To my first white hairs

Tishani Doshi | March 4, 2015

Weave then, weave o quickly weave

your sham veneration. Knit me webs of winter sagehood,

nightcap, and the fungoid sequins of a crown.

– Wole Soyinka

 

 

Dear Sirs,

I wish you’d arrived sooner.

I’ve been waiting since 1983.

HQ sent a notice of disapproval.

A 7-year-old, they wrote, has scant

need to speak of emulating Indira

Gandhi’s signature white streak.

Still, it would have been nice

to have heard from you directly.

Being a woman has its challenges

as you know, and if you’re power

hungry, all the more so. In this

country the Madonna-whore

conundrum is just a glum

preamble to the vast savageries

of patriarchy. The sole way

to achieve female domination

is to sacrifice motherhood

with finality along with any

stray blooms of sexuality.

To keep tiny sprigs of glamour

at bay by assuming a matronly

shape and martyr’s position.

 

Each year I waited for signs

of age. I worried and raged

so intensely the weight slid

off me like a dictionary,

(which in these anorexic times

worked against me — adding

cheekbone definition instead

of desired Titian dimensions).

In my thirties crow’s feet turned up

in fabulous attendance but not

enough to deter the proboscises

of wannabe husbands. Dear Sirs,

I longed for your arrival in every

muddy confluence of life, watched

the conveyor belt of decrepitude

make rickety journeys around

ladies less worthy. I waited,

and in the waiting subjected

myself to multiple shocks

and incidents of strife,

hoping to suddenly go white.

I grew out my hair and butchered it,

straightened and permed it,

lay out in the sun and fried it,

(although I admit, I regularly

oiled it). I even experimented

with alternative trademarks—

saffron saris and bullet-proof

capes but neither approach

had quite the right spark.

 

And suddenly, you’re here.

So cavalier! To arrive in the most

self-loving city in the world.

Two white hairs leaping

like samurais from the frontiers

of forty, your silver swords

gleaming from bandoliers,

reflected as swirls in the grand

canal of this most serene

of republics. The irony

isn’t lost on me, Dear Sirs,

you know I’d sing paeans

if I could, but let’s not be twee

about the state of affairs.

Upon your arrival it’s become

quite clear that the circle

of life is in fact a square,

that the particularity of yearning

is such that desires are inverted

as soon as they appear.

So forgive me for not singing

myself hoarse in the fashion

of a maudlin gondolier.

I’d thank you, white hairs,

as a poet should,

but I’m too busy catching

my breath on the stairs.

 

 

Tishani Doshi has published five books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She currently lives on a beach between two fishing villages in Tamil Nadu with her husband and three dogs.

 

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