During the first week of October in 1967 Calcutta, every mother in the hospital gave birth to a baby girl, except my mother. She was the single exception, and in her perceived misfortune, she took liberty with my innocence and played house according to her unfulfilled dreams. One of my first photos shows me with long black hair and wearing a dress. Three years passed before the start of school forced Mum to rethink my effeminate appearance. Luckily, I survived.

My long hair also represented my introduction to Hindu spirituality and tradition. My family observed typical Hindu customs, celebrating my first years with various sacrosanct rituals. I remember well the Mundan Sanskar, also known as my first haircut as a child, which occurred with my family on the temple steps in Haridwar. Nestled against the Shiwalik Hills, Haridwar follows the course of the sacred River Ganges. Its name meaning “doorway to God,” springs from a Hindu legend of Lord Vishnu’s footprint discovered on its riverbank. Considered one of Hinduism’s seven holiest cities, it is home to the most popular pilgrimage, Khumbh Mela, honoring the god Shiva and attracting over one million worshippers from around the world each year.

Though many families choose to hold Mundan Sanskar around the child’s first birthday, my parents waited until I was three years of age. I clearly remember sitting wide-eyed before a skinny barber who wore an Indian dhoti kurta and waited hungrily to tackle the long black flow of hair that extended past my shoulders. A priest began the ceremony by shaving a small tousle from my crown, and the barber’s blade followed quickly. I dared not move while hair fluttered down past my face and onto the dusty ground, where my family gathered it to sprinkle as an offering in the Ganges. At last, I felt the soothing lather of turmeric and sandalwood paste plastered upon my tender scalp. This Mundan Sanskar ritual signified a new and fresh beginning for me as my family believed that my hair from birth represented all the unwanted, lingering traits carried over from my past lifetime. In faith, my family carried me to a sacred location in India where I partook of this blessing and received the start of a long and happy life.