When India and The Afro meet, it can be an endearing, annoying and amusing encounter.
"Oh soft!" and "Nice!" have been the responses of sweet spa employees upon tactile introduction to my noggin. Stymied security guards stare helplessly at the 'fro. To frisk or not to frisk? Only one airport guard gave my locks and their attendant scarf a furtive pat, and then only after I volunteered my head for the once over.
My neighbor Carl warned me that my wooly coif would be a curiosity. Apparently, his travels on the subcontinent included a fair amount of offering his cranium for inspection. That said, I'm pretty sure his closely cropped do did not endanger the lives of innocent, unsuspecting commuters.
My adventures in Varanasi run like a cautionary tale cum comedy of errors. Much like driving while talking on a mobile phone, my hair should be banned from the roadways of the City of Light. It is sheer negligence on my part of allow my hair to be out and about during rush hour. The 'fro nearly caused several traffic accidents as rickshaw drivers (and their passengers), cyclists and pedestrians stopped watching the road to take a very long double take at the sight of my fluffy head making its way down the street. (Minimal traffic does not require the double take as doubling back for a second look is as easy as making a U-turn in the middle of an empty street). The Varanasi traffic police would have made a mint if they had found a way of charging me with reckless DNA.
One elderly denizen of Varanasi's Old City stopped dead in her tracks, mouth gaping, as I approached, passed and ascended a flight of stairs. She might still be standing there. I'm sure I owe her family some compensation as no doubt she will eventually have to be treated for shock.
Kolkata has given the 'fro a less than heart-warming reception.
Staring, snickering boys (the type that would laugh at someone with a speech impediment or physical handicap) seem not uncommon. I am normally in the habit of returning shy, curious glances with an open smile. In return, I usually receive an equally warm expression, and instantly, where once there was a cultural boundary stands a bridge. Not with these delinquents.
Perhaps I am being too harsh, but these juveniles' unchecked behavior makes me want to abandon my normally pacific nature and scare the, well, you know, out of them by turning on their punk asses with a vicious shriek like the terrible, black-skinned goddess Kali, eyes wide, tongue lolling and dripping with blood. My desire to be a respectful guest in this country and not be ejected from the restaurant before finishing my sweet lassi does not quell, but at least curbs this impulse.
Lest it seem like the 'fro has brought nothing but frustration, rest assured that it has given me at least one great advantage: easy entree into the delicate matter of Indian social etiquette. While reading over my shoulder as I write in my journal, demanding that I share my magazines during a train ride (then trying to take off with one) and prying into my personal finances is not considered rude or an invasion of my privacy, inquiry into whether my hair really does grow out of my head like that is always preceded by a quiet and respectful, "May I ask you a personal question?" Apparently grooming and genetics are not subjects to be broached lightly.
I realize that I must take at least partial responsibility the difficulties caused by the 'fro. To the city of Varanasi, I am truly sorry, and will do my best to limit bad hair days in the future. As for the snickering boys of Kolkata, watch out. Kali is coming!