When my son Naresh was three months old, the five of us – in-laws, husband Girish, myself and Naresh – went to Tirumala for a darshan. Girish had agreed to get a gundu (head shave) after some hard persuasion. Later he was so happy about it that ‘bald once in two years and machine cut at other times’ became his guiding principle just as m-i-l had desired. M-i-l was very thankful to me for this.
We planned to go for a Tirumala visit once Naresh completed 2 years and do his first gundu. It was given that my f-i-l and Girish would also get gundu. But my m-i-l threw a bomb saying, “Why don’t we start a family gundu now along with Naresh’s gundu?” She was an ardent supporter of female gundu and now she wanted to implement it.
All welcomed it except me. M-i-l said that she would get a gundu only if I also happily did it. Finally, the two gents and Naresh got gundu while I and m-i-l got ‘5 cuts’. I was happy with Girish’s gundu. Back home, with some prodding from m-i-l, I and Girish started our next baby.
When I went to the garage (I was working in the car repair garage run by Rudranna as his secretary-cum-receptionist for nearly 4 years) next day with prasadam, Rudranna said half-jokingly why I was not bald. I explained to him that I refused even after my m-i-l’s entreaties. He became grim and said “Kruti, every grown up female should get a Tirumala gundu at least once in her life time. It is so enjoyable and liberating. You should have happily agreed. I would also have felt honoured to have a bald receptionist. Anyway, do not miss a similar chance when it will come again.” He proudly showed me the photos of his people’s family gundu, which they did the previous year. His 36 year old wife, their son and two daughters were all bald and really looked beautiful! My firm opposition to female gundu got a big jolt.
Nine months later, my daughter Navya was born. When Navya was nearing two years, m-i-l said on a Sunday morning that Navya has to get her first gundu at Tirumala. The trip would be in about two weeks’ time. Then, m-i-l repeated her desire of seeing me and herself also bald at least now and starting a family gundu practice. Unlike last time, she was very insistent this time. Now, Rudranna’s admonition and the beautiful faces of his bald wife and daughters, all came to my mind. I was about to say yes, but some unknown fear pulled me back and I said ‘no’ this time also. So while little Navya would become a baldy, I and my m-i-l would again give ‘5-cuts’. I felt bad for my tearful m-i-l who was deeply disappointed.
Next day at the garage, a Monday, Rudranna put a bomb of sorts when he told us “Dear all, the government has notified this area for the metro work. I will be shifting the garage to a place some 20 km away in about a month’s time. I will retain those of you who want to continue with me at that place. For the rest, I will pay compensation as per norms.” Most workers were rattled. Having worked in Rudranna’s garage, I had become a toughie and took this info in my stride.
He called me to his cabin and said “Kruti, I know that travelling 20 km up and down daily will be tough on you. A girl of your calibre can move up in life in a different place. Why don’t you work in a HR training and consultancy firm called ‘Hire&Help’ run by my friend’s wife where you can earn more and grow up to higher levels? They are just 3 km away from your house. They will pay much more than what I paid. But that company is a bit quirky and expect a modern look on you. If you are interested to join it, I will give a letter now itself.”
As he said, going 20 km up and down every day would be really harsh on me and the family. And with the financial commitments, the family needed my salary. But I liked my traditional look – saree, long hair, etc. – very much. As suggested by Rudranna, I agreed to attend an interview in that company before saying no. So he spoke to somebody on the phone, wrote out a hand written recommendation letter, asked me to call a lady, Nirupama in the evening and gave me her number.
Back home, I explained the situation to my in-laws and husband. They were also shocked. But all agreed with Rudranna that I should attend the interview before saying no. Later I called Nirupama. She called me to come for a test and interview on Wednesday, 10 am.
My visit to ‘Hire&Help’ and the interview that I attended on Wednesday, 10 am sent my head spinning, so to say! All high class and modern. It is an all-female company. And all the staff, from helpers to directors wore a uniform short dress – from shoulder to mid-thigh and no sleeves – and had very short hair. While most had a short clippered boy cut, a few had a crew cut and a few were bald, including the CEO, Kalpana.
Two more ladies, Brunda and Kavya, both dressed as traditionally as me, had come for the interview for different profiles. Both were eager get employed here and become mod – short hair and all.
There was a written test in our respective profiles. I and Brunda sailed through while Kavya could not. With some tears, she left. First Brunda and then I were called for a 2 round interview. First one was for testing us. Both were selected. The second one was to brief us on the requirements. I would be having a one month probation period while for Brunda’s profile, it would be three months. Brunda was extremely happy.
I was interviewed by the 40 year old CEO Kalpana (freshly bald) and three more senior officers Ramya (grown out boy cut), Vidya (fresh boy cut with closely clippered back and sides high up) and Nirupama (crew cut like a Navy cadet!). All were having the identical uniform maroon short dress. But what was reassuring was that all the four sported bindi, nose studs and mangalasutra in their necks. These things assured me that these people may be mod but not anti-Indian culture like some snobbish feminists.
In the second round, Kalpana explained more about the firm. Nirupama explained the various things like what would be my role, hours of working, leaves, probation of 1 month, uniform, etc. I would get 20k during a month of probation and 50k with additional perks if absorbed. One serious issue would be that there would be parties hosted by the company quite often which would go late into the night and as a HR person I would be in the team of arrangements and supervision.
Finally, Kalpana took over again and said “Kruti, as you have seen, all our staff wear short maroon dress as uniform, four days a week. Fridays are uniform saree days. All our staff are required to have a short clippered boy cut like Vidya here or a crew cut like Nirupama. If you want to become a baldy – like I am now – a written prior permission from the management is needed. Every employee is required to get a fresh clipper cut at our grooming centre, in the first floor, once in about 30 days. During the month long probation, you don’t need to cut your hair or wear the uniform.
“Once you are confirmed, you will have to cut your hair to a short clipper boy cut or a crew cut at our grooming centre. Rudranna recommended your name to me. He is a family friend and is a very nice and helpful person. And we find that you are what he said about you. You have to join on first of next month for probation. You have time till Friday evening to accept our offer. Do you have any questions?”
The salary of 50k with perks was highly attractive. I had to discuss at home in depth on the hair and dress thing before I commit something. So I said,
“Thank you, madam. I find the offer exciting, but at the same time this type of dress and hair style are new to our traditional family and I have to check with my people at home on this. If I join, should I get a boy cut straightaway or can I become a baldy and then grow it to a boy cut? Or can I join with just about an inch of hair?”
Kalpana: (with a giggle) “Oh, do you have some vow or something of offering your hair?”
I: “No, but I have never cut my hair. If I have to cut off my long hair, I would like to offer the whole of my hair in Tirumala first. That is why I asked.”
Kalpana: (giggled again) “Kruti, all our employees are not only free but encouraged to shave their heads occasionally for religious or any other purpose. But that can happen only 6 months after their first boy cut or crew cut as an employee. It will be almost two months from now when you will need to get your first boy cut. If you shave off your head in a couple of days from now, you will have more than an inch of hair then. Even three fourth inch will be enough to get our standard crew cut. If you agree to join, go ahead, get a head shave soon and a crew cut two months later!” The four giggled embarrassing me a bit, but there was little doubt that the giggle was a friendly leg pulling.
I: “In parties, will there be non-vegetarian food and alcoholic drinks to be arranged?”
Kalpana: “Yes sure. You will have to arrange them. But you are not under any obligation to consume them. Do you take drinks by the way? And are you a vegetarian or non-vegetarian?” All the four giggled again.
I: “I am a vegetarian and I have no wish to take drinks, madam.” I giggled. Others also giggled in a strange way looking at each other. Nirupama went out.
K: “You said that you don’t wish to take drinks. Many of us tried it, but could not succeed. I hope at least you will. As on today, 100% of our staff take drinks in parties and some at their homes also. Leave that aside. Just yesterday, I and my family went to Tirumala and we had a family gundu. We do it once in two years. Please take this prasadam.” She gave a big chunk of the Tirupati laddu on a piece of paper. I put a little of it in my mouth with reverence and a smile and packed the rest.
Nirupama entered with an envelope. Kalpana opened it, read the offer letter and signed it. I would be the Secretary for three HR specialists. She showed me the printouts of three of their employees with the dress and saree. Gargi was in boy cut, Gayatri was in a crew cut while Parimala was bald. All the three looked beautiful, be it in the short dress or saree. Kalpana put the contents back into the cover and handed it over to me. We shook hands, I thanked them all and came out. I and Brunda had lunch together in their canteen. With long braids we two looked odd ones in a sea of boy cuts, crew cuts and a few baldies. Somehow, the ambience and the words of baldy Kalpana and her colleagues had impressed me a lot. A firm opponent of female haircut had within half a day become enamoured of short haired females. One go ahead from Girish and my in-laws and I would happily embrace this place.
Back home, I told my people about the offer and conditions. I showed them the photos of Gargi, Gayatri and Parimala with uniform dress and saree. For some time, they were all dumbstruck. Finally, f-i-l said “Kruti, this is a very good offer. Grab it. You will look fantastic in boy cut or crew cut or bald and we will have a new trend in our traditional house. No problem. We will go with the times. And this dress – it is the modern trend in corporate world and nobody would mistake you or your character.” M-i-l and my husband also expressed similar sentiments.
I haltingly said “But… the boss lady said that nobody who tried to remain a teetotaller has succeeded. I am afraid that the ambience may drive me also to take drinks in parties like the rest. I don’t like to do it.” But what m-i-l said in response was a very big surprise!
M-i-l said “Don’t worry, Kruti. A small drink once in a while will not do any harm. Only thing is, you should not take too much or get addicted to it. If it becomes necessary to connect with people and make a mark, happily take a little, dear. Nothing will happen. We will only consider it as a step for you in the direction of a mod lady”. F-i-l and Girish supported her saying “yeah, yeah”.
And that was that. I happily made up my mind to join ‘Hire&Help’. I felt a rare happiness surge through me, almost similar to what I experienced just before I had sex with my husband for the first time some six years ago.
I explained to them the choices I had: One, keep my long hair and at entry to the company after a month’s probation get a boy cut in their grooming centre. Two, become a baldy along with Navya and at entry to the company I would have about an inch and half long hair. I would be forced to get a crew cut like that Gayatri. Which would they prefer?
My m-i-l said “You have left out the third choice. Become bald with Navya, get a repeat gundu three or four weeks later at Chicka Tirupati temple and you will have half inch hair at entry to that company. That is long enough for a crew cut like this Gayatri”. All including m-i-l giggled. And m-i-l with a giggle said that I had no other choice. Finally, I also shyly agreed. I gave acceptance the next day itself. M-i-l was extremely happy that her pet project of starting a family Tirumala gundu in our home was finally fructifying.
I thanked Rudranna for facilitating my entry into ‘Hire&Help’. We all went to Tirumala on Friday evening. I had informed Rudranna that this time I would happily sit at his Reception table flaunting my smooth dome, though for the short remaining period of his garage’s life. In Tirumala, first the two kids and then the two gents were tonsured. Then it was my m-i-l. She shed tears of joy when her wet hair bunches fell one by one in just four minutes and her head became a smooth greyish dome.
When the barber scraped my wet hair, it was a heavenly feeling for me. Rudranna was right. No female should miss an opportunity of getting a Tirumala gundu. It is so joyous and exhilarating! In four minutes, I also became a nice and smooth baldy. All the three elders said that I looked exquisitely beautiful. The only dark thought was that I would not be growing my hair long in the near future, if ever, while my m-i-l would be growing it back. Or I thought so.
After bath, darshan and taking food, m-i-l hugged me, with tears of joy and said “Kruti, you have made my day. I was waiting for getting a Tirumala gundu for a very long time since my college days. But I did not have the guts to ask for it so far. When Kalyani (Girish’s married younger sister) entered college, I had proposed it for her. She had rejected it. I proposed it for you three years ago and you rejected it. If this new job had not come your way, you would have stuck to your five cuts and I would not have liked to go bald without you doing it. Thank you a lot, dear.”
I said “I am very happy about it, Atte. You look so nice like this. Anyway, I will be keeping a boy cut and in that company they do encourage occasional gundu. So, I propose that we come here once a year. The gents and kids can have gundu every year, I once in two years and you once in four years. What do you say, my dear bald mother-in-law?” I asked, slightly pulling her leg.
I was surprised when she said “If I would be having a boy cut and little Navya would be having a boy cut, why should we do a family gundu once in four years? I will also do it once in two years.” With surprise, I said “You mean that you will also …..” “Yes, I will also keep a boy cut after my second gundu. Your f-i-l has already agreed for it.”
Back home, m-i-l said “Kruti, for the first time in our family, both the son and daughter-in-law are bald. In this state, I would like you to get another baby. Why don’t you start today?” She had prevented me from undergoing any permanent family planning procedure after Navya’s birth. I was so happy that a part of me wanted to say yes. But I did not want to take any long leave in my first year of service. So I convinced her that I would definitely conceive another kid with both I and Girish being baldies but some eight or nine months from now. She happily agreed for it.
Neighbours were naturally surprised at our family gundu. We all flaunted our bald heads proudly. At my garage, Rudranna was extremely happy to see his Receptionist a smooth and beautiful baldy. I was also happy to sit there flaunting my smooth dome. We had not stopped taking service orders, yet. So many known customers who delivered their cars gave a bright smile looking at my bald head. I proudly smiled back. I thought that in my six years of post-marriage service here I could have done this gundu at least once more, but regretted that I missed the chance.
I had informed Nirupama that I would report for probation on the designated day with a bald dome. She said that I was welcome to do so, but I should have at least half inch hair in a month’s time. I said yes.
We all went to Chicka Tirupati, about 35 km from Bangalore a week before my reporting day. There I got the half inch growth on my head smoothly shaved again and Rudranna was very happy to see his Receptionist a baldy on the closing days of his outfit. Somehow I was falling in love with a gundu head.
I joined the company for probation with about 3 mm hair, saree and high heels. Brunda also joined the same day with her braid intact. She could not stop giggling at my gundu head. We had become close enough to pull each other’s legs. I told her “Brunda, if you keep laughing at me like this, I will ask Kalpana to change the company policy and you will get a mohawk on absorption.” She asked what is a mohawk. I searched on the internet and showed her. She also giggled at it.
A month passed by smoothly. I practised the use of high heels and saree with sleeveless blouses. The work in the company was hectic but I quickly got the hang of it. All the three boy cut HR specialists – Kruttika, Malavika and Srividya – were happy with my work. Two days before the month ended, Nirupama told me that the management is happy with my progress.
She handed me the letter confirming my appointment. I was pleasantly surprised that my salary had been fixed not at 50k but 60k! As asked, I tried the uniform dresses and they were ok. Dr. Janaki (boy cut) and the nurse Sukanya (crew cut) did a ‘thorough’ medical examination of me. I was declared medically fit.
The next day evening, Nandita (boy cut), the grooming specialist, sat me on a barbers’ chair and draped me with a cape. She combed my three fourth inch long scalp hair just to smoothen it out. Then, she put a no. 4 guide on clippers and ran it all over my head in different directions making the hair uniformly half inch all over. The clean cut and uniform spiky hair looked fantastic on my head. Then she put a no. 2 guide and shortened the hair on the back and sides to quarter inch with gradation. Then she removed the attachment and made the lower portions of back and sides bald to skin to about an inch above the ear. The resultant crew cut looked exquisite and very feminine. I really liked it. Back home my in-laws and husband said that I looked fantastic like this and I could make this my brand style if the company permitted. With a smile I said that I would think over.
Next day, my first day as an absorbed employee, I went to office with the short maroon dress, high heels and of course the crew cut. My three officers welcomed me with broad smiles. I quickly got onto the job. In the afternoon, I was given an invitation by my HR boss, Radhika (boy cut) for a welcome dinner in the night at a 5 star hotel. I was the only new recruit to be welcomed today. The four ladies who interviewed me, Radhika and my three work bosses would be there. I could wear anything, I was told but saree would be preferable.
I went home, said I would be late, wore a saree with a sleeveless blouse and went to the hotel. The eight ladies, all in sarees, were very nice to me. After some chit chat and a little leg pulling, CEO Kalpana gave a short welcoming speech, I gave an acceptance speech and she gave me a welcome memento. Then we sat for dinner. I was sandwiched between Radhika on one side and Srividya on the other. First drinks were served to their choices – whisky, red wine, rum, etc. I asked for orange juice. All the eight guffawed. Radhika said “Kruti, you are one among us from today and you can reserve your orange juice for some other day. Today you are starting on red wine.”
No sooner had she completed the sentence than Srividya pressed my mouth open with her left hand while Radhika put a little wine in my mouth and Srividya released my jaw. All giggled. I was taken aback but sheepishly swallowed it. Kalpana said “Kruti, you have been spoilt now. Better complete the task yourself”. Again everybody giggled. Then sheepishly I took the glass and started drinking the wine slowly. Gradually I started liking it. I finished the glass and felt very happy. We finished the dinner and returned home jubilantly. I told my people that I had started taking drinks today. They all smiled.
Within a month, all my bosses – the work bosses and the HR boss Radhika were very happy with my work. I made a lot of friends across the company. My toughie nature came in handy in solving many things. Overall both the company and myself were very happy. Radhika took me to some decent bar on weekends and made me learn to drink beer, whisky, wine and rum. Within a month I was a pro.
The crewcut I had at the beginning really looked good on me. My people at home also liked it. So I decided to continue the style. Radhika happily agreed. Then on, once a month I get the same crew cut by Nandita. After three months after the visit to Tirumala, both m-i-l and Navya were tonsured smooth again at Chick Tirupati.
After the sixth month crewcut, I requested the company permission to shave my head the succeeding month. They happily gave it. M-i-l was supposed to get her first boy cut. But I reminded her about conceiving the next child with bald heads. So, she postponed it by three months. The family proceeded to Tirumala, and all the six got gundu again. Back home, I and Girish started the next child with bald heads.
It is five years since that time. I am very happy in this company. I take drinks, of course only outside the home, once or twice a week. I am keeping my head a crewcut once a month. The only change is the bald portion on the back and sides has steadily gone up and now it is about one and half inch above the ears. My m-i-l gets a scissors ‘short back and sides’ boy cut once in five or six weeks. My third child is also a female and we have named her Chitra. I have passed MBA also. I am likely to move up gradually in this company. Two yearly family gundu has become the practice in our house. My m-i-l is very happy with that, her own boy cut, my crew cut and my becoming a mod girl.