An Oily Mess

We Indians love our oil –a lot of it in our food, on our body and in our hair. If the entire Indian populace were to dip their hair  in the Arabian Sea(especially on a weekend), we will put the BP oil spill in Gulf of Mexico to shame.

For most of us it’s not just oil but the elixir of youth. A heaven sent potion that promises to transform our stringy mess to a cascading lush mane, send our stubborn dandruff packing off, turn our gray to black so that we can live happily ever after, clutching our bottle of oil. We may have moved on from Sunsilk to Loreal, from Lux to Lush, from synthetic to organic but the hair oil remains a constant. Of course our preferences have changed and the variety is mind boggling.

My Ma has had a life-long bond with her bottle of hibiscus oil -Jabakusum Tel (not the same one thought, she buys a new one every few months). She swears by this very red, very thick oil with a heavy cloying “fragrance” that you can sniff from miles. As a young girl, even though I hated that oil, I had no choice but to use it. So every weekend when I oiled my hair, I tried to breathe as little as possible. It was only after 22 years and a marriage later that I started to breathe properly.

For years I was convinced that this company had managed to survive only due to my Mom’s loyal patronage. I mean who in their right mind would want to use an oil that is not only an assault on your olfactory sensibilities but also an effective repellent? Many years later, I discovered much to my horror that this was preferred by many a Bengali along with Keo Karpin. But what the hell, don’t people use mustard oil and coconut oil which smell as badly?

Even though we swear by our hair-oiling ritual and stick religiously to it come rain or shine, yet most of us wouldn’t be caught dead in all our oily glory. Hair plastered to the scalp, oil streaking down on the forehead is not exactly a pleasant sight. Me, I steer clear of the mirror and avoid looking at my reflection at all costs. I definitely wouldn’t want to scare moi.

Biotique Bhringraj Therapeutic Oil for Hair Growth 120 mlTo make things easier for busy professionals, hair care companies have hit upon some ingenious ideas. A particular shampoo now comes enriched with oil. In the ad, a model with her gorgeously long mane bemoans her lack of time with a “magar time kahan” and starts taking a shower fully clothed in the middle of a field. It does leave me a little perplexed though, are we meant to carry this shampoo bottle around and start washing our hair under the first tube well we spot? Hair oil companies are constantly tapping for new sources of oil. As if amla, almond, mustard, coconut, olive, hibiscus was not enough, we now have walnut, jojoba, wheat germ and exotic herbs fresh off the Himalayas joining the exalted rank.

I am very unlike my mom and prefer variety to loyalty. I change my oil and shampoo every few months. Any new fancy variety that hits the market; I am the first one to try it. My newest bottle of oil is a mixture of 35 mean sounding herbs, most of them unpronounceable and it stinks. This weekend when I give oily nourishment to my roots, I will try to breathe as little as possible. It shouldn’t be that difficult, I’ve had 22 years of practice after all.
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  1. interesting take tinged with humour..
    why the need to oil your hair inspite of hating it so much? a streak of masochism?

  2. Because it's meant to do wonders to your hair. And I succumb week after week.

  3. had samuel coldridge been from India, he would have written thus:

    oil, oil everywhere, all the men did wink
    oil oil everywhere, the women's hair didnt shrink! (C"rime of the Ancient Mariner")

  4. Glocalization !! Interestin to see your way of writing. Tot its something abt Go Green ;) Luvd ur style Purba !!

  5. "Variety to loyalty" - nice!
    The beginning was humorous!

  6. whatsupdoc...Had Samuel Coleridge been from India, he would have been oiling his hair :P

    Kartik JK...Global goes local? but this should be local goes global!


  7. u know what Purba, I was thinking about writing where are those oiled up plaites girls used to make during school days! and there u r writing about oil oil everywhere! Nice post. As always, ur expression makes the reader glide through... well this time it was because of the oil, i guess!!!!LOL!

  8. Bengali people have an affinity to oil that i don't think any other cultural sect does. It's 'stinking' weird, especially as you rightly said, they (we) use the weirdest types and are very loyal to them.

    "Variety to loyalty" hehe
    Nice one. I hope the well-oiled Indian people don't take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico anytime soon. We'll have Obama breathing down our necks then!

  9. Tanu.. This should not stop you from writing your post. Go ahead and share your perspective with us :)

    D2.. Breathing down our necks or sniffing down our necks :P

  10. Nice sense of humour. Oiling hair is an important ritual in many countries. Not oiling, some practically emerse their heads in an oil tub for 5 minutes each day.
    I remember the Nigerian stalls at this year's trade expo, they had many shelves full of herbal hair oil bottles.

  11. My mom keeps pestering me to oil my hair. But thankfully it's just parachute. I have always been a "Parachute" girl.
    And hopefully you survive the weekend with all that less breathing.
    Nice post and I liked your new template. :)

  12. Could feel your pain... Being a bong one can relate to this thing...

    Reading your post, I remembered a short story I had read in school titled "BABU" in Bengali...

    Had the same essence in a sarcastic way..

  13. Prateek.. Immersing the head in oil sounds more like Chinese torture.

    Nethra...Coconut oil leaves me breathless too.

    Abhishek...Oh, I sounded painful did I :P

  14. Nourishing oil for the hair...the secret to the wonderful India hair.

    There is one more thing...oil helps cool the scalp...Tropical remedy!

    loved the humour!...WAY TO GO, PURBA!

  15. Will you believe it if I told you that I use JabaKusum even to this day. I used to love the smell as a kid and still do. There are days when I actually soak my hair in it ... (not the dripping on my forehead kind, but can feel the coolness kind)and show up at work. I am sure people sneer but then I do not really care. And then there are days of Lush as well. Agree on the variety but I think for me it is the smell which I want to hold on to as a remembrance of the days from the past. This post brought back memories strong like the smell of JK. Thanks for that.

  16. Nalini...Absolutely and I make sure my daughter oils her hair too - not with Jabakusum though. And thank you :))

    LEB..So do your colleagues call you Joba behind your back? And my Ma will be so proud of you.

  17. Yeah chinese torture indeed but for whome. It is a torture for 3 senses of the body, eyes, nose and touch. And oil is fine, some have the bad habit of putting curd and egg on their heads.....and goddamn it smells.

    Unlike our Bengali counterparts we Punjabis have a different way. We wrap our hair and then cover it. That way no one cares wther it is combed and oiled or not. :)

  18. This line cracked me up, "My newest bottle of oil is a mixture of 35 mean sounding herbs, most of them unpronounceable." Loved this post :-)

    Had been busy for a few weeks. Seems like I've a lot of catching-up to do here.

  19. Here in the phoren land, the humidity is so low that my wife insists I use oil on my hair to prevent dandruff.

    But there's no coconut oil here - only olive oil. And if I had to use some hair oil, I'd use coconut since that is what I was forced to use in boarding school - and I mind the smell less.

    And there's no oil here - just lotions and creamy stuff - but no liquid flowing oil. Or at least my wife hasn't seen it in walmart.

  20. Prateek... Err I use the curd-egg concoction too. A helpful hint, throw the yolk away, makes it odorless.

    Raja..And I was missing your crackling one -liners

    Bhagwad Jal Park..What about the Indian stores? And olive oil is just too heavy, it refuses to come off.

  21. :D :D

    Please, o please temme what inspired you to write this??

  22. I suddenly woke up to the BP oil spill and had to put an Indian angle to it :P

  23. Wow! Who would have thought Oil could be made so interesting!


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