Sunday, January 04, 2009

Hair Today, Lettuce Tomorrow....केसांची अपूर्व शक्ती ........

50-54 years ago , hair was a big thing. Long, that is. Everyone I knew in school had , say, waist length hair, or more. That is, if you were in a English-medium school, which still had a few Anglo Indian teachers.

If you were in a vernacular school, that taught in one of India's several languages, chances were that 90% of the girls in your class , had to shove a thick plait aside, before they sat down in class at their desk.

Sunday baths were a ritual as far as the hair went. Nicely oiled, massaged hair from the night before, was subject to a squeaky clean tough wash, primarily with what was called shikakai beans, boiled in water and strained. Our mothers dedicated those 15 minutes to pouring this stuff and rubbing it in and massaging and cleaning our hair, while we held a towel over our eyes, and quibbled about this whole thing, as it frequently burned whenver some stuff went into our eyes.

After rinsing, the hair was wrapped in some thin cotton wraps (towels would be a misnomer), rubbed dry, and then we kind of bent over, hair falling across our faces, down to our waists, while we/our mothers, sort of swiped the towel/cloth through the hair to get rid of any shikakai particles that may have lodges here and there. It always made a slapping sound. There were no hair dryers then, and the thing to do was to have two side strands of hair pulled back on either side of the face, and lightly plaited , leaving the rest of the hair open. After which we spent the entire morning playing in the sun with our friends, incidentally drying our hair, while climbing trees, plucking guavas and tamarinds ; the more approved thing was to sedately move around your garden, and then your neighbor's, plucking flowers for the morning puja. ...

Somewhere in teenage , girls with shoulder length hair, left open, started making an appearance, eliciting reserved opinions from parents. Beauty Parlours started bravely appearing on the scene, and folks started offering hair cuts. A lot of us secretly wished to have short hair. The business with plaiting your hair everyday , in two or one thick plait , was not exciting, like, say, the wind in your open hair as you cycled to college. But the parental attitude was, that we should get married and then do whatever we wanted, even if it meant getting a crew-cut. Marriage prospects were a function of approved lengths of hair. Conservative cultural norms prevailed.

By and by, in the late sixties, I graduated, and went to attend graduate school in the US, which was considered a risky thing to do in those days, for a girl of "marriageable age". Despite alarming advice to the contrary from sometimes well meaning relatives, my parents supported my wish and I went to UCI for my masters. I was the only girl in my class with a red dot on my forehead, and a thick single plait to my waist, and after a while people kind of gave up wondering about me. It didn't stop me from having lots of friends, some of whom I am in touch with till today, and even met last year . Maybe the whole experience of living with roommates, and making decisions alone, emboldened me, and just before I left the US shores, in 1972, in a now-or-never-kind-of-thing, I went to a place in New York with my roommate's family, and got my hair cut !

I have had short hair ever since, and, like the lady next to me in the New York parlour, I have often wondered about where all the cut hair went.

The Tirupati temple in India, has a tradition of devotees getting their head tonsured before proceeding to the inner sanctum to pray. The faith in Lord Venkateshwara is so intense, that the practice of surrendering one's ego to God, is actively followed in the form of 500 barbers cutting the hair of 10,000 devotees daily. Every six hours the hair is collected and sealed in containers, which are auctioned , and reports say, that German and Italian pharmaceutical companies pay, like 7000 Rs/ kilo, for these. The mind continues to boggle at the economy of the temple.

Many times this hair is converted into wigs. Today , western hair salons do hair extensions, and insist on Indian hair or "temple hair" for the purpose. Exclusive London salons charge a minimum of 500 pounds for these hair extensions which need to be redone every six weeks, , and folks like Ms. V. Beckham, who are in the "looking" business, spend upward of 2000 pounds a month, doing this, to make their hair looking lustrous etc. It makes them feel less guilty, and more spiritual, knowing that this is "temple hair" :-)

So, it is with a great amount of interest that I recently read about
Valtcho D. Zheljazkov, at the Mississippi State University, who recently published some amazing stuff about hair in a journal called Horttechnology. (The study compared the productivity of four crops: lettuce, wormwood, yellow poppy, and feverfew, grown in commercial growth medium using untreated control, noncomposted hair cubes at differing weights, a controlled-release fertilizer and a water-soluble fertilizer.)

Turns out that human hair added to your farm fields helps your produce grow better and faster.

I know Kahlil Gibran was fond of saying some nice things about wine, "folks sitting beside you", as well as "moving fingers". He is also supposed to have said, that "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair"

These days , in the 21st century, the earth , along with the wind, also longs to play with your hair.

Hair, in an uncomposted form, is supposed to have spurred growth in lettuce, amongst other plants, according to
Valtcho D. Zheljazkov.

While I can now visualize shiploads of hair making their way from Chennai Port in India to various places, where mechanized machines will strew it across farmlands (with , no doubt, 10% wastage), it's also possible that barber locations in India may undergo a drastic change. Rural farmers will lease out places for barbers, so hair can fall directly on to the fields. Entrepreneurs may introduce dynamic mobile barbering (DMB), where you and the barber sort of automatically, move all over the farm, going snip-snip-snip, and push-push. Posh folks from city downtowns will head out to the countryside for a haircut picnic, bringing a revolution in weekends.

Like the recycled paper business in India, which is on a downturn currently, thanks to a shipload of foreign papers suddenly having landed here, there will now be a danger of sudden shiploads of hair from countries like China, trying to undercut the hair business. Departments of Food Science, across Universities will be flooded with funding to investigate the relative effects, of brunette, blond, red, or plain good old black hair , on the output of lettuce.

Hollywood restaurants will advertise special organic salad buffets with specially ordered "blonde" salads and Ms Spears, Ms Jolie, Ms Beckham, and Ms Kournikova, will be pictured acting blissful while eating it. McDonalds will charge $1.99 extra , if your salad has to include, "brunette" lettuce, and Trader Joe's will go into overdrive, having an entire section dedicated to ready to eat temple hair lettuce salad mixtures, with a picture of an Indian God on the plastic bag, guaranteeing, the "purity" of the hair.

In all this brouhaha, I have a doubt. Today , a lot of hair is colored, streaked , bleached etc. Even amongst the hair dyes, there are those considered chemically dangerous, with carcinogenic ingredients. There are several new hair dyes , that today purport to avoid all these dangerous things, but certainly contain other chemicals.

In all the excitement about Hair fertilizers, how will we differentiate between natural hair, and colored chemical hair ? How much of it will seep into the earth , contaminating the fields, and not only lettuce, but any other crop growing there ? Will the ground water there be affected ?

Will we have folks getting sick after eating some salads, and the Government "recalling" produce emanating from certain farms,fields or countries ?

Maybe 25 years after this hair fertilizing practice starts, the National Institutes of Health will come out with some research that says, that certain anomalies at birth, and changes in DNA have been caused by these long-chain-blah-blah-chemicals, known to have been used in, say, blonde/mahogany hair dye earlier.......

Typically, some multinational will challenge this with their own research and tricks and try to prove otherwise.

But we have learnt.

Coca Cola , convinced farmers in
Kerala, (a state in India's southern region), that the sludge byproduct from their Coca Cola factory, was an ideal fertilizer. Initially there were results in the fields. But there were also results in the soil. The soil started showing dangerous quantities of cadmium and lead, a big part of that sludge. Regional health suffered. NGO's in science research took the company to court with laboratory findings. Typically , CocaCola folks disagreed and showed alternate findings. Finally the Supreme Court ordered them to stop this harmful sludge disposal; but the ground had been permanently contaminated, changing lives.

Life they say, comes full circle. Maybe its time to start plaiting my hair again..


  1. My goodness; I never thought that someone could write so much about hair. It should be a dull subject, but you have made it fascinating and funny.

    Thank you for another great post.

  2. Hair.. gone case(kes). As always great post. Every post of your is like a fully researched subject.

    Eka taklu chya dokyavar don kes astat. Doghahee ekmekanchya premaat astat (karan ajoobajoola dusrya konacha tras nasto). Shevti ek kes propose karto lagna saathi pan mulgi kes refuse karte karan "baal" vivaha not allowed.


  3. Great post Suranga! You have such a wonderful imagination. I truly think Indian women have the most beautiful hair I have ever seen. If they spread the hair on the fields, the birds will have a "field" day gathering it for their nests. They love it. I am sure the wealthy people would buy the salads just to be with the "in" crowd.

  4. Ah, Suranga, you always come up with the most intriguing topics to write about and you do it so beautifully! Indian women do have the most beautiful hair! I never gave that much thought I guess to hair, mine was too curly when I was young and now, hey, it's too white!!! Ah, well at least I'm not bald and I do think I'll pass on the salad with hair added.
    Love your posts! Thanks!

  5. Hello, I have been reading your blog for a while now..commenting for the first time.
    Your post on hair reminded me of what my Grandmom used to tell me. She had knee length hair and her mom used to make her sit on a bench and washed her hair like one would wash clothes.

  6. Well Well, long blogs and long hair are the best !!!!

  7. Reading your post I was reminded of my school days - my days at Don Bosco and my oil bath on Thursdays when it was a holiday.My mother used to rub oil on my head and it was a ritual to be observed every Thursday.No excuses.
    The other thing once in a month was a teaspoon full of castor oil to cleanse the system'.The bait was some extraordinary dosas at 4 pm when you have no more liquid left in the system.
    Well written and thanks for taking me back to the good old days.

  8. Int he south especially, Hair is a sacred thing..And the brides used to get to mention their hairlength as an attribute ! dont know if its a boy or a girl, just going by the length of hair.

    Plant for hair growth i knew.But hair for plant growth..well, that is new !!

    What goes around comes around i guess !!


  9. I work with Valtcho, I am his student

    I thought his experiments were pretty lame and funny earlier, but aparantly they worked wonders to get a publications.
    Hair strength eh?

  10. DarleneThank you. This was one of my good hair days....:-)

    Judy,Sylvia I hope this business with hair in the fields doesnt really happen. A grad student working with the prof who did this research actually commented on the blog. maybe he will think of a better fertilizer....

    Enchanted Thank you for visiting. I am under the impression you are in Sunnyvale....I know lots of folks there/been there, but now i knew who was visiting earlier..

    Hitch writer Long hair, so long its for women.....:-)

    nsiyer i would have done anything, for those dosas......:-)

    kavi You never know what will come up next in research. I am hoping someone comes up with the usage of raddi papers as fertilizer.....

  11. Vinita Bal Vivaha baddal clarification dilyabaddal thanks ...:-)

  12. Archana Gawde Thank you for visiting. I am just curious. Are these experiments being done on different sort of soils ? In the sense that how much is the soil instrinsically responsible for the good lettuce crop (without the hair) ? Can these things be replicated across soils/countries, and still give appreciable increase in yield after the hair fertilizer ?

    And tell me, is your professor investigating the effect of dye chemicals in hair on crops ?

    I just saw that you are from Mumbai ? Which college ?

    My best wishes for your career.....

  13. Really?
    At least it makes me feel a lot less dismal about the way I am losing my hair by the bushel every day. I think I will simply collect it all and sprinkle it around the yard..

  14. Nice to be here - loved your well researched article on hair. I have a 7 year old daughter with hair till below her tiny hips. Some people appreciate it, some think we are Aliens to be doing that to her. I love my daily ritual of oiling, combing and braiding her hair. Its some kind of a bond I think...

  15. Usha Me thinks you are lucky enough to have a yard where you can chuck the hair without neighbors peering. A lot of us in Mumbai cant do such stuff. I am just wondering about the effect of the hair on growth of flowers, since the two are so intricately linked in an Indian woman's life......

  16. I liked your title 'Dombivli Slow' for Ganesh's post.

  17. Gosh another amazing post. You held my interest all the way. I learnt a lot and laughed out loud at the end.

    I used to have very long hair too. I remember the day that the hairdresser just cut the plait right off before giving me a shorter cut. Apparently they used it for wigs or something. I guess hairdressers make money out of it.

    I hated it short and have always kept it medium length or I tie it up moreso now I am getting older. My grandmother had hair down to her waist even though she was in her 90s. I loved washing it for her and plaiting it and then putting it into a bun.

    I think a lot of the products we put on our hair are not a good thing. Tell me, what kind of oil did they put in your hair the night before you washed it?

    I love learning about things we used to do before big corporations tried to use us as money making guinea pigs.

    My daughters friend is getting me the 'real sugar' by the way. Thanks again for that tip.

    Take Care and get going with your limericks! I would love to hear about your life one day - the real one in full - so write a book would you?

  18. Suranga
    I am filled with admiration that you had the independence of mind to have your hair cut. I wonder what happened when you got home?
    June in Oz

  19. One day I read that flowers appeared on earth at about the same time as human beings (can't remember where).

    I can't help thinking about concentration camps whith this subject. Selling and using body parts makes me really uncomfortable.

    Although I see your point.

  20. So, my mother was right :):):)
    She cut our hair and always put it in the garden. But there was no talk about hair being a fertilizer; she told us that it would keep the mice away from root vegetable and tulips! And like June, I’d like to know what happened when you came home???

    BTW, I didn’t forget your request to write about “our” cows, I just fear it’s not a ‘holy’ story I can tell. But I keep it in mind! And you speak German!! Gosh, I admire you every day more.

    Only you can weave a story from hair to Coca Cola:)

  21. So, my mother was right :):):)
    She cut our hair and always put it in the garden. But there was no talk about hair being a fertilizer; she told us that it would keep the mice away from root vegetable and tulips! And like June, I’d like to know what happened when you came home???

    BTW, I didn’t forget your request to write about “our” cows, I just fear it’s not a ‘holy’ story I can tell. But I keep it in mind! And you speak German!! Gosh, I admire you every day more.

    Only you can weave a story from hair to Coca Cola:)

  22. Great Post.thanks for your share.You can go to our online store choose your hair extensions,you can find cheap hair extensions here with high quality.