Bald with a Bindi

temple photoDubsie has turned two! This post will end with photos of the most salient development, which is that my daughter no longer has hair. Her curls occupy a dustbin in the Georgia suburb of Dunwoody. But our story begins elsewhere, on a fine morning on the southern outskirts of Atlanta, at a Hindu temple.

temple 3The Hindu Temple of Atlanta is a complex of gleaming white buildings near the airport. We came to town to celebrate the big day with an branch of Mummy’s family in Georgia, and had arranged an appointment for Dubsie to meet with a priest for her mottai. In gratitude for the child’s existence, an offering is made — of the child’s hair, a symbolic surrendering of the vanity that it represents.

We brought along the $51 fee and all the items that were listed as obligatory on the website, including turmeric and kumkum powders, three coconuts, a packet of incense sticks, 10 betel leaves, a bunch of flowers, five mangoes and five bananas, and of course a pair of scissors.

temple photo 2I have attended enough Hindu ceremonies to know that most of the rituals will drift right over my head. It will be beautiful and bursting with color, yes indeed, as the priest tends to his silver plate with its tiny hillock of turmeric powder, and a pile of magenta mums that Mummy had snipped the heads off of, and the three of us sitting cross-legged on the floor and casting handfuls of rice when the priest instructed. What luck to marry into a tradition that engages in such flagrant pageantry. The colors and the burning incense envelop my senses and evoke otherworldliness and awe.

But to this white guy raised nominally Christian, it makes no sense at all.

The priest, a fellow in his 30s wearing a white veshti, chants not in Hindi, the most common language in India, nor in Tamil, the native tongue of Mummy’s people, but in Sanskrit, which is a language rarely spoken by anyone other than priests. Contemporary Hindu ceremonies are like the Latin liturgies that the Catholic church abandoned long ago. Visit almost any church in America and you’ll get your prayers in English, but go into a Hindu temple in the deep South, and one overhears a nonsensical conversation between monks and gods.

At times the priest leans forward and prompts me, the man of the house yet the least Hindu person in the building, to chant after him. I repeat the Sanskrit sounds best I could. Some I get my tongue around and some I mangle so thoroughly that he makes me repeat them in smaller bites, in order that the gods not miss our humble memo.

Then Mummy’s father and I ‘shave’ Dubsie’s head. We snip off a few locks that the priests guides us to wrap in yellow cloths. With that we are pretty much done. Even the gods would have noticed, however, that our toddler still had a towering and vanity-inducing mop of hair.

When Mummy was a child, her mottai was conducted at Tirupati, a temple on a hill in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh famous across the Hindu world. This hair tonsuring, as it’s formally known, produces from Tirupati’s pilgrims a ton of hair a day. All that the ritual in Atlanta requires is that a few locks be cut. But in Tirupati at the age of two, Mummy was seated in her father’s lap while a barber shaved her bald with a straight razor. If Mummy went all the way, we determined, so would Dubsie.

So we drive across town to a Great Clips.

haircut 1There, we are received by Fallon, a woman with thick glasses, plunging décolletage and some creative arm tattoos. I lift Dubsie into the chair, and Fallon surrounds her with a smock and sets to work without delay. I expect to have my staff-photographer duties interrupted by a bawling Dubsie, but no. She is as calm as could be. (Or as oblivious as could be, like her Daddy at the temple.).

We bring her home to family with a buzzcut and a bindi on her forehead. Dubsie is now even more adorable than before — no poofy hair to distract me from her big bright eyes and those comical eyebrows. I rub her sandpapery head with affection. If a goal of the mottai is to vanquish pride in Dubsie’s appearance,  then I am unvanquished. Maybe I’m the one who deserves the razor.





haircut 2










birthday 1


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