Thursday, November 09, 2006

Look Hair, I'm Fine.

What happens when one fine morning, you open your mailbox and find an email where someone from the department you do not even know introduces herself and asks you out for coffee?

You feel good about it.

And what happens when you get another email from someone else from the department asking you out for lunch the following weekend?

You feel elated.

What happens when you get a few more of such emails with people asking you out for more coffee and lunches, people from the department whom you do not even know that well?

You tend to get suspicious.

Tracing back the origin and the reasons of the emails and then correlating it to what happened in your life that triggered those emails proved to be a task as difficult as solving murder mysteries in your mind while you read the detective novels.

It took the Sherlock Holmes in me a while to figure out what was happening.

A few weeks ago ….

When I moved to Seattle, I started losing a lot of hair. Every day, as I combed my hair, I found strands of hair everywhere. Despite the humidity and pollution in Calcutta, I hardly lost hair. I never applied curd and eggs on my head. I never made any effort to maintain my hair. Yet, nothing happened. Every time I went for the haircut, the hairdresser commented on the thick crop of hair I had.

And then, I moved to Seattle. I would be horrified to discover strands of hair in the shower everyday. I was unable to figure out a plausible explanation for this, since the weather suited me fine and I was eating and sleeping well. I was so excited in my initial few days here that I wasn’t even depressed or missing home. I was clueless about what was happening. I asked my friends if they faced the same problem and some of them admitted that they did. But they were mostly men. A young woman with a thick crop of hair and not suffering from any major illnesses or setbacks in life didn’t really fancy rubbing shoulders with such balding men.

So every morning, I looked into the mirror to see how much more of my forehead was showing. But beyond a point, I stopped worrying. I believed I was aggravating the hair loss problem more by worrying and losing sleep over it. Even at the current rate of hair loss, it would take me perhaps another 30 years before I had to think of a hair transplant. Soon, I forgot all about this and moved on.

But then, I met someone in my department who casually asked me if I got a new haircut. I told her that it was perhaps the loss of hair that made me look a little funny. The rest of the conversation from my side was more in jest. I told her how the US wasn’t treating my hair well, and that very soon, they would name me a bald eagle. I also told her that I couldn’t find a roommate and was living on my own (not that I had any issues with that, I was quite enjoying the space actually).

With some logic not quite clear to me, she put two and two together, and concluded that I am suffering from depression. She thought that the absence of social company in the form of roommates was adding to my depression.  Perhaps I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. Perhaps I was missing home. And that’s why I was losing hair. I was perhaps on the verge of sinking into cause chronic depression. Some people who remained depressed often committed suicide or tried to harm themselves. Naturally, I was in desperate need for help, according to her of course.

This is how she interpreted the seemingly innocuous conversation of hair fall. So she immediately shot a group email to some of the older students, discussing my “situation” and telling them that I needed help. She feared that if left on my own, I’d end up with chronic depression. Maybe I needed some more time getting used to the place. Maybe I needed to hang around with people a little more.

I understood this after I read those emails the students wrote me. They told me how difficult the transition was, and how brave I was living away from home. My doubts were further confirmed when one day I accidentally bumped into one of them, and she admitted that an email was sent to many older students asking them to help me out. Everyone after that started asking me if I was fine, and if I needed help. So much for a joke that backfired on me!

Of course the person doesn’t know that I come from a place where competition is the way of life, starting right from primary school. Everything is a struggle. Even going to work on time, navigating the traffic is a struggle. People get used to standing in line and waiting for hours and still not have their work done. Buses get crowded, drivers swear, passengers grope or fistfight. And then there are floods and heat waves. Bomb blasts. Earthquakes.Political unrest. And people survive all that. People who write their exams better end up getting lesser marks than those whose mommies and daddies are influential. Answer papers get misplaced, never to be found again.

I myself have written the board exams with a fractured leg. I have qualified and interviewed at better universities, and was rejected solely because my university did not publish results on time. I have had my masters thesis copied word by word with the consent of the professor, because the person could not get her readings right. I have had my statement of purpose plagiarized too. And I have survived a lot worse than this. Yet, nothing depressed me.

And then, I come to the country I have always wanted to be in, and people assume that I am depressed. I am in love with Seattle. I love the weather, the people, the campus, the roads, the buses, and everything else. I no longer fear crowded buses or question my safety when I walk home from campus late at night. I am spoiled for choices. I have an assistantship, and I have health insurance for the first time in life. I am making new friends. Life couldn’t be better. Yet, someone thinks that I am depressed because I am losing a few strands of hair, and creates mayhem for me. Should I call this caring? Or a sign of being panic stricken? Perhaps these people haven’t seen what real struggle is.

Seriously, I am doing just fine. In fact, I am doing great in life. I just wish that my department would understand this.



whoami said...

you should forward the link of this post to all your seniors[:P]

but it's indeed considerate of them to show so much concern for you! touching!

i think you should have some of that coffee[:)]

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

You know, I am having mixed feelings right now as I finished reading this. On one hand is the fact that you have lived through all this hell in a quarter of your life, and on the other hand is the fact that you are standing tall amidst all this and still shining bright --- and actually accepting the facts and proclaiming before the world what has been wrong; no hush-hush business. Life is brutal and weird, lady... but you are indeed lucky to have such a wonderful and supportive department. Make the most of the time, and go and give your grad secretary a whirlwind tour of all the charming smiles and airs you can muster. She'll know that you are fine. :)

Ginni said...

ULTRA DECA GOOOGLE positive would be an understatement..
I loved it..
& I am in awe of your patience & preservance AND the way you write..
India surely rocks..
Waiting for your NOVEL :~>

Di said...

O my god!! really sometimes u totally forget some harmless peice of conversation and that has strange outcomes..enjoy the attention while it lasts..or till they realise u dont really need it.. :)

Anonymous said...

u r lucky to be among nice people.
it is so good that u love it there.

alpine path said...

Wow! U r so lucky to be among considerate seniors and friends. Have a great time. Btw, did u finally accept all the invites? ;)

Anonymous said...

Truly great post.