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Sankari Sivaramalingam – Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Saga Sisterhood is a transformative performance project for women from communities who identify as South Asian that come from non-performer backgrounds but all have something to say.

When Sankari Sivaramalingam moved away from home in her twenties, she quickly found her confidence through self-expression. A spontaneous haircut lead to another, and then another, and another more. It didn’t take long before she realised the implications of her actions and had to deal with the consequences.

Listen to a recording of Sankari’s story, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, or read a transcript below.

[Transcript]

Being from India–being from South India–my parents were very, very conservative, and even though we lived in the Seychelles for the longest time–I pretty much grew up there–it was in a very conservative household. So, I’d had my head shaved as a baby, as one does, if you’re from South India, it happens. So, I’d had it done three times, the last was when I was nine–sorry, seven–and after that, my hair was just left to grow. And my hair was just long, corkscrewy, curly, confused hair, but it was long and it was really thick and by the time I was in my twenties it was past my waistline, so it was heading down to my bottom, and it was gorgeous and shiny and everything that you see in the movies. And my Mum loved it and my dad thought, ‘here is what I’ve made, a girl with gorgeous, long black hair.’

And I loved my hair, but I also hated it because there was just so much drama around my hair at home, as you can imagine. So I was one of those very conservative people who at home would wear my hair in long plaids and everything else and when I went out, I would have it open and half up and half down and trying to look really cool and funky, all of those kinds of things. So when I was in my twenties I went to India for a while, away from my parents, and I stayed with my aunt, while I did some computer science courses because, as an Indian, that’s what one does. And I came across this beautiful new hairdressing salon down the road from my aunt’s house. And I thought, ‘Brilliant. It’s hot and humid here, I need a haircut, I need a little trim’, you know, split ends, whatever.

So I walked in and I was treated like an absolute queen, and I loved it, and they took off about an inch or so and I felt liberated. And I was just like, walk back home to my aunt’s place, my hair swinging in the breeze, feeling so fly. And a couple of days later I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be lovely to have it trimmed just a little bit further?’. Because I’d seen these ‘U’ cuts, where instead of having it, like, straight across you have it in the shape of a U, so when you look at it from the back it just looks so elegant and just sort of–it looks like you’ve made an effort and your mum didn’t cut your hair. So I said, ‘I’m having one of those’, and I went off and had the haircut and again, felt amazing for it, and my auntie just didn’t care. If it had been my mum there would’ve been words at this point, but because it was my aunt she went ‘yeah, whatever, not my daughter’.

A couple of days later, I felt the itch to do it again. So I went in, had a little more of a trim, and by the end of about a week and a bit, it was pretty short. Like, shoulder-length short. It had transitioned from past my waist to my shoulders. And I thought, ‘this is really nice’, I was combing my hair out, and I had one extra lock that must’ve been curled up the other way and they had missed it, so it was a bit longer than the rest, and I thought, ‘I can fix that’. I grabbed, you know, the sewing scissors my auntie had, yanked really hard at this lock of hair, and snipped and left a rather large hole on the side of my head. So I had to go to the hairdressers, and they were so complimentary because now I was their most prized, valued client, and they were like, ‘you know, short hair would suit you so well, you should do like a boy cut’, the name all short haircuts had in India at that time. ‘A short boy cut with your curly hair would look so amazing.’ And of course, I was sold on anyone who thought I looked amazing. So I said, ‘Yeah! Sure, go for it’. And I did.

And I came home, my aunt looked at me, and promptly disappeared. And my mum was set to come to India a few days later, I was going to meet her at the airport and we were going to do a bit of shopping, hang out, girls together, and then we were going to go back to Seychelles, where my dad was, and where I was supposed to be looking for a job. My mum turned up at the airport. I must have had an inkling that this was not going to end well having seen my aunt’s reaction, because I found the biggest bouquet of flowers that I had ever seen, bought it, took it to the airport, pretended and tried to hide behind this bouquet and went, ‘Hi mum! This is for you’.

And she of course didn’t even see the flowers because she saw my hair and her face just dropped. There was this look of panic and confusion and anger and frustration and you name it, it was on her face. And she went, ‘What have you done? Your father will kill you’. Oh my God. At which point, I didn’t feel so fly about my haircut. So I went home, and there was no more conversation about this, and I went, ‘ok, maybe the worst of this is over’. I should’ve known, but I thought, so optimistically, ‘maybe that’s that. I’ve had a little telling-off, it’s all good’.

The next day, we get in the car, and we go shopping, or that’s where I thought we were going to. We end up in one of those shopping centres, but it was set away from the standard shopping area. And I was like, ‘I have no idea where this is, I’ve never been into this area’, and so we enter this tiny little shop and it turns out somehow, my mum had found one of the best wigmakers in all of Chennai. And she had taken me there for a new wig. And I ended up wearing this wig. It came in a few days later. And I ended up getting a plane with my own hair and my wig in a bag, and got off the plane with this wig on my head.

We were met at the airport with my dad, who looked at me and went, ‘different. But ok’, and nothing was said. And so for the next three months–at home and when I went out–I wore a wig. And my dad kept staring at my hair occasionally and he wouldn’t say anything, my mum kept staring at me daring me to take it off and feel her wrath, and I didn’t dare do a thing. So I went to a job interview with my wig. I got a job with my wig. I wore a wig to my new job for six weeks and then they went to India again for something that happened, and when they came back, I decided that I wouldn’t wear the wig anymore. So I had to invent this amazing story that my hair had been falling out over the last few months, dad, had you noticed? I had to cut off my hair so it would grow back long and strong, I’m sorry, yada yada. Apologies accepted, everything was fine, and a few weeks before my wedding, a few years ago, I was talking to my dad and this was like the ultimate confession moment, and I told him, ‘I’m so sorry, we had to trick you for three months about my having cut my hair’. And he just looked and me and went, ‘Do you think I didn’t notice? I was waiting for you and your mother to tell me about this sham you guys were running, and you never did’.

So I had this conversation about this, and about hair and what it meant to him for me, for women, for Indian women, and it’s amazing how much we pack, how much identity we see in our hair and the way we look, the way we present ourselves, and how really, it’s not that big of a deal. And once you get over the shock, it’s just hair. That’s all it is.

Copyright © 2019 Sankari Sivaramalingam

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.


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