Sunday, April 8, 2018

H is for Head Wash Day #AtoZChallenge

Sundays were head wash days when I was growing up in the late seventies in Dehradun, India. In fact, they were all about washing. Sundays, I mean: heads and laundry and cars (if you had one) otherwise, scooters and cows and dogs and cats, even if you didn't have one. You could wash your neighbour's or friend's cat or scooter out of the goodness of your heart.

"Kal time se uthh jaana, sir dhona hai."  

"Wake up on time tomorrow morning , you've got to wash your head." (The literal translation of sir is head but  the inference is hair.)

For the purpose of this post, imagine a head full of lush, dark tresses when you see the word 'head'. In salons and beauty parlours in India, even today, it's non un-common for the stylist to offer you a head wash before they cut/style your hair.

Most daughters got tucked in beds by their mothers with those words on Saturday nights. I say most because back then most of my friends had long hair which needed extra time and effort to wash, oil and plait. Mine, however, was short. I wore mine in a boy's cut because my mother refused to fuss over hair styles first thing in the morning. Plus, if one got lice, short hair was so much easier to tackle than long tresses. My mother was extremely practical.

I didn't mind. I was once teased by a group of boys at the local temple who called me Indira Gandhi (on account of our matching hair styles). Hers was salt and pepper whereas mine was oily black. I didn't mind one bit. Heck! I was sure I'd end up as the next PM of India. I was almost ready. My hair, at least, was.

Sundays dawned with activity everywhere in the house. The kitchen sang with sounds of garam, garam, paronthe (hot, hot, flat bread) sizzling on the tawaa with ghio (ghee). The wadda veddha (the big veranda) thumped to the beat of damdi (a fat and blunt stick used to beat heavy bed covers etc.) and the queue to fetch garam pani ki balti (bucket of hot water) shrank as the morning matured into early afternoon, outside the gussalkhaana (bathroom) in the nikka veddha (small verandah).

There was only one electric heating rod (knows as immersion rod to us) to heat up the water in our household. Beji would tell us tales of times when water had to be warmed up on a chulha (an earthern or brick stove) and how it would take the entire morning for the family to wash their heads and how amazingly lucky the new generation was to have electric heating rods which warmed up a big bucket in just 15 minutes and there was no smoke to singe your eyes or the need to blow on the fire with a metal rod (I forget what they called it) and deal with the soot.

The only and a tiny disadvantage (as I saw it but never pointed it out to my grandmother) was the mild electric shock one got when one checked the water temperature in the bucket while the rod was still plugged in. And when we did do such foolish things, we tried our best not to cry out or we'd get a big telling off and a HUGE dose of 'I told you so' from ALL the adults in the house. And there were a few of them then: grandparents, parents, two uncles, and  an aunt. Who wants to be passed from one adult to the other with a string of 'I told you sos'? They'd start off soft and concerned but by the time the fifth adult was roped in by the other adults, it sounded more like a loud sermon given collectively by an orchestra of upset family. Neighbours were welcome to join in in this collective telling off. After all, a village raises a child, so why can't an entire village chide the child,too? Indian parenting knew no boundaries back then. Believe me.  

I would stand in a corner, by the bathroom sink, shiver a little with the after effects of the shock and very quietly go back to fetch my bucket and wash my head.

Warm water and shampoo?

No, silly! Shampoo or Sunsilk as we called it back then was rare and precious. Most heads were washed with Shikakai soap (a hair soap bar) which claimed to clean your hair and up till the point I used Sunsilk for the first time, it did a decent job, too. 

But, once my older, college-going cousin, Mamta didi, shared her bottle of Sunsilk with us, there was no looking back. Shikakai soap? Please...how backward do you think we are Mummy? Besides, that soap is awwwful

There were the die-hard herbalists who soaked shikakai and amla in an iron karahi (or bowl) with reetha (soap nut) overnight and put the yucky looking paste on their heads first thing in the morning and washed it off approximately at the time when pressure cooker whistles went off in kitchens of the neighbourhood. So around lunch time. Head washing came in all sorts of shades back then.

Sikh turbans, washed and starched, would hang like colourful flags from rooftop banneri (parapet). Duppatas would be hand dried by pairs of women. Children would play ball and get a yelling if their ball hit a white dupatta. Darji (our Sikh neighbour) would look like an Indian Santa Claus with his glowing beard and flowing hair, drying in the sun. Young sikh boys would play marbles or stapu (a street game) all Sunday morning with hair flying everywhere.

Before dusk, though, I'd sometimes sneak into Darji's house and watch him prepare his beard and tie a scarf around it, like a bandage when one has a bad tooth ache. I would watch him, spell bound and fascinated, tie his turban, like a magician, turning a very, very long piece of starched cloth into a majestic padgi (turban). He'd put it on before going to the Gurudwara in the evening.

Temple bells would mix with sounds of evening ardaas from the Gurudwara and we'd know any time now our mothers and fathers would be calling out to us:
"Homework ho gayaa? Bag ready hai?"  Is your homework done? Are your school bags ready?

Sundays, our head wash days, would end with clean hair and tired little bodies, for we only went indoors for meals or the evening film on Doordarshan. Our Sundays were mostly spent outdoors or in and out of neighbours' homes and kitchens, but never in ones own home and never entirely indoors. No, sir.
*****
Did you have a day assigned for hair-washing when you were growing up?

Last year, I wrote about laundry on L day. If you'd like to, you can read on here:
I came across this chulha recently on a trek. We were passing through Ali Bugyal, one of the most beautiful high altitude meadows of Uttaranchal. It's perched at 10,000 ft above sea level in the Himalayan range.
Tea (Indian style) was being cooked in this pateela (pot) on the chulha.
I will be here with 'I' (don't know what the I will be...but It will be)

42 comments:

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this post! Took me back to my childhood when Sunday was head wash day too! But we always used Tata Shampoo that came in a glass bottle. Stopping by from the AtoZ! Good luck! :-)

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  2. Such a beautiful memory and I felt I was right there reliving it with you. You have a way pf painting pictures with your words.

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    1. Thank you dear Mahak for visiting and for such a lovely comment. Your name is so fragrant:)

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  3. Hari OM
    I have wonderful memories of laundry days of childhood - but for us it was a Monday. Hair-washing was as many times a week as mother could hold us down. We all squirmed. Especially if Aunty Jenny wanted to plait our hair. OMG... cruel and unusual punishment!!! YAM xx

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    1. Poor Aunty Jenny--she must've had a hard time pinning down children :)
      Thank you for stopping by Yamini.

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  4. Well described. My hair was always washed when it looked as if it needed a wash--which was never a time that suited me! My next a to z post is Hearing Loss and how we can deal with it or prevent it.

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  5. This was a beautiful read. Yes Sundays were hair wash and everything else wash days. Your post took me back

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    1. Cheers for visiting and commenting Nayantara:)

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  6. Funny how some traditions go beyond cultures - Sunday was always bath day when I was growing up, the one day a week I had to take a bath!
    https://iainkellywriting.com/2018/04/09/h-is-for-den-haag-the-hague-netherlands/

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    1. Now bathing was a daily and in the summer months, a twice/thrice a day ritual for us:) And that I loved. In fact, head washing was also not tricky for me as I had such short hair!

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  7. I always like traditions on particular days -- it helps organize life and take away one decision to be made!

    Beth
    bethlapinsatozblog.wordpress.com

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  8. Aww! This made me time travel. This was exactly the scene at our place. Hair washing was a ritual back then. I had long hair and it was always the soaked shikakai amla reetha hair wash for me, sometimes it was khatta dahi and later shikakai soap and much later shampoos.
    That metal rod to blow the fire is called pookna (read it with punjabi accent!) :D
    Loved reading this post, Arti :)

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    1. Cheers for poonka Shilpa. It sounds so cute:)
      We were subject to khatte dahi and sarson oil torture too!!

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  9. electric shock for checking the water temperature - this makes me glad I don't have to do that. i used to wash my hair with soap until I discovered shampoo, I sometimes think without modern inventions, we'll all be stuck doing things the old way though it's not all bad.

    have a lovely day.

    my latest a-z post is:
    fiction: he

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    1. Yes Lissa, old ways are not all bad:)

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  10. What fabulous memories of growing up and hair washing day! As for that pot - it is just gorgeous. We didn't have an assigned hair washing day and I insisted on growing my hair long and washing it often, much to the disdain of my brothers. Hahaha

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    1. I can almost imagine the look on your brothers faces:)

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  11. What a lovely post Arti thank you! So beautifully and vividly written, I felt as if I was there with you! And more than a few smiles and inward chuckles, I can tell you! I don't remember hair washing days as such ... perhaps only the rigour rubbing to get the hair dry?

    How do I subscribe to your post via email? I don't see a bar where I can? I'd love to receive your future A-Z posts and will check your previous ones when there is time.

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    1. I'm grateful for the inward chuckles Susan:) Thank you.
      I should have a follow option on this blog somewhere. It's probably right at the bottom of the page. I will have a look.

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  12. What a wonderful glimpse of the past. The beautiful way you've written it had me hooked from the first word until the last.

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  13. Such detail! I felt like I was right there in the moment with you. Very enjoyable post. Happy A to Z!

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  14. We didn't have a hair washing day and my mother avoided it as much as she could. You described your hair washing day so well, I could see it in my mind.
    http://findingeliza.com/

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  15. I so love these posts and a peek into your childhood. I remember when I was a very very small child and I managed to get up very early and out of the house unnoticed and out into the back yard. My grandmother was sitting in the garden letting her hair dry. I had never seen her hair unplaited, and I couldn't believe it was her.

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    1. Thank you Deborah.
      I once walked into my classroom (at break) and saw my very strict class teacher brushing her hair. I think I almost froze with fear. I was in the third grade and she used to wear her hair in a tight chignon. She was very, very stern.
      It's funny how we get used to an image of a person.

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  16. This was delightful, thank you!
    (So, which went first, your aspirations to be the PM, or the French lessons?)
    Enquiring minds... ;-)

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    1. Glad you were delighted.
      It's never too late....right?

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  17. What great memories. Sounds like Sundays were full of family, friends and fun. Weekends In Maine

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    1. They certainly were Karen. Thank you for stopping by.

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  18. So interesting, your language uses English words like time, bag and homework?
    There are certainly worse names kids could have called you than Indira Gandhi!

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    1. I know Tamara--kids can be cruel, too.
      India was ruled by the British for over 200 years so English has seeped into Hindi like so many Hindi and Urdu words have found their way into the English language.

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  19. really loved this! Your words painted pictures. What I found truly engaging was the commonality of experience. Despite growing up first in Ireland, then in Canada (vastly different from India)- I found so many of your words reflected the feel of my own childhood experiences, particulary the freedom we had as kids. It also brought back memories of my mother telling me of their weekly hair washing day (saturday)- but in her case, hair was carefully washed and rinsed in rainwater,carefully (and in Ireland,easily LOL)_ collected for tht purpose. It was supposed to give a beautiful shine - and certainly my mother's family all had beautiful heads of hair! Even today, at 93, her hair is almost waist-length, wavy and beautiful with only threads of grey through it's auburn tresses.

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    1. Thank you for sending a lovely comment via Jz Selkie:) It made my day!
      And thank you for visiting and writing this comment, too:)
      Washing with rainwater--the image itself is romantic and like a fairy-tale--no wonder your Irish heritage found resonance with my Indian one:)
      Love the image your words have drawn of your mother.
      Wishing you a magical weekend.

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  20. Loved reading about head wash day, Arti! We did not have a special day for washing our hair. It just happened whenever our mom told us it was time. Delightful word images of the men drying his hair and beard and the kids playing outside while drying!

    Emily In Ecuador

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  21. Your post reignited so many of our childhood memories...lovely Sundays spent outdoors with laundry hanging outside! Beautifully written, love every bit of it.

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  22. Loved your blog as always .

    Growing up a Malayali every single day was hair wash day ! I continue the habit to this day ,as does my boy !!

    I could connect with how we needed to be herded back by dusk by our parents unlike a majority of today’s generation who rather stay glued to their screens- big or small !!

    I’d probably have said this many a time but you seriously need to write a novel
    Arti ! It’s high time !

    Hugs my friend !

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