Given that the picture on the book cover of Why is My Hair Curly? is of a curly-haired girl in reverie holding a pen with a journal in her hand, coupled with the title, one might anticipate the book to be about a young girl’s travails of managing curly hair. One would be wrong.
The protagonist, Avantika, is a young girl who happens to have curly hair. The story kicks off with her and her younger brother, Avnish, getting on a Shatabdi train along with their parents to go back home to Chennai after a vacation at their paternal grand-parents’ home in Coimbatore. Avantika is relieved to be getting away from her cousins who spent the holiday teasing her and calling her names like ‘Medusa’.
While on the train, Avantika runs into a young girl named Vibha. The two girls have a fleeting conversation, in the course of which Vibha compliments Avantika on her beautiful curly hair. Being the first time that anyone has said anything nice about her hair, Avantika is taken aback and unsure of how to respond, but the compliment stays with her.
Avantika gets frustrated with her ‘unruly locks’ that get ‘frizzy and untamed’ in Chennai’s humid weather, each strand having ‘a mind of its own’, ever ready to start a ‘mutiny on top of her head’. Later in the book, Avantika thinks her hair looks ‘like a mop that had been connected to an electric plug, with its bristles standing in attention’. The critical tone used to describe Avantika’s opinion of her own hair makes it clear she views her hair as a problem to be fixed.
Early in the story, we learn that Avantika and her brother were adopted together and that their ‘Amma’ and ‘Appa’ have always been open about the adoption. Avantika frets over her hair being different from the sleek, shiny hair of the rest of the family, which leads her to wonder if her birth mother had curly hair too. She wishes she knew her birth mother because perhaps her birth mother would have known how to manage her curly hair.