Carol Charms Rapunzel

Today Carol took me on a trip down memory lane.

Once upon a time, several decades back there lived a happy-go-lucky girl. Her pride was her long hair which reached right up to her knees. It was jet black and flowed down straight like a never-ending stream. In the fantasy world the young inhabit easily, she imagined it alternatively as being her magic robe that could cover her modesty to her “many women-many looks” transformational  armour. Someone who loved her at that point, dotingly called her Rapunzel.


Well, years rolled on as they are wont to do. Faced with the stark reality of work stress, demanding kids and the juggling of Life’s many responsibilities, Rapunzel’s cherished possession reduced in length in direct proportion to the stressors she faced.
Convenience reigned over vanity. Despite everything, this fast maturing woman–Me, took pride in perming, ironing, curling, blow-drying, straightening–even highlighting them to a burnished gold. Very often, my hair was trimmed so short that it looked like a plucked chicken’s on a bad, rainy day or a boy’s dishevelled head after a street fight. Yet they continued to remain my pride. My tresses defined me–the essential woman I remained even after all the close encounters of the manly kind Life threw at me.

So you can imagine my shock when one morning, after my first Chemo I woke up to Carol wagging her manicured nails at me. Pointing to the abundant hairfall on my pillow she said, “Now that’s a neat black carpet, honey!”

Horrified, I put my fingers through my hair and came back with a clumpful.

You can imagine my horror when I heard her say, “Hey babes, how about going bald?”

“Bald?” I protested. “Now I know you are truly crazy!”

Not famous for mincing her words she shook her own golden tresses and reminded me of the protest each precious follicle was making by pulling at the scalp painfully and making me feel there were a million earthworms underneath, ready to attack any moment.


Now there’s something so compulsive about Carol that I always end up taking her advice. So, on that beautiful sunny morning, when countless women around the globe were stroking their hair lovingly, I set off on my expedition to divorce mine.

Off I went in search of a Hair Salon where anonymity could be my strength! I was ably cheered on by my brave colleague, Rajashree who was determined to see the act through before I lost my nerve.

At the first Parlour, a long lost friend sang out a melodious hello and said, “Hey, Neelam! Long time no see. Come, their Pedicure is Heaven!”

Needless to say I promptly disappeared as this was not the haven I was after!

The next Salon was a stylish, snooty, upscale one. Surely nobody would recognise me here! In the sanitised, angel-perfumed, temperature-controlled interiors, women in various stages of undress lolled in luxury–getting their hands, feet, body, hair and face lathered and cajoled into looking 10 minutes younger.

The very stylish girl at the Counter smiled at me indulgently and asked what she could do for me.

“I want to go Bald. Can you do it for me?”

She continued filing her shapely nails–“Aaaah–a Mannat (a religious wish) or something?”

I came closer to her. “Promise you’ll be able to handle the truth?” I cleared my throat to be audible to all.

“I am going through Chemotherapy.”

Never shall I forgive myself for the electrical response my words got. The girl at the Counter jumped up erect. The various women with cream in their eyes, startled awake and their elegant handlers, dropped their stylish instruments, their mouths agape.

After that I got the treatment fit for a Queen–a separate private room where I could go bald in peace, a glass of chilled water and a cup of hot tea from the trembling hands of a pretty server.

Now the guy who came to do the needful was something else. He took a Trimmer (the kind men use to shave their beards) and told me to relax. Just when I had begun to relax and he had felled my first lock, a medley of sound, like an orchestra gone hoarse emanated in that tiny room. Carol lectured me about the impermanence of life and attachments; Rajashree cheered me on , while I sobbed at the parting of my beloved hair and the sight of what lay underneath. Suddenly there was a wailing sound from the male hairdresser. All three women stopped talking. Even my murdered locks remained frozen in mid air. What was this, I wondered?

“Oh!” the poor man sniffled, “My Dad was suffering from Chemo and I used to make fun of him. Each time he would ask me to become a hairdresser I would shout back at him. It is only after he died that I had the sense to follow his dreams.”

Compassion welled inside me. I hugged him tight and told him bravely,”C’mon, scrape away. You are finally doing something for your Dad.”

From that moment onwards, the scene completely changed. I wiped off my own tears and began wiping his instead.
Bit by bit, he exposed to the world the wonderfully rounded scalp my mother had created for me. His eyes were brimming with tears as he repayed his debt to his departed father.

Just once in a while, Carol, (known for her wry sense of humour) would put me on track and say, “Hey Deciduous Tree! Give the guy a break.”

The dark deed performed, I finally stood in front of the full length mirror. That’s when the enormity of the act hit me.
My pate had a shine to it and oh, I felt so miserable.

“Carol, how will I go home looking this,” I cried?

But spunky as she is, she had her own plans.

“Babes, now is the time to shock the world with your real self. Let’s go out and have fun seeing the reactions. Do you think that guy in the Merc will make a pass at you?”

The wild child in me perked up. It was worth a try. I stood there in all my naked glory. I went near the well-heeled MBA sorts and said, “Hi, would you mind dropping me to Santa Cruz?”

Never have I seen a guy drive back so fast–that too in reverse gear!

Carol doubled up with laughter, “Now you know how true my theory is. Guys love the hair, not what’s inside that head of ours. Trust me, you’ll never find a guy to love you for the Real you. Just continue doing what you are good at—writing romance stories with fictional characters!”

My return journey was one humbling experience. People looked at me as if I were a weirdo, an alien, or something that had crawled out of the gutter. I did have my wig, but Carol simply refused to allow me to put it on.

“Get real, Sweetheart,” she cooed. “People go only for appearances.”

Crushed and feeling lower than the metal part of my shoe laces, I rang the bell to my home. I was unloved, unwanted, invisible. I could have been a cockroach for all the world cared!

Just then, something miraculous happened.

The door was opened by the 6 year old wonderboy Rajveer. He checked me out and squealed with delight, “S.M.! (He calls me Story Machine) How cool! You have come dressed as an Easter Egg!”

And he jumped into my arms and kissed me all over, restoring and rejuvenating me.

Gosh, I had all but forgotten it was Easter that day…

What would our world do without the accepting innocence and uncontaminated love of kids?




    If you may recall, in the summer of 2008, I lost my dearly loved grandfather. Grief knew no bounds, as we all mourned his passing. As part of a ritual, which my father dubbed inexcusable, I was required to have my head shaved off at the banks of the Ganga, in Allahabad. My feeble and servile protests, were met with defining judgement from my father; the hair had to go. With my hair gone, whenever I stared in the mirror, the sharp sting of a reality hit me, as if reminding of the irrevocable loss that had occured. I started wearing a bandana everywhere, at home, outside, even during sleep. My father asked my mother in baffled notes, the reason for my consciousness; she replied in solemn terms, “he’s a teenage boy forced to get his head shaved..what do you expect?”…since then when I came back to Podar, this shaved head, was like a siren of an oddity, as if a reclusive, skinny nerd was not enough.

    The reason I tell you this tale, is not to one-up you, or to prove that I realise your position, but because at this point, from my vantage point, I realise that no one really gives a s**t! I could have blue hair, blonde hair, or no hair…no one really gives a s**t. As long as I am Shivam, the guy who’s presence is now missed (hopefully) amongst his friends and family in India, my external appearance is a bonus on what my core is.

    The biggest proof of this, which I have shared with you, is the fact that in 2009, I won the personality paegant in my institute, dressed in stone washed denims, an oversized black shirt, and dirty sneakers, even though my competition were these designer-ware clad, muscle bearing studs! The external, which makes us presentable, is often a mirage which lures annoying moths to itself, whilst crowding our inner flame.

    You have taken a huge step! One which will emerge as a precedent of courage and wisdom for the people who know you. Sure you might look like an easter egg for a while, but hey, like I said…no one gives a shit!…oops!!…..:)

    • What a profound perspective from someone so young, Shivam!

  2. Vishnu

    There is good amount of uncontaminated love in world Rapunze!

  3. Kavita

    C is for courage, not for cancer and you have got oodles of it to see through this! Belated Happy Easter 🙂 and lots of love.

  4. I’ll always love Easter now, Kabbu. Love your comments!

  5. Anupama

    “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. In your case, it is sweet Carol who is already within you.

    I marvel at her spirited charm and thank her with deep gratitude to have lighted the flame to go on, not only for you but also for telling us that happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love grace and gratitude.

    I admire Carol’s courage and can tell her that there is a lot of happiness in store for her.

    Life is a tapestry: We are the warp;
    angels, the weft;
    God, the weaver.
    Only the Weaver sees the whole design and that beautiful design has been especially made for you, Carol!

  6. Meenakshi

    Way to go! You have not only inspired me, you have made me laugh and cry simultaneously! What an amazing writing style, delicious in it’s simplicity. Here’s wishing more power to your words, more power to your life, more power to you Neelam…oops Carol!

  7. Vishnu

    Where is SM now? One week is over. Where is SM?

    • Soon, Vishnu! Soon!
      Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone

      • Vishnu

        Thank you for turning on the light!

  8. Avnita Bir

    Sometimes I wonder if you are real Neelam? Where on earth do you get this combination of spirit, grit, sensitivity, guts ….and beautiful language to give it the final touch? Feel so fortunate to have a friend like you. Nothing seems daunting after reading this.


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