Malati reluctant to get a gundu
It was early January 2008. Nirmala (Nimmy to near and dear ones) from Davanagere, KA joined an IT Company in Bangalore and got a two room accommodation in a nearby PG. She was in search of a roommate so that the room rent could be shared. Three days later Malati (Maalu for short) from Kurnool, AP joined her group in the company. After introduction, Nirmala saw a tense face of Malati.
N: Why are you tense?
M: I have not been able to find accommodation. Do you know of any PG?
N (suddenly very happy): Oh, fine. I was also looking for a roommate so that we could share the rent. Are you willing to join me?
M (with a broad smile): Oh, that is fine. I will join you.
So, in the evening Malati joined the same PG as Nirmala and became her roommate. They had most things in common – vegetarians, religious, had some social concern and so of helping nature, mischievous nature, fair and very beautiful with nice features, liked to wear saree instead of salwar kameez, had a nose stud on the right nostril, etc. One major difference was mother tongue. The other was while Malati had beautiful, dense and long straight hair up to her bum, Nirmala had dense but slightly curly hair up to only a couple of inches below her shoulder blades. Yet it looked very beautiful on her. It did not take long for the two to become close friends.
In mid-May, both Nimmy and Maalu were called to their respective hometowns by their parents and marriages were settled for them. Nimmy was to wed a Bangalore boy, Pranesh working as an engineer in a PSU like his dad. He was living with his parents in a 3BHK flat bought by his dad 3 years earlier. His mom, Pranati was working as a Professor of Telugu in Bangalore University. The marriage was fixed in 3 months, i.e. end Aug.
Maalu was to wed Rajesh, also working in Bangalore, in a big IT Company. He was currently living in a gents’ PG. His father is a professor in a college in Guntur, AP, while mother Renuka was also a professor in another college in the same town. She resigned the job to look after the house and grandkid once her elder son Rakesh’s wife, Gayatri delivered her first kid, four years earlier. Gayatri is a high school teacher. Now she has two kids, a three year old girl, Kruti and a one year old boy, Kiran. Rakesh is a state government officer, fortunately posted in Guntur currently. The marriage would be held in mid-Oct, less than 2 months after Nimmy’s marriage.
N: Are they orthodox?
M: Very much. As much as my people are. What about yours?
N: Same here. But the boy’s mom appeared to be a bit liberal and jovial. I don’t know how she will be with me. Pranesh has said that we will be staying together – a condition for marriage.
M: Have you agreed?
N: Yeah, sure. I like to be with elders. So much less problem. We have to adjust a bit and I feel things will be okay. (with a sudden glint in her eyes) And you know what, Malu? Pranesh’s mom is also from Kurnool. Though her parents are Kannada speaking people from Mysuru, they settled in Kurnool since her dad got job there before he married. Her primary education was in Telugu only. But she speaks and reads Kannada as well but cannot write it as fluently as she does Telugu. I told her about you. By the by, Malu, has your boy hired or purchased a place?
M: I don’t know. I have to ask him.
N: If not done yet, why don’t you rent a flat in our apartment building? Pranesh was telling that there are a few empty flats in his building. If available you can purchase one also. We can continue to stay nearby.
M (with a wide happy grin): Yeah, that will be really good. I will ask him now.
In the weekend, Nirmala took Malati and Rajesh to her prospective in-laws’ place. Malati was overwhelmed by the grace, affection and fluent and chaste Telugu of Pranati. Fortunately, there was one flat for sale from an earlier buyer. It was on the 9th floor, one floor below that of Pranesh’s flat. Both Rajesh and Malati liked it. His parents gave him the free hand. So the deal was done and in two months’ time, he could arrange the loan and register the flat. A week later, his parents came and Rajesh did ‘Gruhapravesham’ function. On Nirmala’s request, Pranesh and his family helped them a lot to conduct it.
A few days later, Rajesh shifted to the house also. However, Malati continued to stay in the PG, though she frequently visited Rajesh’s place. She became very close to Pranati. Since Pranati was a jovial woman, she could rag Malati in Telugu to her heart’s content and both used to laugh to their hearts’ content. Though Malati addressed Pranati as ‘aunty’ she treated her like her own mother, sharing with her almost anything in her mind.
The marriages happened. Malati attended Nimmy’s marriage held in Davanagere. Nimmy shifted out of the PG into her in-laws’ flat. Another two months and the entire family – Nimmy, Pranesh, Pranati and her husband – travelled to Kurnool and attended Maalu’s marriage.
About six weeks later, a Monday evening (22nd Dec), Maalu barged into Nimmy’s house with teary eyes, hugged Pranati and started weeping. Nimmy had not yet come home from work.
P: Maalu, what happened? Why are you weeping?
Maalu was uncontrollable. It was the first time that Pranati or anybody in Bangalore for that matter saw Maalu weeping. With a lot of affection and effort, Pranati made Maalu to stop weeping and regain some of her composure. Then she haltingly told the problem.
M: Au..aun..ty, this is cheating. His (meaning Rajesh’s) parents and.. and… and… my parents bo.. both have cheated me.
P: What is it? Stop weeping and tell me clearly.
Now Maalu composed herself and spoke in a clear but accusing voice.
M: Aunty, neither attagaru (m-i-l) nor Rajesh told me this before marriage. They have a strange custom in their house. They have a five yearly family tonsure at Tirumala. Added to that, even though it is not in five year cycle, the newly wed d-i-l and her husband have to tonsure her head in Tirumala within three months of marriage. If they had told me all this during ‘bride seeing’, I would not have agreed to marry Rajesh at all (she was highly agitated while saying this). Now, what shall I do, aunty? (again she started weeping).
P (with a smiling face): Did you talk to your mom about this?
M (becoming angry again): Aunty, why are you smiling? I thought you would symapthise with me and help me out. You also seem to mock at me.
P (continued to smile): Did you talk to your mom about this?
M (in a disappointed note): Yes, she brushed it aside saying ‘What is there, Maalu? After all, it is hair which will grow back and it is their custom. Just go along and do as they say’ (she mimicked her mom with anger). She also did not help me, aunty. Such long and beautiful hair and they want me to shave it all off for some stupid custom. What do they know about the difficulty I would face in my workplace? And the amount of time required to grow it again? And, do you know, aunty? Attagaru said that I should not cover it with a cap or a scarf and I should move about exposing my bald head and ‘that is part of the convention’ (now she mimicked her m-i-l)! Convention, my foot! (she again started to weep with her head on Pranati’s shoulder).
P (now stopped smiling): Ok, ok, Maalu. I understand your concern. I will see what I can do. But first compose yourself.
It took some time for Maalu to stop weeping. By then, Nimmy also came home. Pranati heard her scooter parking, went out and secretly briefed her about Maalu’s problem before she entered the house. Nimmy giggled initially. Pranati made a stern face and silently indicated to her not to laugh or giggle.
N: Hi Maalu.
M (with no joy or happiness and looking elsewhere): Hi
Nimmy went inside, refreshed herself, changed clothes, came and sat beside Maalu. Pranati served some snacks and coffee and persuaded Maalu to first take it. She reluctantly obliged and had the company of Nimmy (who was 14 weeks pregnant).
P: Now Maalu, I will tell you my experience when I was just entering college in Kurnool. Listen carefully.
It was summer of 1968. I had completed SSC. One fine day, our neighbour lady Sharada marched in with Tirumala prasadam and her head clean shaved. Her two daughters, Padma, who had just completed B.Sc. and was enrolling to B.Ed. and Poorna who was my friend and classmate were in tow and both were with gundu (bald) heads like their mom. I was taken aback. My mom just smiled and welcomed them asking how the trip was etc. And added ‘Sharada, you look cute like this. Padma and Poorna, you also look so nice like this!’ and caressed the bald heads of the two girls who grinned happily. And really, all the three looked really beautiful with their gundu heads.
Later, mom told me that it is a custom in their house for the whole family to get a family gundu at Tirumala once in five or six years. And this was the first time they had this family gundu being in that house. Two years before, they were elsewhere in Kurnool. There were eight people in their house – Sharada, her husband, her f-i-l, her m-i-l, her two sons and two daughters. Everybody was joyful about the family gundu. Later I also caressed Poorna’s head several times and found it extremely joyful. In fact, looking at all those smiling faces and smooth bald heads in the same family told me one thing – the family gundu is a very beautiful thing.
I asked mom ‘why don’t we also do family gundu’? She said we don’t have that custom. I then asked ‘Can I alone get a gundu head in Tirumala like Poorna’. Mom smiled and said ‘No Pranati, for them it is their custom. We do not cut women’s hair at all. This is our custom.’ But somehow the desire to get a gundu like Poorna became very strong in me. A few days later, I put up some tantrum and pressed my parents to allow me to get a gundu. Neither dad nor mom scolded me or beat me. They were not happy with my demand and tried to persuade me to drop such request. But I kept on insisting.
Since no phones were there among common people those days, my mom wrote to her Mysuru based m-i-l (i.e. my granny) explaining my request and tantrums. She wrote back saying ‘Pranati, the child likes to do it. She is still 15. Let her do it. Hair will grow by the time she becomes a graduate.’ Finally, both mom and dad reluctantly agreed on the condition that I should get 70% in my 11th. If so, before joining B.A. or B.Sc. or whatever, I could get a gundu at Tirumala.
A year later, I got 73% in 11th. The family – my parents, my two elder brothers and myself – went to Tirumala. There, barring mom, the remaining four got our heads shaved. Those days, disposable blades were still not in vogue. The Kalyanakatta was a smaller one. My experience of getting my midback hair shaved off was a beautiful one. Mom also happily used to caress my smooth head. I wanted to do it again after my BA, before joining MA. But my parents put their foot down and said sternly ‘Pranati, you have to be marriage ready. If you cut it again, it will take three more years to get a good length. It will be difficult to get a good family if they see you with short hair. So pipe down and forget cutting it’. I understood the situation and did not press further.
After marriage, I requested my m-i-l to allow me to tonsure my head along with my daughter Rukmini when she completed 10 months. The nice lady that she was, that day she showed me her ‘raudravatara (fiery face)’ and shouted me down. She took my word that I will never cut my hair even after she passes away. I was not allowed to cut Rukmini’s hair either. I had no option but to give her my word that I would not cut or shave my hair.
In fact, two years after Poorna and family had their family tonsure, Padma (who passed out of B.Ed. at that time) was married off to a Hyderabad boy with just about 12 inches of hair. The boy’s parents were very happy to learn that she had shaved off her head in Tirumala two years before as part of family head shave and said that they will be very happy if she would do a religious tonsure once in four or five years after coming to their house, though they did not have any family tonsure custom. And Padma happily continues to get a religious gundu once in five years even today at 61 years of age. And I miss that chance.
Poorna got her head tonsured again five years later at age 20 and she was in 3rd year MBBS in Hyderabad. She was fortunate to land in a rich family in Vishakhapatna as d-i-l where not only family tonsure was practised once in six years but also short hair was allowed for females if desired. So, she happily continued to get a Tirumala tonsure once in six years along with the whole family. And as per her husband’s wish, once she had enough hair after a tonsure, she used to keep an ear level bob. Since early 90s she keeps a short boy cut. And having seen Poorna with a beautiful and short boy cut my desire of having a boy cut daughter and daughter-in-law blossomed to which my husband happily agreed. But we could not implement it till my m-i-l was alive.
P (continuing): Look, Maalu, hair grows again. People will laugh and talk when they see a baldy but that is temporary. If you smilingly say ‘it is family vow’ or ‘Tirupati’ or something like that, they will shut up. And getting a gundu is a really nice experience. And being a part of a family gundu is a much better experience. And trust me, you will look really beautiful with gundu head also. So I suggest that you stop complaining and happily go along with the desire of your m-i-l and get your head nicely shaved and enjoy it to the fullest.
(to be continued)