Let Down Hair – A translation by Nakul Vāc

It frightened him that so many women let their hair down. Women sat, stood and walked with their hair let down. Quite a few had their clothes drenched. The waterfall loomed large and appeared immense. Swarming beneath it were some twenty-odd males, clinging to the rock as if they made up some kind of beehive. Underneath the narrowest stream of water(so narrow that it could accommodate only one person at a time) women stood in a queue to drench their hair and bodies. Water which fell on each and every woman who stood there coursed its way down their faces and bodies. Faces shimmered, cleansed by the falling water. A woman, her long hair flowing down to her buttocks, walked past his line of vision. Since arriving at this place he had been been telling his friend, both in ways that he could and could not make sense of, about all the trouble caused him by let down hair.

With their hair let down four women alongside their husbands went past him. A leper across the road made noise, clanking change in his tin can. A Monkey sat on a rock, licking something. He was telling his friend that let down hair chased him as if it were a symbol. “It all comes down to what you make of it”, his friend said. They walked towards a densely shadowed area beneath a tree and sat on a rock.

His friend asked him if he met her often now.  He replied that he hardly, if ever, got a chance to see her. “You don’t know about her married life, it is quite tough. She is stubborn like this rock and has complicated her marriage because of that. Her stubbornness should have pushed her husband towards certain limits but it didn’t. It brought out her anger in several ways and ended up toughening his stubbornness even more, I think” he said. They continued to sit without talking anymore.

Her fingers, legs, neck and her face in profile were all very beautiful. He noticed that she had gotten lean and got an opportunity to tell it to her as well. Subsequently she told him that for the first time she was getting to know what married life was about. On that night, she told him that it was the day she felt married for the first time. Her married life with her husband was what it was because of her stubbornness.

“Why do you think let down hair follows you?”, his friend asked. He didn’t reply. Even though his friend could, at times, make some sort of coherent sense of what was related, there was much he couldn’t understand and often he felt he were being dragged into a world of suppositions.

Wanting to see a waterfall situated at the top of the mountain, they got up and walked. They both lit their cigarettes. They had to head towards the road and take the path that forked into the mountain. As they progressed along the road they saw a young girl with disheveled clothes sitting beside a ruined temple chariot. In-lieu of flowers she had inserted bits of colored paper in her hair. He felt as if her image was trying to secure a place in his mind. As he repeatedly tried to shake it off, the image without any signs of faltering casually entered it.  He didn’t know if his friend had also noticed that girl. He felt that asking him now might make him notice and hence kept walking without saying anything. On both sides of that mountain path there were tall trees in strange shapes. As the terrain was uneven they had grown beautifully any which way, as they wished. He thought it would be nice if a girl who had hidden herself amongst the trees suddenly revealed herself.  He also had a doubt whether the lives of other men would also be like his. Looking back, he remembered how he got trapped in the net two other girls had cast for him. She too, out of her own volition had once remarked “You are now trapped by me.”  But their present platonic relationship has grown way too serious for them to take heed of such things. He now recounted how during his teen years he had never had a physical relationship with the girl he instinctively yearned for. Evenas he told himself that the relationship he had with that girl was pristinely pure he also simultaneously realized his own naive innocence. If only that girl’s face would appear amidst the trees, he would be really happy, he thought. No sooner he had this thought than the face of that girl he saw besides the temple chariot briefly appeared amidst the trees and vanished.

A family approached them and as they crossed each other he heard the words “TV Mahabharata”. “Is this when they screen Mahabharata on the TV?” he asked his friend. His friend took a look at his watch and said “Yes”. At that he suddenly thought of something. It felt new and was something he had not thought of before ever since coming there. It was surprising to him that he had not thought of it before.  He felt he could now sort of understand why let down hair bothered him. The memory of Draupadi’s let down hair was the reason for his newfound clarity. He realized that for an Australian or an American, let down hair would not have made such an impact. Perhaps let down hair troubles our unconscious mind only if it had Indian tradition for a background, he thought.

It felt now as if his mind had gotten light. He lit a cigarette joyfully and walked alongside his friend. Chatting freely on several topics they reached the waterfall. Water cascaded from the top of a large rock surrounded by tall trees, only to become a rivulet coursing its way through other rocks. Men and women of three or four families were bathing. He casually watched the let down hair of the women. Shortly after his friend had bathed and dressed they felt hungry and descended.

On their way down they went past the let down hair of two women. The mountain path ended and they reached the road. As they were walking along the road they could hear the music of Nadaswaram piping from the Wedding Hall opposite the temple chariot. He now turned his eyes towards the chariot.  The girl was no longer to be found at the earlier place beside it. As he peered carefully he spotted her sitting between the huge wheels, wearing a dried-out garland, one leg folded and the other upright in the traditional posture of a bride. The let down hair of the women encountered on the road frightened him now.

(A translation of the Tamil Short story, ‘Virittha Koonthal’ (விரித்த கூந்தல்), by Sureshkumara Indirajith)

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