Short Story: The Tousle

We’ve all seen them. The ones who keep playing with their hair. All the time.

He was one of them. He had the ability to tousle his own hair indefinitely. It was a never ending cycle. The slight tousle. And in about fifteen seconds, a four fingered swipe that pulled the hair mop back. With that a slight jerk of the neck to mark the conclusion of the process. Repeat again in fifteen seconds. Was the ritual irritable? Yes, to start with. Then it became as natural as someone sitting in the room. I had stopped noticing.

As I came to know him better, I understood it to be his reminder to himself. Of the one thing that people had told him many a times over the years – you’ve got beautiful hair dude. In an age where people have started balding earlier than average, hair treatment and transplant clinics have started doing more befores and afters than the weight loss clinics, Salman Khan has become bushier than he ever was, and Harsha Bhogle no longer looks like his cute balding self, having naturally beautiful, strong, bushy hair was God’s way of compensating him for everything else that was wrong with him.

He had deep rooted insecurities. About his abilities. About his success. About what he wanted to become but did not have the right tools, platform, resources to be. About every small thing that went wrong in a day in an average person’s life. And the tousle and swipe helped him deal with life.

When disturbed, he would tousle his hair a few extra times before stopping to pull them back with a fierce swipe. When happy, the neck jerk would stabilize at a 15 degree upward tilt, a sign of pride and happiness with the moment. When thinking, his fingers would alternate between tousling and swiping at slower speeds but at a higher frequency than the usual fifteen second intervals. A pattern for every season. A pattern for every emotion.

When he’d walk into an elevator, his first reaction would be to check if the elevator has a mirror, or a surface so shiny that he could see his reflection. Once spotted, he would first go through a series of double hand swipes, pulling his hair back and then smoothing them over. And he would then end it with a tiny tousling. This was to add the effect of a little side romance to a gory action movie. Just as a Jason Statham would blast an entire den of gun toting villains, and then amble to that damsel (not much in distress) and confess about his hard-on.

If this story were written by Harishankar Parsai, he would talk about the agony of that strand of hair that goes through an abuse worse than a not-so-rich girl in Delhi who has to travel around the city in a DTC bus because she is in a sales job. The constant touches, pokes, forced violations, even as she is sitting petite in a corner, the constant feeling of being checked out, the groping, the molesting, and then at the end of it, getting down with a feeling that she’s been done a favor by not being raped. He might even use the metaphor of a Devadasi, for she exists to please the believers. Or a goalkeeper, who has been given this duty to protect the team. Everyone else may do anything else. But when push comes to shove, the goalkeeper has to stop the ball. Get hit in the process. Stop endless attacks and still get up every time. The only difference would be that the goalkeeper asked for it.

Or, worse still, he could compare it to Rahul Gandhi. Having been made to believe for so many years that you are destined to become something, you lose sight of what you actually are, and start becoming the face of the existing. But the face is the face. The hair can never be the face. Or, a stop gap to compensate for the lack of personality or identity. He could compare the party cadre to the fingers that tousle and swipe this mop of hair and eventually expect it to look pretty to the outsider. And no doubt, there are a few that would not notice anything else but the hair, and assume that the person is as good as the hair itself. And maybe, then, expect Gurudev to write about where the head is without hair, into that future let my country rise. Maybe.

 

And it all might be true. But I digress.

 

I met him yesterday. He is thirty years old. He is bald. He had stage three leukemia. Detected five years back. The radiation therapy led to hair loss. I had tried to be by his side through the stages of treatment. He had been strong.

His hand still inadvertently reaches out for the tousle, and his face loses its smile when it finds nothing. I want to tell him that he is looking better now. A stronger version of himself. But I am not sure I would be able to explain.

 

 

*******

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About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

2 Responses to Short Story: The Tousle

  1. Isha Agarwal says:

    Beautiful story, Amit. So simple, yet so powerful. Loved it.

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