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Let's Talk is a series where we invite individuals from all cultures, genders, ethnicities and backgrounds to share deep and personal topics to help us understand and better connect with ourselves and each other.
Hair oiling holds a special place in my heart. It is more than haircare; it is a ritual that is rooted in history, culture, and family.
Like many people, I have a complicated relationship with my hair. When I was a child, I had thick, unruly hair. Sometimes, when it would get tangled and frizz out in every direction, I hated it. Other times, when it would be soft and luscious, I loved it.
Then, when I developed a thyroid condition, my hair was never the same.
I vividly remember the day a chunk the size of a golf ball fell out from the base of my skull. I was fifteen. I cried to my mother and she reassured me with hair oiling, a staple in my haircare routine since I was a child.
"Although I used hair oiling in the hope that it would give me back what was lost - my thick hair - it was the time I spent with my mother, talking, relaxing, at peace, that I loved the most about hair oiling."
Using oil on the hair is a practice linked to Ayurvedic medicine, which originates in ancient India and is over 5,000 years old. Ayurvedic medicine focuses on the maintenance of health through creating balance in one’s life, thinking, diet and lifestyle. The Charaka Samhita, one of the definitive books on Ayurvedic medicine, details the importance of oiling the hair and the scalp to help to develop healthy, thick, dark hair and prevent hair loss. The use of oils to treat hair concerns is a tradition that has crossed generations and cultural lines: in Ancient Egypt, a mixture of linseed oil and malt was used to promote hair growth, in the Middle Ages, while hair care using animal parts existed, a remedy for hair loss was a gel made of flaxseed and rosemary oil.
Going beyond beauty, hair oiling is a tradition of bonding that has been passed down from generation to generation. Every Sunday, my mother would sit me at her feet to rub oil into my hair, just like her mother had done before her. It was always the same: melted coconut oil mixed with amla oil. My mother would take her time, making sure that each section of my hair was fully saturated. My favourite part would be the way my mother’s fingers pressed into my scalp, relieving tension, as we chatted about whatever was on the TV at the time. Although I used hair oiling in the hope that it would give me back what was lost - my thick hair - it was the time I spent with my mother, talking, relaxing, at peace, that I loved the most about hair oiling.
Over the years, hair oiling transformed from something that was done out of desperation to revive my thinning hair to something that connected me with my mother and our Indian heritage. Now, as I continue the tradition every Sunday with my coconut, amla and castor oil concoction, I feel a connection to my roots.