. The element of humour with its under-current of pathos and righteous indignation is the hall-mark of his works.