Saira Khan tells the story of the sadness and pain she felt cutting her mother’s hair when her mother, who has always been very proud of her hair, was undergoing chemotherapy to treat her cancer
Image: DAILY MIRROR)
I have many challenging responsibilities in my life, but nothing has been quite as excruciating as being asked by my mother, as she lay in a hospital bed this week, to cut her hair, which is falling out due to the chemotherapy she is receiving.
My Pakistani mother, who has a blood cancer called follicular lymphoma, is 76 years old but has never cut her hair in her life.
That’s no exaggeration. As with many women of her culture, generation and heritage, her hair is her identity.
It is associated with her sense of femininity and beauty, and also has religious and spiritual significance.
I only know Mama with one hairstyle – a long braid with a bobble at the end.
Growing up, I watched in awe as she performed an oil ritual to strengthen her hair.
She took a bottle of mustard oil, bought at a local Asian store, undid her braid and let her dark locks fall loose.
This was the only time I ever saw how beautiful my mother’s hair was – long, thick and falling around her face. But she never wore it in public like that.
Mum warmed the oil in her palms and massaged it down the length of her hair for an hour, making sure to coat each strand to strengthen it, enhance color and add shine.
My job was to hold the bottle and pour the oil into her hand. I didn’t like the smell, but my mother didn’t care about the aroma. She focused on the results – soft, shiny, healthy hair.
Getty Images Europe)
The ritual ended with her combing out any tangles, tying her hair into a bun and wrapping a headscarf around it to keep oil from getting on her pillow at night.
Then it was my turn. She massaged my scalp and gave me two braids that were still in when I went to school the next morning.
I’ve never seen mama in a scrap of makeup, but boy did she adorn her hair – with bobbles, barrettes, clips and a Pakistani decoration called “paranda” woven in to add length and thickness.
Her definition of beauty was a woman with long, thick hair.
But when I got into my teens, I didn’t want to be the Asian woman with two oily pigtails.
I wanted to be like my friends from 1986, who all got curly bobs like Kelly McGillis in Top Gun. So I did the unthinkable. I went to the hairdresser and had the braids that reached below my chin cut off.
I went home with the excuse, “I cut it because I had nits.” But I will never forget the horror, pain, and shame I saw in my mother’s eyes.
As an Asian I had done the unimaginable – cut my hair and shamed my family.
Mom didn’t speak to me for two weeks and I felt guilty for years. So imagine what it was like when she asked me to cut her hair.
With tears in her eyes, she handed me a pair of scissors and said, “Cut them off, but don’t show them to me.”
I looked at her thinning, matted hair and wanted to scream and curse the cancer my mum had been going through.
But unable to speak, I made the first snip.
The little blades cut off her hair while my beautiful mother sobbed uncontrollably. It broke my heart into a thousand pieces.
I held her in my arms. i kissed her I said, “It will grow back, Mom. You’ll see. It’s getting thicker and stronger.”
She didn’t hear my words of comfort. She just put her head in her hands and moaned.
Get the latest news in your inbox. Sign up for the free Mirror newsletter
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/the-cruellest-cut-ever-mum-27090548 "The cruellest cut ever for me and my mother - the heartbreak of losing your hair" - Saira Khan