Background Information: My mother, since I was a child, has tried to get me to put coconut oil in my hair before I sleep. This is a common tradition among Bengali families, and even though we moved to Singapore when I was young, she has tried to keep this going. I interviewed her about this process, and why she believes it is important.
Ankita: So since I was young, you have always been trying to get me to put oil in my hair. Particularly coconut oil. Can you tell me about that?
Ma: The most important thing here is to lubricate the scalp with the oil, and slowly massage it, because when you massage it the blood circulation will be better. And it stimulates hair growth. That’s what we traditionally believe at least. So that’s why I tell you to put it, before you go to sleep. You put oil, tie your hair, then go to sleep.
Ankita: What else does this help with?
Ma: Blood circulation, longer, thicker hair… It calms you down also. So you can focus better. Not just putting coconut oil in your hair, but also massaging your body with mustard oil and turmeric. These are quite traditional and are remedies too.
Ankita: Where did you learn this? Did grandma do it for you?
Ma: No, she never did, but I saw one of my aunts do it for Raktim (my cousin), and she told me that I should do it too, so I did for you since you were young.
Thoughts: Even though I personally do not follow this tradition and at this moment cannot picture doing it for my own children, should I have any, it is still interesting to consider such folk remedies, and how widespread they are. Putting oil in one’s hair is an extremely common practice among Bengalis, despite there being no scientific data proving whether or not it truly stimulates hair growth or calms one down. It is also interesting to note the organic nature of these remedies – for example, the use of coconuts or coconut oil. Folk beliefs also influence the economy – coconut oil is a widely sold commercial product in India, and particularly in West Bengal.