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The common strand between 50-plus Geetu Hinduja, a singer and art curator, 33-year-old Jaideep Sippy, gourmand and founder of wellness food company Missisippy, and 21-year-old model Merrylin Boro is their fondness for grey-platinum hair. Between Hinduja’s chic silver, Sippy’s shock of salt and Boro’s platinum-blonde edges, you could count, well, what else but 50 shades of grey.

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Model Merrylin Boro. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

At a time when ageism is amassing critics but the pressure to look young is immense, some people are happy with grey hair whatever their age. Most say being trendy isn’t about a stamp from fashion magazines, popular culture and glamour icons. From an earlier generation, former Miss India Nafisa Ali Sodhi and Laila Tyabji, chairperson of crafts organization Dastkar, who is still on most stylish lists of publications, were examples. Before them there was Bharatanatyam dancer Chandralekha, with her silver head and large, kohl-laced eyes.

But if un-dyed hair was associated with feminists like Urvashi Butalia, activists like Medha Patkar, “serious" film people like Gulzar and Javed Akhtar, or those who kept vanity at bay, like the fiery photographer Dayanita Singh, today it symbolizes alternative style. “I see the preference to keep naturally grey hair as a bit of a backlash to growing ageism and I also think one looks fabulous with the changes that age brings," says Nishat Fatima, editor of Harper’s BazaarIndia.

Fashion magazine editor Nishat Fatima
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Fashion magazine editor Nishat Fatima

“Men have actually asked me if my hair is dyed grey and who has done it," says Sippy. “Even five years back, people wanted to establish themselves as part of a collective notion of style. Now, it is about self-image and your own dynamic and grey hair is climbing up in that chain of aspiration," adds Sippy, who too got his first greys at the age of 11. He coloured his hair for many years, and then shaved it off one day. When his hair grew back, it was salted, and he kept it.

Premature greying in the late 20s is common now, but not being able to keep up with elaborate, time-consuming rituals of weekly touch-ups, hair spas and expert maintenance is why most people give up hair colour. The market is saturated with good products that colour and condition simultaneously, unlike the opaque local hair dyes of the past which funnily only accentuated a person’s age. Now the more the options, the more the fuss and the frustration.

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PR professional Archana Jain. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

That’s also why Bangalore-based Suresh Selvaraj, 55, former president of a media company, stopped colouring his hair. “I couldn’t be bothered with the effort to look young, especially given my job profile where grey hair is taken more seriously. Besides, middle age is the time to give up pretensions of all kinds and colouring hair doesn’t work with that approach," says Selvaraj.

Selvaraj was inundated with mixed judgements once his grey hair began showing. Many of his women friends began to comment on his “distinctive" looks. Ditto for Jain. “I wear my grey hair with all kinds of clothes, from saris to shorts, and the compliments have prevented me from going back to hair colour," she says.

Hinduja would agree. “My grandmom freaked out when she saw my grey hair, also because my mother had very few greys. Otherwise, once I stopped colouring, older people around me felt threatened whereas younger ones were quite appreciative. Once someone asked, ‘which is real: the hair or the face?’, and I didn’t know if it was an insult or a compliment," she recalls with amusement.

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Gourmand Jaideep Sippy. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

“Why just stars, look at TV journalists. Except for Rajdeep Sardesai, so many news anchors colour their hair. They are intelligent people, not vain victims of glamour. Grey hair is a spoiler in the visual medium and getting my daily dose of current affairs from ‘oldies’ would ruin it," says 26-year-old Nishtha C., a media student who consciously styles herself like Nidhi Razdan, a senior editor at NDTV.

Razdan, in turn, says: “I haven’t seen a trend where people are okay with grey hair. Nor do I think that people take you more seriously if your hair is grey. My hair started greying in parts when I was 30. Now I am 37 and I love experimenting with hair colours. I also don’t agree that we are becoming kinder to age. There is the pressure to look young for many." She adds that she doesn’t colour her hair for the visual medium she works in but for herself.

The market remains anti-grey. “Hair colour is growing year on year," says Ritoo Jhha, editor and publisher of the Beauty Launchpad magazine, citing market research firm Mintel’s projection that the Indian hair colour market will grow by 110% by 2016 from a base of $382 million (around 2,290 crore) in 2012. “Having done a quick salon survey recently across 200 premium salons in India, we find that men as much as women colour their hair regularly," adds Jhha.

Till the market changes colour, people like Hinduja, Sippy, Jain, Selvaraj and Fatima will be seen as mavens of the grey market. They admit it in black and white.

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