Meet the man whose dread­locks mea­sure 18 me­tres

Friday - - Travel Real Life -

Seated on a brick plat­form un­der the shade of a neem tree near his sprawl­ing house in the western In­dian state of Gu­jarat, Savjib­hai Rathwa gets ready for his alternate day rit­ual – a head bath. But it is no nor­mal wash­ing of the head; Savjib­hai’s takes hours, and, for this rit­ual, he’ll use noth­ing less than 10 buck­ets or 180l of wa­ter. But then the 62-year-old needs to – he is the proud owner of dread­locks a mind-bog­gling 62ft (18m) long.

‘It takes me three hours to wash my hair,’ says the grand­fa­ther, ca­ress­ing a

sec­tion of his long mane. ‘But I don’t mind that. I hate to keep my hair dirty. Luck­ily, I have my grand­chil­dren to help me.’

They’re stand­ing behind him – Ni­hal, four, and Nikita, six, smil­ing and ready to do his bid­ding.

Savjib­hai says that he was 12 years old when he had a dream in which a de­ity di­rected him not to trim his hair. Ever. ‘Since then only once have I cut my hair,’ he says. The 167cm-tall man ad­mits that his friends used to poke fun at him for al­low­ing his hair to grow. ‘A few used to mock­ingly call me ef­fem­i­nate,’ he laughs. ‘Some thought I was plan­ning to be­come a her­mit and re­nounce the world.’

Savjib­hai, who in­her­ited around 20 acres of farm­land from his par­ents and earns a liv­ing rais­ing crops, says that one ma­jor prob­lem he had be­cause of his long hair was that he ini­tially found no women will­ing to marry him. ‘By the time I was in my twen­ties, my hair was re­ally long – around two me­tres – and most of the girls in my vil­lage were re­luc­tant to even talk to me be­cause they thought I was a her­mit.

‘When I reached mar­riage­able age, most re­fused to even look at my face,’ he adds, twirling his long mous­tache.

Af­ter be­ing re­jected sev­eral times, he says he se­ri­ously con­sid­ered shear­ing his locks. ‘My par­ents and sev­eral vil­lage elders too told me that I should cut my hair as that was the only way I would get a girl to marry me,’ he says.

To sat­isfy them, he re­luc­tantly cut a lock of his hair. ‘But I hid it in a trunk and re­fused to dis­card it.’ he says. How­ever, he was filled with so much re­morse that he de­cided that even if he did not get mar­ried, he would never cut his hair again.

Fi­nally, in his late twen­ties, Savjib­hai found a girl who agreed to ac­cept him as her hus­band.

‘Af­ter mar­riage too, she has never had a prob­lem with my long hair,’ he says. ‘She un­der­stands that it has to do with my be­lief.’

Dur­ing the early years, his wife used to help Savjib­hai wash his hair, but af­ter her death in 2005, his chil­dren and now grand­kids lov­ingly help him main­tain his locks. Hold­ing one end of the dread­locks, Ni­hal be­gins a long walk un­rav­el­ling his grand­fa­ther’s hair, care­ful at ev­ery step not to let it fall on the ground. Once he has the en­tire length of hair stretched out, the boy

‘By the time I was in my TWEN­TIES, my hair was re­ally long – around TWO ME­TRES – and most GIRLS in my vil­lage were RE­LUC­TANT to even TALK to me be­cause they thought I was some kind of HER­MIT’

ties it to a pole planted in the far end of the yard. Mean­while, Nikita pours some sham­poo into her cupped hand and runs it all along the length of the hair.

‘I have to use about 30 pouches of sham­poo, 8ml each, ev­ery time I wash my hair,’ says Savjib­hai. That is al­most a quar­ter-litre of sham­poo ev­ery alternate day.

‘It costs me around Rs100 (about Dh5) for ev­ery wash,’ he adds. ‘So ev­ery month I have to set aside Rs1,500 just to en­sure that my hair is not dirty and smelly. This does burn a hole in my pocket, but I don’t mind.’

Apart from farm­ing, Savjib­hai also raises cat­tle; he has around 30 cows, and the milk they pro­duce is sold to neigh­bours. This fetches him a rea­son­ably good in­come that helps him take care of his fam­ily, which in­cludes son Deep Singh, daugh­ter-in-law Gitaben, and the grand­chil­dren, all of whom live in their pala­tial home.

About half an hour af­ter she started sham­poo­ing her grand­fa­ther’s hair, Nikita shouts out that she is fin­ished. ‘Can you bring the buck­ets of wa­ter?’ she calls out to her mother. Gitaben lines up the large buck­ets of wa­ter, and the three of them to­gether wash Savjib­hai’s hair. Then, the kids help him dry it.

Ni­hal, who has closely cropped hair, and his sis­ter with shoul­der-length hair, strug­gle to carry the wet and heavy dread­locks around. They stretch them out be­fore ty­ing the loose end to the iron grill of the win­dow of their house.

Has he ever had any ma­jor prob­lems be­cause of his long mane?

‘No, never,’ says Savjib­hai. ‘Ini­tially, I used to oil my hair ev­ery day. But once it be­came locks, I stopped. Now, I’m only par­tic­u­lar about keep­ing it clean.’

To­day he is tak­ing par­tic­u­lar care be­cause he and his fam­ily will be at­tend­ing a wedding in the neigh­bour­hood.

‘Hurry up, Grandpa or we will get late for the wedding and the feast,’ shouts out Ni­hal, grin­ning and rac­ing away to get dressed.

Savjib­hai smiles and checks if his hair is dry. ‘You know, there are a lot of women in my vil­lage who have said they are quite en­vi­ous of my hair,’ he says with a smile. ‘In fact, even af­ter so many years, ev­ery time I go out, there are at least a few peo­ple who come up to me to ask me the se­cret of my long hair and how I main­tain it.’

The only prob­lem he has with his hair is car­ry­ing it around. ‘Ear­lier, it used to just fall all over my face and when plaited, it used to trip me up when I was walk­ing,’ says Savjib­hai. ‘Fi­nally, I de­cided to wear it like a tur­ban.’

How­ever, when it be­gan to grow in length and be­came too much to bal­ance on his head be­cause of the weight, Savjib­hai started to carry it wrapped around his arm, like a large shoul­der bag. ‘It’s heavy, but still man­age­able,’ he says.

Even as the other fam­ily mem­bers are busy get­ting ready to go for the wedding, Savjib­hai, tired af­ter the three-hour-long wash­ing ses­sion, de­cides to take a snooze.

An hour later, he is up. Slip­ping on a shirt and fix­ing his dhoti, the tra­di­tional white cloth worn by men like a sarong in In­dia, the farmer rolls up his hair into a mam­moth tur­ban. ‘I usu­ally don’t wear my locks like this, but when I go for a wedding or any so­cial event, I pre­fer keep­ing my

‘I use about 30 POUCHES of sham­poo, 8ml each, ev­ery time I WASH my hair. It COSTS me around Rs100 (about Dh5) per wash, so ev­ery month I set aside Rs1,500 to EN­SURE that my hair is not DIRTY’

hands free,’ he says. Then, hold­ing the hands of his grand­kids, the sex­a­ge­nar­ian sets off to­wards the vil­lage hall, where the mar­riage is to be held.

Even as the chil­dren are busy en­joy­ing the mu­sic and feast­ing, the cel­e­bra­tions are rudely in­ter­rupted by sud­den shrieks from a nearby pond. A group of peo­ple rush to find a four-year-old boy, who had waded into the pond to fetch a ball, on the verge of drown­ing. He ap­par­ently lost his foot­ing, and not know­ing how to swim, is now strug­gling for his life.

‘Some­one fetch a rope,’ shouts out a man stand­ing near the edge of the pond. Savjib­hai in­stinc­tively opens up his dread­locks and hurls the loose end to­wards the drown­ing boy.

Amaz­ingly, the boy grabs it and the grand­fa­ther and a few peo­ple slowly be­gin to pull him to safety.

Later, af­ter the boy is ad­min­is­tered first aid, Savjib­hai ties his hair back into a tur­ban.

‘Maybe this is the rea­son I’ve been grow­ing my hair all these years... so I could save this lit­tle boy,’ says the ec­cen­tric saviour with a smile.

The cel­e­bra­tory mood is back and Savjib­hai’s ac­tion is ap­pre­ci­ated by the crowd who gar­land him as a mark of hon­our.

While the kids start tuck­ing into the feast, Savjib­hai has just a glass of fruit juice. ‘I am a veg­e­tar­ian and eat only home-cooked food,’ he says.

He also avoids fried foods and sur­vives largely on fruits, rice, lentils, pulses and milk as well as dairy prod­ucts such as yo­gurt and ghee. Is that the se­cret of his long hair? ‘I think so,’ he says. ‘That and lots of milk. I drink about six glasses of milk ev­ery day, each with a pinch of turmeric and a piece of jag­gery.’

Con­sid­er­ing his achieve­ment, and com­plete com­mit­ment to the cause of his hair, one won­ders why he hasn’t at­tempted to en­ter his name into the Guin­ness World Records? ‘I re­ally did not know there was such a book,’ he says.

Three months ago. a reporter spot­ted him and fea­tured him in a lo­cal Gu­jarati news­pa­per. ‘He told me that I should con­sider ap­ply­ing to be fea­tured in the book,’ he says.

Fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of the fea­ture, scores of peo­ple from neigh­bour­ing states and even from far-flung cities such as New Delhi and Mum­bai made a bee­line to Savjib­hai’s house to see the amazing length of his hair for them­selves.

‘One of them of­fered to take me to the US,’ he says. ‘He said I’d be­come fa­mous be­cause of my hair. He took me to Mum­bai where he put me up in a ho­tel for a week. But I don’t know what hap­pened, be­cause he said it did not work out and I re­turned.

‘Any­way I’m not im­pressed with these things. Me­dia at­ten­tion comes and goes, but noth­ing changes in our lives.’

Mean­while, a lo­cal non-profit has agreed to help him with the doc­u­men­ta­tion to en­ter the Guin­ness World Records for the world’s long­est hair.

‘I’m still not very keen but my fam­ily and friends want me to try,’ he says. ‘So I will.’

The FEAST is in­ter­rupted by SHRIEKS – a lit­tle boy had WADED too far into a pond and was DROWN­ING. Savjib­hai in­stinc­tively OPENS up his DREAD­LOCKS and HURLS the loose end to­wards him


Clean­li­ness is of ut­most im­por­tance to Savjib­hai, and he is care­ful to not let his locks fall to the ground

Con­sid­er­ing the sheer length of his dread­locks, Savjib­hai re­quires help from his grand­kids to wash them

The sex­a­ge­nar­ian tends to wrap his mane around his arm walk­ing around, but dur­ing a special oc­ca­sion, he ties it up like a tur­ban

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