The Toothpick Incident

by Sidin Vadukut in


I have hair. 

Other people have lucrative investment portfolios, expensive cars, high metabolisms, statuesque physiques, healthy BMIs, and a capacity to sleep on planes during long flights. Very good. Congratulations. But I have hair. Quite tremendous hair. My hair is thick and dark and even. There is, I admit, the occasional grey strand. One cannot resist the ravaging of time, but one can succumb to it with style.

But otherwise, my hair is really quite exceptional. Apply a little Brylcreem—Red—and it will stay in place like a Studds helmet. No wonder attractive ladies in business school used to run their fingers over my head and whisper ‘So dense, so thick’.  Many still want to, but their bald husbands will get jealous, what to do.

Having said this, you will be surprised to know that I have only ever had two hairstyles in my entire life:

  • Mild ‘Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men with left partition’, 1979 - 1989
  • Mild ‘Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men with right partition’, 1989 - present

What happened in 1989, all those years before the 2014 elections, for my hair to suddenly move from left to right?

Friends, please sit down, it is a short but good story.

It was, if I recall, a Thursday morning in Abu Dhabi. Thursday was the first day of the weekend in those days in Abu Dhabi. Dad was getting dressing in his Thursday casuals for work. Mom was in the kitchen experimenting with some recipe from Vanita magazine no doubt. Chicken sambar or pineapple puffs or some such nonsense.

My brother was watching some WWF wrestling on TV. And I was lying on the floor of the living room, propped up on my elbows, reading the newspaper. I was 10 years old at the time, my brother was six.

I was a 10-year old who spent most of the weekend reading the newspaper. I was, and still am, considered to be a very cool person within very limited social circles.

As I was reading the paper or doing the crossword or some such, I noticed a toothpick lying under the sofa. I remember this very distinctly. It was inside a Kentucky Fried Chicken wrapper. Perhaps the remains of a weekend fast food meal the evening before. 

For reasons I just do not have, I reached for the toothpick, unwrapped it, and began to just look at it. 

Why? No idea. I just said no, boss!! I have no reasons. 

At that exact moment my brother leapt off the coffee table and onto my back like some stupid WWF wrestler. He was so enthralled by the program on TV he had decided to produce what I believe is called ‘user-generated content’.

For a moment I was just mildly irritated. And then I saw the drops of blood on the newspaper. And then I noticed that the toothpick was no longer in my hand, but sticking out of my head, near the hairline on the right side. (My right, your left.) Panic ensued. I tried to pull it out, the toothpick broke in half, leaving around an inch still embedded in my head. I ran to the bedroom. 

Dad, I said, there is a toothpick in my head. 

Shut up Sidin, Dad said, don’t make fun of such things. One day it will really happen and then nobody will believe you. 

Dad, oh my god Dad, Dad there is a toothpick in my head.  This is not a drill.

My dad ran his fingers over the skin of my scalp and recoiled in horror. The inch-long piece of toothpick was stuck between the skin of my scalp and the bone of the skull.

All this is completely true.  Completely.

We rushed to the hospital. (New Medical Center, Abu Dhabi. )

One doctor came and checked and said, wait one second I need to call another doctor. Then another. And then another. Until there was a small group discussion around my head. The problem, they said, was trying to figure out how to approach the piece of toothpick. Apparently, the foreign object was moving around between the layers of skin and bone.

Dad: “Look is he safe? Doctor, is anything going to happen to my son?”

Doctor: “Absolutely no problem Mr. Sunny. He is 100% safe. We are just discussing how to remove this without causing too much scarring or physical disfigurement...”

Typical Indian Dad: “Thank you Jesus. What scarring doctor, as if he is going to look handsome like Rajiv Gandhi or Prem Nazir when he grows up. You just take it out. If there is any problem he can wear a cap for the rest of his life.” 

After two or three hours of this nonsense, they finally decided to operate. The operation itself took no more than an hour or so. There was a lost of unpleasant tugging and pulling and stitching. Did it hurt me? Well, I don’t have any strong feelings about that question... because they used local anaesthetic.

Ha ha ha. Classic. 

After applying a massive—and I mean massive—bandage around my head they said I could go home.  The doctor asked me if I wanted to go to school the week after. Of course, I said, I am participating in a poetry recitation competition.

Doctor: “Are you sure? The bandage will distract from the poetry...”

Sidin: “Not at all doctor, let this bandage be a strong message to other students about the value of safety and a culture of precaution in the...” 

Doctor: “You want to get extra sympathy marks in the competition?” 

Sidin: “Correct, can you make the bandage a little bigger?” 

This proved futile as that stupid Andrew M with his voice like melted Amul butter sliding off a silver spoon into a pool of melted chocolate won the contest. (Bloody fool won every single year throughout my time in that school.) I got third prize I think.

The stitches and scarring meant that I had to switch my hair partition from left to right. For years afterwards I used to impress people by showing them the scar in my hairline. This scar has now vanished. But I don’t need it anymore. Why would I need it?

I have my fantastic hair. And people are always impressed.