Beauty routine of coloring hair with natural henna.

Orange Is the New Black
by Rashmi Patel

I had my first white hair at the age of 21. I wrote in my journal:

“I can’t breathe. First white hair. God! I am going to die soon.”

I spent my twenties hiding from this definite messenger of death by coloring to dark brown or black whatever white strands I could see. Then at 27, a hairdresser in Singapore declared I had done a lousy job all these years. There was so much white I hadn’t covered. Worse, I had damaged my hair irreparably. He insisted on plucking every single white hair he could spot. There must have been at least a hundred.

“It’s painful. Stop,” I said meekly.

“The straightening would not look nice, la! And no time to colour. Sit. It pains less than waxing,” he said, laughing a hearty laugh.

That day I vowed to use only henna to color my hair from then on. Now, eight years later, my hair is all bright orange. Not everyone likes it. I get lots of hair advice:

“Have you tried putting coffee in the henna? Beetroot? Tea?”

“Try foam color, babe. It’s really easy.”

“You know, now it looks odd. I’ll take you to a good place.”

There is no way to convince some that I am in a good place. It took time but I have grown to like the process of hennaing my hair: the slow messiness of mixing earthy henna with oil, curd, lemon, and water, the smell and feel of the wet muddy mixture between my fingers, the soaking and waiting, the soothing feel on my scalp for hours and hours.

For now, orange feels more natural than brown or black.

PHOTO: “Applying henna” by Viki, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Hair is such an integral part of feminine identity. What inspired me to write this piece is how others react to a not-so-common choice. In a world where finding time for simple acts like breathing deep, praying, or calling loved ones needs fancy reminders and alarms, where haste-making is the norm, time-consuming traditional methods of enhancing physical beauty have stopped appealing to women. But these options are very much available. I also wanted to say to people who look at hennaed hair with disgust, embarrassment, or discomfort: it’s really ok.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rashmi Patel has published her writing in Femina, Mint, and Times of India. She draws, paints, quilts, and spends her time connecting and creating new worlds in words, lines, colours, and textures. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia. You can find her work on at @rashmi_patel2005.