The signs were all there. I knew its arrival was imminent, and it was all just a matter a time. In spite of all the foreknowledge and the fore-warnings, when I saw it for the first time, out in the open announcing its grand entrance, I was still taken aback and a little shell shocked, for, it was not often that someone reminds me, without masking it with the necessary platitudes, that I was in fact turning (not growing, but turning) old, and yes, even as we speak. And the sign wasn't the cracking of the joints whenever I got up or sat down, which I ob(li)viously attribute to the workout routines, or the occasional spams and sprains in the back, which I conveniently pass the buck on to the improper seating and sleeping postures, or the fading and flickering memory, that I consciously remember to blame it on the all useless information that had already staked its claim on the gray matter (want an example? Quick, in whose bowling did Gavaskar score his ten thousandth run, and where, or who was Kapil Dev's 432nd, the then record breaking, victim? Just why should I still let that inconsequential piece of tripe take up the much valuable cranial space, that I could otherwise use to remember some life saving information, like the female form's date of birth, is beyond me. Anyway, the answers are, 1. Ijaz Fakih (Pak), Ahmedabad 2. Hashan Tilakaratne. See, this was what I was saying). Anyway, it wasn't all those aforementioned that were openly challenging my mortality and masculinity, on that fateful morning, when I slipped into the washroom to do the needful. It was that tiny shred of irrefutable evidence that threw in the gauntlet - "So now, on whom are you going to lay this on?".
It was a tiny white hair, standing proudly among its dark brethren, openly mocking me, from my reflection in the mirror. And the worst part was, it was absolutely correct, there was nobody I could peg this on. For someone suffering from an acute case of the Peter Pan Complex, it was hard to digest the fact that twilight was just around the corner (ok, if hyperbole is not your cup of tea, in a few decades, for sure), when it seemed only a little while ago that the actual fun started. Before I turned to mythology and took comfort in the concept of reincarnation, wherein the end is only the beginning (God Bless, the circular logicians), I had to deal first with the issue at hand (or, on the head) - the follicle that was formenting the trouble. I had to crush the mutiny ruthlessly lest the rebellion spread all around.
The easiest option was nipping it in the bud, literally, but that would still leave a shard of evidence behind, which might ultimately come back and exact its revenge when I am old and weak. Also, there was always that outside chance of someone taller than me standing behind to notice the little fella cut in size, and make a public announcement that Mr.Grey had finally caught with me. So scissors were ruled out. I also considered to treat that only hair as a one time aberration, and just pluck it right out of its existence. No evidence, no mess, case closed, and I could go back fooling the world with my pretend enthusiasm and apocryphal zest for life. That's when I remembered the horror story that was spoken in hushed tones in the company of men struggling with their mid life crises, and I was the only odd man out who was still dark upstairs - pluck a white hair and it would spout out an invisible lava like liquid that would spread quickly to contaminate and de-colorize any black sample that it touches, in effect, rendering square inches of area together, white, within no time. And before you know you were going to look like Rabindranath Tagore, except without the grace, the talent or the Nobel Prize. Hollow threats and dire warnings as those were easy to brush off back when black was my friend. "Come on, invisible liquid? volcanic lava? what is this? your head or Mount Fujiyama?". But now that I was face to face with the devil, those warnings didn't sound all that ridiculous anymore. What if there was some iota of truth behind it? If not like a spewing invisible lava, would it at least settle like a warm visible magma? May be, it might not spread like wildfire, but could it take an entire square block even if it was over a period of a week? The question grew to Hamlet proportion - to snip or to pluck, now that is the question!
After the initial wave of pure panic passed on, a wave of reason came over. So what was so bad about white hair after all? (I still find the euphemism "grey hair" amusing, it is like calling the Permanent Resident Card, the Green Card, when it is actually Pink in color. I could understand the homophobic tendencies in the nomenclature there, but here, why? Let's call a spade a spade). Sure, the 'youth' tag would be ripped off my chest, and I'd have to contend with long romantic walks in the lazing sun with the female form indulging in all sorts of fluff talk, as against diving in adrenaline pumping activities, like bungee jumping, bird watching or many other manly hairy activities. I guess, the white rug on the head comes with the slow turf under the feet. Even if I wanted to act young, energetic and youthful, people (particularly the younger variety) would be able to see through the veneer quite easily, and it wouldn't be long before I would be booted out of the cliques, or worse, retained purely on an honorary basis (the 'youthus emeritus' kind), and that was all because of that lousy white hair. It was time for action. Well, there was a time when I used to leaf past the hair growing and the hair revitalization advertisements in the publications without so much as wasting a glance at them. The reason was pretty simple - and it was the same when dealing with the rest of the natural and man made disasters - IT WAS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME, that I was somehow impervious to all these trivial troubles that had been plaguing mankind since time immemorial (well, not immemorial, per se, but ever since, the neighborhood caveman or the igloo guy rubbed the nearby shrub or herb that made his hair go black again, much to the delight of his wife and contempt of the neighbor's wife). So, now what? Just like the millions of 'white tops' out there, I was going to sneak into the personal hygenie section of the near by departmental store and start hunting for the latest and the greatest hair rejuvenation product? Had it finally come down to this, when I was going to PhotoShop the imperfection, smooth over the trouble spots, and make myself look like a walking equivalent of an air brushed center spread of a glossy women's magazine? What next then? Botox? Liposcution? Implants at strategic spots so as to defy gravity and not allow it gain a foot hold on my terra firma (or, should it be firm terra?)
They say, there are usually five stages in the grieving process - Denial, Anger, Bargain, Depression and finally, Acceptance. After running through all the gamut of options above, I finally settle in the Acceptance floor. What was it that Bernard Shaw said, when something was inevitable, comb back and enjoy it? It was amazing how all these greats rattled out quotable quotes one after another, only when they reached their greying years. I certainly have not heard a Twain, a Shaw, or any other Greek, French or English philosopher spout something even remotely profound in their youthful years. All their wit and wisdom seemed to favor from when they started sporting bald pates and grey beards. So may be, that's the reward - what one loses in the way of looks, appeal and overall appearance, he gains everything back, and a little more, in the manner of wisdom, experience and intellect. Not a bad bargain, I would say. Moreover, there is a certain charm in a little dab of whiteness around the sideburns, a little in the rolling tuft, and even a touch in the mustache. Look at Sean Connery, the man oozes charm and confidence now, than when he was playing OO7, and that, in my view, was in no small measure because of his predominantly white beard, and even his grey eye-brows. Psychologically speaking, the theory has certainly some merit. If we once let go of the serious urge to impress by means of looks, it opens up a wide vista of opportunities of engaging others through more amusing means - the ones that the fairer sex dies for, "it is not about me honey, it is all about you". I know I was rationalizing, but between the options of snip, pluck, color and stay, I found the last one to be more logical, painless, and yes, natural. In growing years, I know the urge would be stronger to side with the chemicals and the paint brush, but as long as I keep remembering the smiling saintly visages of Tagore, Shaw, and even Sean Connery, I should refrain from itch to touch up, even if it is just a bit.
And that's when I decided, I was going to keep my baby - "Worry not little whitey, you are more than welcome in my playground. And in case you get lonely and bored, invite your friends over.... one at a time, of course!". Talk about a little silver lining on an otherwise dark cloud, if you can relate to that metaphorical symbolic irony.