I was 20 years old and had just joined grad school. An MBA program in a university town situated 750 km away from home. We had to take a 17 hr train ride and a then a 30 minute bus ride to reach there from Chennai, my home town. Chennai is a conservative city and I was raised in a conservative household. I was required to oil my hair with coconut oil and braid it before I stepped out of the house. Oiled down hair parted at the center in two braids, a bindi, over sized shell-frame spectacles, an ill fitting salwar kameez that hung off a skinny frame and a dad who enforced military-style discipline. That was my life. And then I land in Manipal. Unreachable on a whim, by anyone I knew 🙂
As soon as I got my admission letter, I told my parents that I cannot take care of my long tresses in college. I had already struck a deal with them that If I get into an MBA program, I am cutting off my long hair. If I don’t get an admission, well then my south Indian look would be intact for seeking suitable grooms in the marriage circuit. Never had I prayed so hard to get into anything as I did that year. The day after I got my admission letter, off to the hair salon I went and got myself what they used to call ” A Princess Diana cut”. From waist-length hair to a boyish ‘Diana cut’, the first step of metamorphosis had begun.
I landed in college and after a tumultuous 48 hours of ragging ,when I actually wished I was back in the confines of the home I knew for 20 years, I had gotten settled into the demanding, daunting, academic routine. That first month, they announced the ‘Freshers’ ball’. I was super excited. Tamizh girl raised in Chennai had no experience with any ball other than a ‘throw ball’. I fished out the only decent skirt and blouse I had. With my contact lenses in and a dab of lipstick, I was ready.
Here I am at the freshers’ ball where I was informed that the rule is that a boy needs to come up to you and ask you to dance with him ( What fancy world is this ! My curd-rice self did a ‘jaw drop’- it seemed to be like a scene from one of the Barbara Cartland romances that I used to devour in high school). To give you a perspective, I went to a girls-only school followed by a girls-only college. And now I am at a freshers’ ball where boys are coming up to me and asking me to dance with them. Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaat !
That night was one of the most memorable firsts of my life. The music was heady. There was not a drop of alcohol in the house. It was just music and lemonade. But I was high on life. I was asked continuously to dance and I didn’t care who asked me to dance as long as I could be on the dance floor. My clothes stuck to my back as sweat dripped off me as I darted off the dance floor between songs every now and then to chug some lemonade and return to the dance floor. I danced to make up for all the years that I had not. One of my dance partners commented, “Not bad Navina. You seem to have the moves”. I floated on that euphoria the entire weekend. Clearly a night to remember as I am writing about it 26 years after it happened 🙂