Watching the television as the 25 year war in Sri Lanka was announced as having finally -- if you can believe it -- reached its dénouement, I was struck again by one of the truly great horrors of life in Asia. The very bad male jet black hair dye job.
Impressive as it was that both Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa and the (now deceased) leader of the Tamil Tigers, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, had managed to feel some manly pride and touch up their roots during wartime, really it's not a good look.
But in Asia, it's everywhere. Leaders are particularly fond of it; the Chinese politburo alone could keep L'Oreal stocks from being affected by the recession. In South Asia and through the Oriental arc (and it's not just limited to those geographical regions ) black dyed hair seems de rigueur for any man poncing about in public office.
A few years ago, I lived in Rangoon. The hideous, loathsome Generals all sported jaunty jet black hair under their military hats. Down on the street, many ordinary souls pump for the black look as well. I shared a dusty partitioned cubicle with a impressively old and lovely chap who hadn't done a decent day's work since 1967. He snored at his desk after lunch, had shocking flatulence which would often have me fleeing the office and was permanently attached to an oxygen tank (yes, that last part really is true). He also had the blackest hair (though not much of it) and was obviously hanging on for dear life to that facade of youth when everything else about him yelled "codger!"
In more recent times I worked with a middle level manager who dyes his hair jet black. His bushy overgrown eyebrows are grey and white and it is quite an alarming combination. Spooky almost. He kind of looked, well, deranged.
I am not sure where this need for the jet black come from. It looks a bit like Asia goes Children of the Corn. I suppose like most cosmetic procedures, the only person fooled is the one doing the dying. Call me old-fashioned, but a gray-haired gentleman is rather pleasing to my eye. We seem to have lost the art of the debonair.
A very good friend of mine, who is Vietnamese, has seen enough jet black haired communist appartchiks to last for eternity. She says that often women are the driving force behind the hair dye. No matter how high up into political despotism you can reach, if you go home at night and your missus tells you it's time for a touch up, there is no argument.
Which brings us back to civil war in Sri Lanka. As the requisite death shots of Mr. Prabhakaran were shown on state TV (his resume includes forced recruitment of child soldiers, suicide bombings, terrorism against civilians, untold misery and hardship for thousands) it was indeed heartening to see that he -- or his wife -- never let personal grooming fall off his agenda.