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Anuja Chauhan
Anuja Chauhan


Grey and proud

For quite a few years now, I’ve been wanting to break the brassy mahogany shackle L’Oréal Paris has on me and go au naturel. Colouring is laborious, messy, and expensive. Every couple of years I decide to take the plunge and then chicken out as the stark, rather skunk-like stripe down the middle of my head widens more than an inch. People’s eyes are drawn inexorably to said skunk-stripe with a horrid sort of fascination, employers worriedly inquire if I am ailing, and reminder messages from the hair salon pile up on my phone with the urgency of Vodafone nagging you to link your phone number to your Aadhaar number. The fact that my mother always shuddered, pulled a disapproving face, shook her head and said ‘hai-hai, wait till I die at least’, didn’t help.

But then, she actually did die. And, the only silver (literally!) lining of that was that it gave me the resolution to stay the course, and finally make the transition from ‘babe’ to ‘auntie.’

My reasons for doing this are a little incoherent. I think it’s to do with a growing unease with the whole fake, retouched, soft-filter selfie-culture booming around us. And, also because I resent the fact that while men are hailed to be distinguished, sexy and suave when they flaunt their greys (George Clooney, Shashi Tharoor, Milind Soman, Raghuram Rajan), women in a similar age group (Hillary Clinton, Jennifer Aniston, Shobhaa De, Indira Nooyi) are clearly expected to keep colouring their hair to hold on to their power and status.

Why are greys positioned as chinks in one’s armour? Who decided that it’s bad manners to ‘ask a lady to reveal her age?’ It’s my age, for heaven’s sake, not my breasts, or my credit card pin. Why should I have a problem ‘revealing’ it?

Also, why are most popular fairy tales full of evil, ageing, paranoid queens peering into mirrors lamenting the passing of their youth? It upsets me that these ladies are constantly pitched against innocent, blooming, in-the-first-flush-of-youth girls like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Rapunzel. If that isn’t girl-on-girl hate, what is?

Maleficent, Cruella de Vil and the White Queen from Narnia are all grey haired, powerful and evil. The message is clear—age makes you paranoid, unsexy, infertile, heartless and, eventually, powerless. So, hang on to youth and beauty at all costs. Strive to look like your daughters’ sister. Be like pathetic Queen Gulnar from The Queen’s Rival, that lame poem Sarojini Naidu (who really should’ve known better) wrote in her first book of poetry. The one, where beautiful Queen Gulnar is so bored because she’s the queen of Persia and her beauty is unparalleled in the land. So, she has ‘no challenges’ in her life. Of course, she could take up sword-fighting or start an anti-polio vaccination drive or whatever, but she doesn’t. She just whines to King Feroz about how she needs some rivals to give her life ‘some salt and spice.’

71-Grey Illustration: Bhaskaran

The poor king rustles up all these random rivals, but they do nothing for Queen G. Till, she finally figures that her two-year-old daughter is going to be even prettier than her. She gets all excited, and exclaims (like a tremulous rose) ‘Here is my rival, O King Feroz!’

That’s the ending. We are supposed to conclude that the queen spent the rest of her life blissfully competing with her own daughter, and teaching her to compete with her daughters, whenever they came along.

How sad is that?

Of course, maybe I just decided to go grey because it makes me feel morally superior and more genuine than the many kick-ass ladies in my social circle who are still lavishly L’Oréal-ing!

Whatever. I’m just happy that I can be ruder to people now. They almost seem to expect it. I am no longer expected to cater to male egos, or play the girlish ingénue. The relief is exquisite.

I like being Cruella.

Anuja Chauhan is an author and advertiser.

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