Friday, 23 July 2010

A hair-raising evening


This was supposed to be a post about the changing interiors of good old men’s hair cutting saloons in Mumbai. Yes, hair cutting saloons and not hair salons. About how the Formica counters, metal chairs that weighed a ton and mirrors facing each other to create infinite reflections have given way to wannabe swank expressed through square fake leather chairs and mobile plastic drawers that roll around on castors. This was supposed to be a nostalgic note about cheap men’s talcum powder tins sporting floral designs and white fluorescent tube lights giving way to free samples of multinational brands and tastefully concealed CFL lights. ‘OUCH! Have you cut me?!’ ‘Sorry sir, light is little dim and that is your sweat soaking your shirt...’

But one man changed all that.

Tall, broad of shoulder and deep of chest, long of hair and longer of mustache, sporting a centre parting, this man could have easily walked into a Tamil, Telugu or Kannada movie set wearing a shiny jacket and the crowd would have chased him for an autograph and made urgent calls to their giant cut-outs’ supplier or even to local temple builders.

Unfortunately he was in Mumbai and a barber. Yes, a barber. He had too much body and facial hair to be called a stylist. He stood between me and the newly redecorated hair cutting saloon that was now impersonating as a salon. I was not intimidated. It has been my boast that any barber can cut my hair since I know exactly how I want it. That has nothing to do with my knowledge of fashion, hair styling or a perverse interest in men’s glossy magazines. It is just my hair. I can ride from Mumbai to Goa on a bike without a helmet and if I were to reach there alive, my hair would be just the same as when I had left for my heavenly abode. Sorry, when I had left Mumbai. My hair doesn’t move. It has been compared to various animate (wild boar’s hide) to inanimate objects (bathroom floor brush) and yet nothing has come remotely close to describe its texture. This can't-be-ruffled hair style had been a cause of much envy among my friends when I was young. (Now they are jealous because I still have hair.) But to cut a long story short, all my life I have given barbers two simple instructions, ‘Trimming machine all around, but overall not very short’, and promptly passed away in the chair to the soothing hum of the hair trimmer.

But my man today was too much of an alpha male to take instructions. He used the trimmer only at the back and not on the sides. I opened my eyes to protest, saw him looking longingly at a pair of pointy scissors and promptly went back to sleep. I even had a vision of him throwing scissors and razors like the one and only Rajnikanth. I didn’t bother to open my eyes when he chopped off my side locks way higher than my preference. My slightly longish sidelocks are the only attempt I make at some kind of styling but I kept shut in face of a force beyond my control. But then, as the hair cut came to a close, I decided to use my adversary’s strength to my advantage. Yes, just like they do in kung fu. No, I didn’t invite him for a round of ju-jitsu, barber-style. I just looked at his enormous paws attached to forearms built like tree trunks and realized that in those hands lay the key to the perfect head massage.

To those who have always gone to a salon and hence don’t know what a head massage is, we have a question: ‘Are you a man?’ No, sorry. To those who don’t know what a head massage is, here’s the answer. First, it is not a head-only massage. The barber, (it’s not a spa so we can’t call him a masseur can we? Not at 50 bucks a head massage), the barber slaps your head, pinches your eyebrows and neck muscles, presses your shoulders and goes down all the way to your little finger, thumps you on the back and this is the true hallmark of a barbaric head massage – he straps a violently vibrating machine onto the back of his hand, rolls his hands all over you from head to back, and this is the signature thing – he puts his quivering little finger into your ear and holds it there until the vibrations buzz the very core of your brain.

Ah. I just love it.

I wasn’t wrong. The barber’s hands were tough and the thumps on back not only loosened all my muscles but also every bone in my upper body. He must have seen the appreciation in my eyes. Or fear. And in his enthusiasm got carried away and began to give me a face massage. It took me a while to find my voice. It is difficult to find it when you realize how an iron pan feels when someone is trying to dislodge tough grease from it using an industrial scrubber, but when I found it, I humbly requested him to stop. (I had some difficulty recognising my voice; it sounded like the voice of a man who has just mis-timed a leg split and hit the floor at high speed.) The disappointment on his face almost broke my heart. But I'd rather have a broken heart and not broken facial bones on any given day.

And when I returned home the wife remarked to the kids, “Looks like daddy got a face massage. See how white his face looks today!”

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