About Me

My photo
Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

To grey or not to grey

That is the question; and what, pray, is your answer?

I am pretty sure everyone reading this is familiar with the phrase ‘silver fox’. But to err on the side of safety, allow me to explain that it is used to refer to handsome men of a certain age who are going grey, and looking better with every strand that turns white.

The original poster boy of the ‘silver fox’ brigade was Richard Gere, who was grey even when he was young and should by rights have had a full head of black hair. Since then, the mantle has passed on to George Clooney, who has embraced grey hair (and now a grey beard) along with his sex symbol status. And over the years, such silver foxes as John Slattery (who played Roger Sterling in Mad Men) and Alec Baldwin (30 Rock and more recently, SNL) have had their moment in the sun – or should that be moon?

So what, you ask, is the female alternative to ‘silver fox’? What do we call a woman who is growing older, embracing her grey hair, and looking amazing as a consequence?

Well, the short answer to that is: there is no such corresponding phrase. And what’s even more disheartening is that it is difficult to find famous women in the world of movies, media or even politics who have decided to go grey with age and look glamorous while doing so. (All I could come up with was Theresa May, and you will agree, there is nothing remotely foxy about her.)

If you look at TV news, then on the international channels you have a fair smattering of ‘silver foxes’. Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer on CNN, for instance, have been white-haired for as long as I can remember. Back home, Rajdeep Sardesai has begun greying at a rapid pace, and now has more white hair than black (as does Karan Thapar).

But channel surf one evening and see if you can find even one female anchor who is greying with the years. There are plenty of women in their forties on news television who should – in the natural course – have a smattering of grey in their hair. But every major female anchor across channels has impeccably coloured hair, sometimes with the addition of a few glamorous highlights or lowlights.

In politics, too, the number of women who are unapologetically grey are few and far between. Sonia Gandhi has been slowly greying over the last few years, and Sheila Dikshit has had salt and pepper hair for decades now. But that’s about it, I think. Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman, Maneka Gandhi, Sumitra Mahajan, all of them sport a full head of black hair (natural or not, I leave it to your imagination). In the last Parliament, the only woman I can think of who sported grey hair with aplomb was Jaya Bachchan.  

That’s not to say that women are not embracing greying in the wider world. You only have to check out the hashtag #goinggrey on Instagram to see some awesome women rocking their grey, salt and pepper, or white hair. But these women are still seen as outliers, the standard being women who don’t let a single strand of white show and monitor their roots with an iron discipline, checking in for colour treatments every four to six weeks.

I have to admit that this gender disparity in going grey doesn’t really surprise me. In the world we live in, there is far greater pressure on women to look good than there is on men. And in our culture, looking good has come to mean looking young, especially for women (women with white hair=old; men with white hair=distinguished). So, making the decision to let nature take its own course where your hair is concerned takes a bit of courage.

But I am getting the sense that this is beginning to change. I see many women around me saying yes to grey hair, and loving the way it looks on them. My sister is among them, though her decision was spurred by a medical emergency that left her with shaved head. When her hitherto-dyed hair grew back in an interesting shade of salt and pepper, she decided to keep it. It’s snow white now, and she looks absolutely amazing with it.

Would I be able to rock the same look, I often wonder. I am not sure just how much grey I do have – those six-weekly visits for a ‘root touch-up’ mean that I will never know for sure – and whether it will look as good on me as it does on her.

But the reason I can’t see myself going grey is more fundamental than that. The black-haired (with just a hint of auburn highlights) image of myself that I see looking back at me in the mirror seems the best version of myself. That woman looks the way I feel. And unless that feeling changes, the hair won’t either.

I will, as the saying does not go, dye another day. And then another. And another.

Table for one

Eating out alone has its pleasures – but it’s not the only activity you can enjoy on your own

I’ve lost count of the number of people who look at my pityingly when I say that I often head out to lunch – and sometimes even dinner (shock! horror!) alone. Don’t you have any friends, you sad little loser, their eyes seem to say. Does your husband not love you enough to have a meal with you? Why can’t you manage to rustle up even one lunch companion from among the dozens of people you know? 

Of course, they don’t say any of this aloud. Instead their ‘concern’ is expressed in any one of the following ways. Don’t I feel embarrassed and exposed eating a meal on my own? How can it be any fun going out to eat without having someone to share the experience with you? Don’t you miss having someone to talk to you while you are eating? And so on and on and on.

Well, the truth is while I enjoy eating out with my husband (and do so all the time) and have great fun doing my ‘ladies who lunch’ thing with my girlfriends, I also really, really enjoy taking myself out for a meal ever so often. Sometimes, I take along a book that I am currently immersed in, and bury my nose in it as I make my way through starter, main course and coffee. Sometimes I spend my time surfing on the Internet. And then, there are times when I don’t put any barriers between me and the world and simply indulge in one of my favourite pastimes: people-watching.

In fact, I love people-watching while eating so much that I even have my own phrase for it. I call it ‘catching the cabaret’, and as a speculative exercise there is no beating it. Is the teenage couple seated to the left of me breaking up or is it just another regular fight in a volatile relationship? That middle-aged couple seated next to the window? Are they eating in companionable silence because they have been married so long that they have nothing left to say to one another? That group of loud young men having a largely liquid lunch? How many of them will leave the table sober? And why is it that the decibel level of a kitty party group is always higher than that of any other?

But while eating out on my own is a fun thing to do, so too are a whole host of other activities.

Shopping, for one. Most of my friends enjoy going out shopping in a group so that they can have the benefit of other people’s opinions on the things they try one. And they have a point: you can’t really ask a shop attendant, “does my bum look big in this,” and expect an honest answer. But frankly, if you feel impelled to ask that question, then take it from me, your bum does look big in it. As far as I am concerned, my eye is the only one that matters when I go shopping.

I am also one of those people who find browsing in shops and window-shopping a complete waste of time. My modus operandi when I go shopping is to make a list of what I want, make a beeline for it, make my choice, pay up and head home. Spending hours looking at merchandise I am never going to buy – which is what inevitably happens while shopping with a group – is my idea of hell. So, solo shopping trips are what work best for me.

The same goes with exercise, whether it is a yoga or Pilates session or a walk in the park. With both yoga and Pilates I prefer to set my own pace, rather than try to slow down or speed up to keep up with a group of people. And when I am out for a walk, I like the idea of spending some time in contemplative silence or just listening to my own thoughts rather than chattering away with a friend or two.

I also find solitude restorative when I am in the kitchen so cooking, for me, is always a solo activity. After spending the whole day with people, there is something therapeutic about finding yourself alone in front of the stove at the end of the day. There is a certain meditative quality to mindlessly chopping vegetables, stirring a curry or a risotto, or even getting ingredients together to bung into the oven. Turn on some music, pour yourself a glass of wine, and suddenly cooking seems like fun rather than just another chore to get through.

The one thing I haven’t tried my hand at yet is watching a movie alone, though those who do so swear by it. There is no distracting chat from those accompanying you, and nobody steals your popcorn after refusing to order their own. But somehow I don’t think this would work for me. For one thing, a cinema hall is always full of people, even if you have ventured out alone. And for another, these people are always doing annoying things like taking phone calls, or texting or even chatting to one another. So watching a movie in a hall can never truly be a solitary activity.

Which perhaps explains why I have become such a fan of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which give you the movie experience in the privacy of your home and the comfort of your sofa, where you can binge away to your heart’s content. And where the popcorn is far, far cheaper.

Game On

As winter comes to Westeros, only four women are still standing – but will one of them occupy the Iron Throne?

As I sit down to write this column, there are still three days to go for the release of the first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones. By the time you read this, you’ll already have seen it and will have a glimmering of an idea of where the final season of this show is headed. Though given how Game of Thrones works, whatever you may think in the beginning will end up being turned on its head in the finale. (Warning: this column contains spoilers galore if you still haven’t watched the first seven seasons, so proceed with care.)

But one thing is indisputable. After all the wars and skirmishes and Machiavellian dramas of the previous seasons, only four leading ladies are still standing in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. In Kings Landing, the Ice Queen Cersei Lannister, has taken the Iron Throne for her own. In the North, the two Wolf Sisters, Sansa and Arya Stark, have combined their strength to defeat their enemies (and kill Littlefinger). And the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen, has crossed the Narrow Sea to assert her rightful claim to the Seven Kingdoms.

So, which of these four women do you think will survive till the end of the final season? Which one of them has the best chance of winning the right to sit on the Iron Throne? And, more importantly, which one are you rooting for?

My personal favourite has always been Arya Stark, the plucky little girl who fashions herself into a stone-cold killer to survive all that life throws at her. I took a long time to warm up to Sansa Stark, the spoilt rich girl of the early episodes, but her resilience and strength as she dealt with two monsters – Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton – have earned my respect.

But despite my admiration for the Stark girls, it is quite obvious by now that the odds-on favourite is Daenerys Targaryen, with most fans betting on her to win the battle for the Seven Kingdoms. After all, who can resist a silver-haired queen who is fierce enough to ride a dragon, and tender hearted enough to free slaves in her sojourn in the East?

At the other end of the spectrum is Cersei Lannister, whom only her twin brother, Jamie Lannister, could love. Her only redeeming quality is her fierce love of her children (even if we let the small matter of their being born of incest slide). But with all three of her kids dead, that tiny nurturing part of her is gone as well, leaving an ice-cold killer behind.

So, with all this in mind, let’s see what are the chances of each of these ladies to become ruler of the Seven Kingdoms:

Daenerys Targaryen

As she never tires of pointing out, Daenreys is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, the Targaryens having been deposed by the ‘Usurper’ Robert Baratheon. But even leaving her blood claim aside, Daenerys is the strongest candidate in the battle for Westeros. She has a wild Dothraki horde backing her; she has the wily ‘Imp’ Tyrion Lannister as her main advisor; and most importantly, she has dragons that can lay waste to all her enemies. There is just one glitch: one her dragons has been turned by the Night King, so the battle will not be so one-sided after all. But good money is still on Daenerys ending up on the Iron Throne.

Cersei Lannister

It would be a complete inversion of all the rules of natural justice if Cersei Lannister retained her control of the Iron Throne. Conventional wisdom dictates that Evil, as personified by her, is always defeated by Good, at the end of any fantasy story. But as we have seen, Game of Thrones is no ordinary fantasy. Here the rules are overturned with scant consideration for the feelings of fans (remember Ned Stark’s beheading and the Red Wedding?). So, it wouldn’t surprise me unduly if Cersei did end up being the last one standing even though one fan theory has it that she will end up being killed – by her twin, Jamie Lannister, no less.

Sansa Stark

The character arc of the elder Stark sister has been quite remarkable, her life trajectory taking in everything from being betrothed to Joffrey, married to Tyrian, escaping the clutches of her mad aunt, being married to and abused by the despicable Ramsay Bolton, to being reunited with Jon Snow and ruling the North alongside him. But frankly, for Sansa to get the Iron Throne, too many people have to die. But then again, when has that ever been a problem with the Game of Thrones?

Arya Stark

This one is a very, very long shot. But there are two reasons why I would love to see Arya Stark on the Iron Throne. First, her bravery is breathtaking from the time she holds her own against the Hound to the moment when she slits Walder Frey’s throat. Two, she is the ultimate survivor, navigating the harsh world with just her own fierce courage and a tiny little sword she calls Needle. And the world needs a Queen like that.

Of course, it is entirely possible that none of these women will get within sniffing distance of the throne. And that Jon Snow will turn out to be the Prince That Was Promised.

But that seems like the most predictable end of all. And we all know that George R.R. Martin just does not do predictable.