By Rajneesh Narula
(Another in my occasional essay series)
Ah, the World Cup. There are many beautiful memories to be savoured from this greatest of sporting jamborees which will be rehashed over the next four years by armchair sportsmen over innumerable pints of beer. I count myself amongst this number, happy in the knowledge that I can bond with completely inebriated strangers with whom I share absolutely nothing else in common except a mild appreciation of the magic of football.
However, World Cup 2002 for me was about two things: Ronaldo and Hair. First, Ronaldo. Not the coming of age of Ronaldo the footballer, but the birth of Ronaldo the Icon. After all, those that know this sort of thing claim that he is but a pale shadow of artists such as Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, Baggio, Milla, Kanu. He has – for people’s memories are short – in scoring the winning goal, achieved temporary immortality.
As I write this, songs, films and documentaries are being composed and directed celebrating his talent. Men and women alike – whatever their sexual orientations - are indulging in wild fantasies that involve him. Ronaldo will be the choice name for the offspring of football-obsessed couples this year. When that Great Referee in the Sky finally shows him that Most Ultimate of Red Cards, his foot is sure to be preserved, encased in gold, canonised and worshipped. It will be attributed with healing powers.
Football is a religion, a uniting and a dividing force, the last socially acceptable reason to shower abuse on people purely because of differing national origin. I know for a fact that there is a seriously under-subscribed Church of Monday Night Football in the US (I’m not making this up) which will any day now be introduced elsewhere under the banner of the Church of Pele, Ronaldo, Gazza and Other Latter Day Saints.
Now to the hair. The football was good, no question, but no more amazing than any previous World Cup. The real story was the amazing artistry demonstrated in proliferation by the accompanying hair styling engineers and consultants that accompanied each team. Indeed, World Cup 2002 was less about the Beautiful Game but of follicle manipulation. Mohawks, dreadlocks, braids, quilt designs, shaven heads, shades of green, yellow, white and red.
But all these pretenders were eclipsed by Ronaldo who went with a simple triangle. A simple (equilateral, if you must know) triangle shaped like a backward pointing arrowhead. With this simple but completely unique cut, Ronaldo has shown himself to be a dedicated minimalist with strong cubist leanings. Picasso himself could not have done it better. Contrast the front edge of the triangular patch running perfectly parallel with his eyebrows, in perfect perpendicular juxtaposition to the oblong gap between his front teeth, all framed by his angular face. His entire body during that final was a living homage to post-modern modernism. Danish furniture designers would do well to seek his counsel in refreshing their tired designs. Plastic surgeons have whole new vistas opened up to them as artists. The Guggenheim and MOMA will no doubt be vying with the Vatican for his services.
The sight of Ronaldo scoring that last goal thrilled me, and I vowed instantly to emulate his coiffure. I was filled with a longing to duplicate his resplendent appearance by seeking to nurture a similar triangle on my own expansive forehead, until I realised that nature had deprived me of this option. I decided that perhaps I could go with a ‘reverse Ronaldo’ with the arrow pointing forwards, but frustratingly (as I ran my hand through my sparse locks) I realised that this option too was sadly out of my reach. Indeed, I grew increasingly despondent as I assessed the opportunity to grow triangles anywhere on my cranium. I could not provide a home to any sort of geometrical shape on any location in any orientation on my otherwise large skull. Life (and time) had cruelly dashed my opportunities for self-expression.
In a word, I realised with hindsight that being follically challenged and seeking to address it through achieving the perfect shaved head was not the freedom that I believed to be. I am in no way superior to my brethren who have sought other options, namely the comb-over, the comb-forward, the comb-backward, the feint, and the sleight of culture.
A brief description of the cornucopia of hair embellishment. Comb-overs are the most well-known, where three or more strands of hair are ceremoniously arranged over the naked noodle to create the illusion of the complete package. Comb-forwards are favoured where the growth on back of the head is more luscious and is encouraged to fold forward to cover the offending empty space. Comb-backwards are used where the objectionable spot is shaped like a heliport on the crown. All have the same inadequacies – they require profuse quantities of gel-like substances to hold them in places, and are not ideal for performing manly pursuits. Lastly, they can be spotted by even the most shortsighted woman at 50 paces, and result in considerable mirth (and loss of dignity) when performing acts that require some physical exertion. In short, they rarely represent chick magnets.
Thus came about the feint. That is, wiping the slate clean (as it were), by shaving the whole lot off. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, as the Americans like to say. Its superiority lies in its ease of maintenance (no combing required), low cost (no hairdressers, shampoos and conditioners), and the fact that wind resistance is drastically reduced meaning that precious milliseconds are gained when being pursued by animals of prey.
Granted, beasts of prey are only a problem in the Serengeti, but it’s the principle of the thing. It indicates virility and strength that derives from potentially being able to avoid hand-to-incisor combat with a large cat. It implies (or so we like to think) a survival instinct, a disdain for conventionality and suggests that we are have too many assets to be affected by something so minor as a singular absence of hair. One can be proud, masculine and bald all at the same time, along with being cool, and for this we must thank Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the Starship Enterprise.
There are two strikes against the shiny look of the feint. First, the polished look is unsuited for tropical and arctic climates. The dangers of head burn is a significant issue in the noonday sun. Sun stroke is much more likely, especially if you are gifted with a darker skin (the principle of black bodies from physics: we absorb and emit heat more efficiently). In winter conditions 90% of body heat loss occurs through the head. In our case it must be close to a 100%. Second, Ronaldo has changed the coolness quotient. We must seek a road less travelled, a new standard must be established.
What, then, are the options to those of us who have been deemed unworthy in the genetic lottery of life? What recourse might be available to us, victims of fashion and expectations of society, who have been cruelly forced to travel down life’s winding road with no lush natural vegetation on our noggins, without engaging in uncool comb-overs or hair transplants?
There is but one avenue: the sleight of culture. As so often is the case, our western orientation always forces us to regard all problems from a material point of view. The view that humankind is supreme and able to circumvent the workings of Mother Nature by virtue of force, that we can reverse nature. What I am suggesting folks, is to turn eastwards for answers: away from coercing reality towards finding spiritual solutions, and working with nature. By this I mean instead of fighting a losing battle by attempting to mess with the growth of the follicles themselves (or the lack thereof), why not seek to work with the ravaging of time and its consequences. The point is, physical solutions that involve messing with the course of nature, irretrievably damage with our planet and our eco-system. As the various ecological disasters of our time have shown, we must live as one with our inner being as well as our milieu. To seek enlightenment (as mankind has done so often in the past when intractable questions have arisen – what is god? How can we believe? What is the meaning of life? How can we blow each other up more efficiently?) we must turn East, brothers, where the sun rises, where dreams, religions and ideas are born. As Zen philosophy teaches us, seek not to change the unchangeable, but instead to change the attitudes and beliefs that make the unchangeable unbearable. Be one with your baldness. Change society.
In short, I advocate the return of the turban, previously beloved by all men folk east of the Bosporus. Have you noticed how few of the Taliban were conspicuously bald? Or the Ottoman sultans? Chinese emperors? Sikhs? Indeed not, because society is drawn by the impressive bundling of cloth concealing the evidence. One does not have to worry about the comb-over, even where one is bald as a coot. You draw the observer away from what he might ordinarily notice by giving him (or her) something to marvel at. Ergo, you can hide your lack of tresses by sleight of culture, as opposed to the comb-over, which is a sleight of hand. Turbans are practical too: they keep the noodle warm in winter, cool in summer, and help prevent sunstroke. They form an excellent repository for small change, credit cards and other valuables (side benefit: a drop in crime, as it is incredibly difficult to nonchalantly relieve a man of his wallet from a turban. Where do you think the expression, ‘keep this under your hat’ came from?). You can even pick the right turban to suit your mood, and match your clothes. Come rain, you have little need to seek an umbrella. Want to take the Ducatti for a spin? No need to seek a helmet! And when in desperate need to emulate Ronaldo, you can pick a turban with the appropriate triangular design.
One does not have to necessarily to go east: Why do military types wear helmets and hats? Why is Indian Jones always be-hatted? Are not cowboys considered macho and virile? Have you seen any renaissance paintings of men without headgear? Why do the Cardinals in Rome wear those pointy beanbag things on their head? Can you imagine Humphrey Bogart without one? Why do you think the populations of the turbaned and hatted world grows faster than in the west? Why have birth rates been steadily falling in Europe since the 1940s, when (not coincidentally) hat wearing became passé? And China, which has a declining population ever since Chairman Mao revealed his baldpate, and forsook 4000 years of hat culture? Circumstantial evidence would clearly suggest that my turbaned brethren have more sex than us poor un-hatted souls. Head gear, innocent friends, are obviously irresistible to women, and are very probably aphrodisiacs. The world will be a truly happier place where hair loss does not lead to mid-life crises. Half of the wars in the last century can probably be traced to male pattern baldness. Men like Hitler and Pol Pot were probably motivated by their comb-over crisis, seeking instead to impress women and boost their self-image by other more violent means than acquiring a turban. Is it a coincidence that all the world leaders on the allied side were photographed in Yalta with hats?
The way forward is clear. We are being ruled by the tyranny of the hair care industry. We have nothing to lose (and everything to gain) if we toss of these shackles imposed on us by the manufacturers of scissors, wigs and Rogaine. We must liberate ourselves, speaking as one. And the social benefits are immense too. Poor countries with a history of turban-wearing could patent their turban technologies, trading these property rights with the west for Intel Pentium chips. This would extricate the third world from the poverty trap by allowing them to supply the (soon to grow) global booming demand for turbans. The problems of North-South trade imbalances would be a thing of the past: after all, Europe and America have no turban industry to protect against competition. New technologies would spin-off from the happy melding of the traditional with the new: perhaps Nokia can come up with a Turban with a built in GSM phone (giving new meaning to the concept of hands-free).
Do not, I beg you, be faint of heart in this matter. Take not the road of compromise. Do not go with the sad bandana thing favoured by the otherwise macho Bruce Willis. Did not Demi Moore dump him almost immediately afterwards?
Think of an even more glorious World Cup 2006, with 22 men running around with turbans on the pitch (The Koreans with green turbans, the Germans with the white…). Think of the opportunities for advertising that the extra space turbans provide. Think of the glorious colours, the hysterical women. Think of the new rules that will result, when, true to the literal meaning of football, the only acceptable way to strike the ball will be with the foot. Balancing the ball on your turban would result in a turban foul…..