The barber's mirror is heartless. And nearly hairless. It shows me a bald patch that's rapidly grabbing "prime land" on my head. The dwindling vegetation reminds me of the days of luxuriant growth, when I possessed long hair that snaked their way down to the waist.
I had just entered the tricky teens and was fast developing extracurricular interest in the opposite sex. Like most other Sikh students in my class (ours was a boys school), I presumed that girls didn't like fellows who sported a 'joora' (hair bun) and tied the 'patka'. It seemed that the only way I could get a girlfriend was to go under the scissors and come up with a stylish hairdo.
Those were the days of terrorism in Punjab, when virtually every turbaned and bearded Sikh youth was looked at with suspicion by the police. Some were harassed and hounded by cops, while others met a worse fate. The fear factor drove many youngsters to the barber's shop for an "identity makeover". But with no turban and a barely sprouting beard, I lacked a pressing reason to go for a haircut.
My brother, five years elder, set the stage for me, though he was unaware of my intentions. One fine day, he quietly came home, barely recognisable in a neat crew cut. My parents were too shocked to say anything, and an oppressive silence hung over the house for several days. However, deep down I was chuckling, for my job seemed to be more than half done.
I waited for the dust to settle and then broached the subject with my gentler parent. Mother was quite livid, but I reminded her that a precedent had been set. Making the clinching argument, I told her that unlike my brother, I had the decency to ask for her permission. Reluctantly, she gave her nod, but with the rider that I keep it a hush-hush affair and bring back the rich crop of hair so lovingly nurtured by her over the years.
Wasting no time, I pedalled for dear life to the salon. As the scissors went snipping, I felt a twinge of regret, as if a part of myself had been lost forever. However, my new avatar quickly made amends for all the uneasiness. I duly brought home the "mortal remains", wrapped in the last 'patka' I ever wore.
Father didn't talk to me for a few days, but eventually he took it all in his stride. As for the girls, they didn't even bother. I was just another Sikh boy who had taken the extreme step. My hair rotted away in the cupboard for a couple of years, before being tossed unceremoniously into the trash can. And today, more than two decades later, I miss them like never before.