Nobody likes looking older than they are and most of us probably don’t like looking their actual age too for that matter. It’s also very difficult to really know when you have crossed the very important ageing milestone between youth and ‘middle-age’. Sometimes people around you make it easy for you though…..
So, a few moons ago, while on vacation back home in Kochi, I was getting something from one of the local supermarkets. The person at the billing there was a 20 something petite female with a permanent toothy smile and little bit of a squint. As I was about to leave the store, the lady calls out to me in a screechy voice “Ungil, you forgot your umbrella!”
For those not familiar with mallu tongue ‘Ungil’ is basically ‘uncle’ and ‘uncle’ in general, in Indianese refers to any guy somewhere around your father’s age (it may be rarely used for actual genetically related uncles too). If you have not yet reached that tipping age for ‘ungil’, then you would be referred to as ‘chetta’ in malluland, which basically is something like an older brother (very important note – the emphasis is on the ‘e’ in ‘chetta’, an emphasis on the ‘tt’ implies a not so politically correct term).
My vanity was obviously dented. ‘Saar’ (sir) was acceptable, ‘Chetta’ was good….'ungil’ was a bit depressing, to put it mildly. I did do a desperate 360 degree look around me to see if there was some other ‘ungil’ around me…but alas, no…the toothy smile and squinty eyes were both unwaveringly focussed on me. No other ‘ungil’. Simble.
I returned home in a huff and made a beeline to the bathroom mirror. My wife as usual noticed the beelining and gave her usual, trained “ Is your stomach upset?” line.
“But, I didn’t try your cooking today darling” Don’t underestimate the meanness of an angry Indian husband.
“Hmmpph” Smart-wife switches into ‘flight’ mode.
I take a deep breath and facing the mirror, try a self pre-botox/filler evaluation session, making all sorts of frowning, smiling and sad expressions to see the state of my static and dynamic wrinkles…more of frowning though, considering the not so ebullient frame of mind I was in.
My wife lifts her head buried into her phone, gives me a cursory glance and some vague kind of disgusted snort before going back to her very important WhatsApping session. My crazy 10 year old daughter also passes by curiously, a couple of times, before she finally stands behind me on her toes and peers into the mirror.
“What do you think you’re doing” I shot at her
“Nothing papa…with all the frowning I was wondering if mama was in the mirror” with a wicked grin she saunters off. Wiseasses….whole house is infested with them.
It didn’t take too much of mirror gazing and playing ‘who’s the fairest of them all’ to reach a final diagnosis. The hair was the issue…fair and square…fair hair. To put the state of my scalp in parliamentary terms, the whites were not yet in majority, but with a few more defections from the traitorous blacks they would easily form the government in a few years (I wonder if I could keep the black hairs locked down in some resort to prevent them turning black). The whites were making slow but steady inroads down south too, to my moustache and beard areas.
“I will have to dye” I announce to the two other insensitive creatures around.
“Are you playing ‘blue whale’ papa?” The upside is that the young lady obviously does not need a paternity test…all my scratchy genes have been passed down as such in an autosomal dominant manner.
“You should have started long time ago” This “vishesh tippani” from Rajmata Sivagami devi (the Mrs.)
Now that was other irritating thing. The bitter-half has virtually no greys. Expected, you would say, because I hardly give her any stress and the vice-versa is another story….but unfair all the same. It’s classical 3 idiots wisdom - You’re sad if your wife looks old…but you are sadder if you look older than your wife.
Now I had a teeny-weeny ethical dilemma. You see, I am ‘that’ guy who normally takes the moral high horse and preaches to patients about avoiding hair color because of allergic reactions and stuff and generally not hiding your age…grey makes you look distinguished and all that crap…but I guess viewpoints are allowed to take sharp hypocritical, U-turns when people start ‘ungling’ you. So I take a cue from Trump and set about to ‘make my hair great again’.
I went out and bought some hair color. There was a ‘buy 2 get one free’ offer so I ended up with more than I needed (and just to spite the ‘ungling’ jackass I got it from the store opposite hers….inflicting a major business loss for the moron).
Since I didn’t want to shock the world around with a sudden color shift I opted for a more subdued and subtle looking brown-black thingy. After half an hour of meticulous painting on the beautiful canvas on my head, I go back to playing ‘mirror mirror’ on the wall. This time the face in the mirror smiles back. The hairs are lovely, dark and neat…. I may not have promises to keep but I have at least a few weeks to go before I again start seeing those 50 shades of grey.
The younger lady of the house meanwhile looks up from the newspaper she is reading, seriousness writ large on her face “Papa, do you have any black money?”
“Huh”? I didn’t have too much of any money, black or white “No, obviously not, I am an honest citizen” I assure her ( For a change I am proud of her showing an interest in things like black money and demonetization instead of those distorted, monstrous faces and voices in Shin-Chan)
She gives me the upturned left eyebrow ‘you are one of those middle class- suckers’ look and then sarcastically announces to the mother hen “Papa has no black money and no black hair either” Both mother and daughter bond over a guffawing session at my expense.
Armed with my new black mop, the next day I go back confidently to the shop and stare confidently at the obviously visually and mentally challenged idiot who had ‘ungled’ me. Just to be on the safe side I left my umbrella at home (for us mallus, two things we always keep on us are our lungis and umbrellas, irrespective of weather conditions…and you can’t keep your lungi at home for obvious reasons). I am about to leave the shop after paying the bill (the one with 2 GSTs added for good measure and paid with good old cash….no paytm or atm for old ungils after all), when she shouts from behind….
“Ungil, you didn’t take your change”…… Normally I am kinda good with sharp and quick repartees. Right not the only thing which came to my mind was something on the lines of ‘∗‰※∅☠’(now go try google translate on that!)
Anyway, apparently once an ‘ungil’ always an ‘ungil’.
The same day the remaining bottles of hair color were flushed down my toilet.
To conclude (and to make a mess of the classical quote recently made famous by our former PM – Dr Manmohan Singh) - In the long run we all dye………and then we realize that it doesn’t make a damn difference…so we stop dyeing and start living!