Mission Delhi – Saumya Pande, Noida
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The coronavirus-triggered closure of the world is doing different things to different people. Many citizens are rushing back to their distant homes in great difficulties. And those who are lucky enough to be already locked up in their houses are struggling to cope with this unprecedented suspension of life by using all the creativity at their disposal. Among this set of people, some are creating a new version of themselves by learning to wash the bartans with a minimum quantity of water in the kitchen sink, or keeping a daily pandemic journal, or even rustling out perfectly round rotis—you must have seen all these wonders on your friends’ TikTok and Facebook updates of course.
Saumya Pande too hewed out a new version of herself in this difficult period. “I got myself naturally curled hair in the lockdown,” she gushes. Ms Pande, 46, is chatting on WhatsApp video from the isolation of her apartment in Noida, that she is currently sharing with her ailing father and his full-time caretaker. Her two sons live in Gurgaon.
An associate professor heading the department of fashion in a design institute in south Delhi, she gamely shows her crowning glory through the phone screen that connects her to The Delhi Walla. Her long wild curly hair are falling down like a cascading sea of ringlets.
This new spectacle of hers is actually as much about the lockdown as about her mother, the late author Pratima Pande.
“Maa was my biggest inspiration…. she was also very beautiful, with long straight hair (see the black & white pic), and was often compared to (actor) Waheeda Rehman.”
But her mother never let Ms Pande grow her hair long while she was a child, partly because she wanted her little “Cookie” to first grow up herself so that she could look after her hair on her own. “In fact, she hated curls,” laughs Ms Pande, exclaiming that “Maa got my head tonsured seven times before I turned five!”
Looking into the phone screen, she cheerfully says that “I got my natural curls in the lockdown simply by refusing to comb the hair!“
In the BC (before corona) era, when people were still obliged to be physically present in the office, Ms Pande rarely found time in her hectic schedule to immerse herself deeply in everyday grooming. “Having a shower was a rushed affair,” for instance. But as she found herself stranded at home with the imposition of lockdown in late March, she slowed her life. She also started to spend more time in the shower “and developed routines like oiling my body, bathing more leisurely.” It gave her the opportunity to recall memories of her mother loudly singing Gayatri Mantra while in the shower “and the prayers wouldn’t even stop as Maa would emerge out, all dressed up, from the bathroom, and amble towards the pooja (prayer) corner in our home.”
One day, more than a month ago, Ms Pande came out of her bath and discovered ringlets in her hair. “The hair looked undone… they had curled up on their own… I was sort of liking it.”
Ms Pande soon realised that “if I don’t dry and comb my hair after the wash, they start curling up naturally.” She also Googled to discover other tricks—like scrunching—to make her hair go curly in a natural way.
Ms Pande’s mother passed away in 2011, aged 67. “Something had snapped in her after my brother, a squadron leader in the Indian Air Force, died in a Mig 21 fighter crash.”
One wonders how Ms Pande’s friends react on seeing her curly avtar on Zoom meets. The lady laughs, saying, “I think they are finding it a bit exotic! Very different from my Bihari lineage of straight no-fuss hair… this is more me—bohemian and carefree.”
And what if her mother were alive?
“Maa would have immediately said, “Go, comb your hair!””
[This is the 318th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
Her lockdown curls
1. (Saumya’s parents)