Hair Offering

Originally written for Tribe de Mama 
Words by Yamuna Flaherty
Images by German Linares


In the morning of my undoing
the cold razor severs
each curl in flight
spilling upon my shoulders heavy with
the burden of my bloodlines.
Wrinkled black fingers smear
ancestral ash upon my face;
echoes thunder across the ages
with my beating heart.
A hundred hands tug at these strands
of hair, our stories entangled by cellular
spirals eternally knotted at our roots.
I am the one and the myriad,
woven and unraveled,
miles of engraved footprints and this
delicate first step.

Growing up with an Indian mother, my notion of the subcontinent was influenced by old movie songs, dinner parties where men and women sat in different rooms, and my mother's inconsolable nostalgia for home. Though my father is Scottish, he too had an India which shaped my life. He would spend his evenings playing the sitar on a silk carpet and kept a close eye on a mysterious trunk filled with treasures collected on his travels. From a young age, I was infused with the mystery of that faraway land and have been searching for my place in India ever since. It has not always been easy belonging to two different worlds and not feeling completely at home in either. At thirty-four I feel the pressure of being unmarried and the disapproval of my family in India; at the same time, I have done nothing but choose unconventional roads for a woman to walk. Often, the Indian traditions I grew up with clash with my authentic self and I feel pulled in opposing directions. Offering my hair at the temple was both a renunciation of the image of who I thought I should be and a reclamation of my true self. In this rite of passage, I finally found a way of honoring my truth while paying homage to my ancestral roots. I am learning to live in the complexity of who I am and, rather than choose one identity, celebrate all of the ways that I am uniquely, unmistakably, me.