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Posted at: Oct 4, 2015, 12:40 AM; last updated: Oct 3, 2015, 11:23 PM (IST)

No dyeing, white is right

To colour greying hair or not? I’ve sorted it out: Can’t put in what the lord’s left out
No dyeing, white is right
Illustration: Vishal Prashar

It is an eternal dilemma: What to do when the hair starts turning grey. There is a black and white solution: colour it or let it be. Is it that simple?

Pet names can be fortuitous. My luck, my parents decided, would rest on “Lucky”. Life’s ups and downs continue, but as luck would have it, I’ve sorted out one grey area at least. White is what my hair looks like, and there is no need to black that appearance out.

“Lucky, when will you get your hair coloured black?” I used to receive bouquets of barbs whenever I visited relatives or they used to come over. Unruffled, I would pass it off with a broad grin. But they never missed an opportunity to make me hear what they felt about the colour of my hair.

I don’t know why they call it greying of hair in the first place. If you do manage to retain hair by mid-life, the possibilities are clear: black, brownish, white, or a combination with fluctuating proportions. Why grey? Mine started turning white when I was in my early thirties. Before I could get bothered, the speck had turned into a bunch. The fortnightly dyeing exercise started in earnest.

At 36, I gave up colouring hair following my tilt towards spiritualism, but I chose not to disclose this. Skin reaction and unnecessary hassles, besides wastage of time and money, were my defence to blunt the family and friends’ attacks. It continued for quite some time until they started witnessing me pocketing the advantages of grey hair.

Six years ago, I visited Delhi to attend the engagement of a cousin brother. The bride’s parents hosted us in a hotel. Only I and the cousin’s grandfather-in-law had grey hair that stood out. All my relatives started ridiculing me. The formalities began with the introduction of families. 

Soon, the milni ceremony got underway. The bride’s father was carrying two bags with shagun envelopes. One had shagun meant for elders, which contained crisp notes of Rs 500, and the other had envelopes for kids or the groom’s brothers and sisters. When my turn came, we exchanged pleasantries and had an interaction for a minute or two. Then I noticed that the bride’s father put the envelope he was carrying back into a bag and drew another one from the second bag and handed it over to me smilingly. Back home, I realised that grey hair had done its job. Everybody was giggling as I got Rs 250 more than what my siblings did.

Another incident, two years back, at a State Bank branch helped me silence my critics again. I had to get my wife’s passbook updated. My friend accompanied me. 

All three-four counters had long queues. I enquired about where to get the passbook updated. “Sir, please line up in any queue,” a staffer responded. A minute’s task would have taken an hour at least. Impatience was writ large on the face of my friend.

I decided to seek a favour, mustered courage and went straight to the counter manned (strange word this, “black” by all means) by a woman. I asked her with hesitation, “Will you please update this passbook?” She questioned, “Are you a senior citizen?” Before I could answer, she said, “Please leave the passbook here and collect it after 10 minutes.” My white hair again proved to be a strength. My friend was beaming.

The third incident took place last December when my father was admitted to an Intensive Care Unit at the PGI, Chandigarh, with a serious illness. Aware of his condition, we hardly left him alone in the ICU despite restrictions. I remained beside his bed from morning till evening. The ICU staff, including the doctors, nurses and ward boys, were nice to a fault. My father would undergo several tests daily and I had to run around with samples, sometimes in far-off buildings, to give and collect lab reports.

Exhausted, one day, I was sitting beside my father’s bed when the head nurse came up to me. I wanted to get up as humility demanded, but she forced me to remain seated. She sympathetically enquired, “Kya aap ke ghar main koi aur nahi hai?” Before I could understand, she added, “Ab is umar main itni bhag daur karna...” I wanted to burst into laughter.

The staff’s niceties, which I attributed to institutional values and my demeanour, were actually meant for an “elderly man”.

The very next day, I was whiling away time in the waiting room following the doctors’ round. The room was packed to capacity and there was not an inch left to even stretch. Suddenly, a veteran ward employee, known to me since I had been in the ICU for five days, entered the room. Coming straight to me, he started discussing politics as he knew that I was a working journalist. Again, modesty forced me to leave the chair for a person elder to me. But he made me sit with his remark, “Buzurgo, tussi baitho.” I could only smile.  

I’ve not only come to terms with the “grey hair” (sounds more exotic than “white hair”), I take the elderly pretensions that it offers in my stride. My wife, as much an approving player, does take occasional swipes with a hearty laugh as she hums a line from Raj Kapoor’s Sangam: “Main kya karoon Ram, mujhe budha mil gaya.”

Lucky woman, got a Lucky man.


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