Hair raising!

>> Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When I was growing up, cutting my hair was always a task in itself. There was this old barber in my neighborhood. He used to stoop so low, I used to fear he would fall over any time. The chair on which I used to sit used to seem straight from the British era. The whole metallic body rusted, with just a glimpse of the golden beauty it had once peeping out from some places. The upholstery a little torn.

He would then pick up this old dusty cushion from a corner and put it on the chair. So that my tiny little head could reach his height and he would not have to stoop even lower. A smelly cloth over me to keep the hair from reaching inside my clothes. But such was the cloth, they would still manage to reach places which used to give me the tickles. And everytime I moved due to them, I would get a tap on the head. He would then go about his task with the oldest of combs in the history of mankind. But his scissors were spanking clean. And so sharp, that the fear of him cutting off my ears kept me steady still. The barber was slow. So slow, that we had a joke going around, "Once he is done with one side of the head, he takes so long to do the other side that the hair on the first side has grown again by then!"

As I grew up and we changed localities, the old barber was replaced by Baroda Men's Salon. An everchanging group of young people from different parts of Gujarat eager to cut your hair. But apart from new combs, bigger chairs and some new oils, the basic haircut remained the same. Once you sit in the chair, he asks, "Cutting ya daadhi (shave)?" You think of the razor sharp blade he uses on your poor skin for a shave, shudder, and say, "Just cutting". And then you choose from one of two options: "Baarik (small) or medium". That's it. No hairstyling. Nothing. You don't want to risk your crop in these hands with anything else. Once or twice i tried variations like "Bhaiyya, baarik or medium ke beech me karo (Between medium and small please)" with disastrous results. So I pretty much stick to baarik or medium. So unless my friends start yelling 'Dude, you need to cut your hair' and mom finally warns me, "If you want to stay in this house, you better take care of that 'chidiya ka ghosla' on your head!", I dont go for a hair cut. And then, its either baarik or medium. Suddenly, its like a load of my head! And even a passerby can notice I have had a haircut! And you know what, I was content with this for 25 years of my life.

But then, things have a way of catching up with you. I recently had one of the "baarik cuttings" resulting in what I call a "champu gabaal (Sorry, I can't translate this!)" cut. And my hair was slowly on the way to regaining some form of semblance, when I got to know that in a week's time I had an important interview coming up. And I had to be in complete business attire, with formal suit and shoes (how I went about getting those could form a whole new post here!). But a lot of my well-wishers(?) thought that I had to do something about my hair!! I tried to get out of it. But they were having none of it. I couldn't even give the typical reason - "I don't know any great hairstylists with whom I can risk my hair at this last moment." Because one of my very dear friends, Nimisha, is a well-known stylist in the city with her own salon in Kalyaninagar. The salon's name is 'UppBeat'- ironic in my case!

But I finally decided to go ahead with it. You have to understand how huge this was for me. Here is a guy who has never cared about his appearance before. He does not know the difference between a shampoo and a conditioner and couldn't care less for it. And suddenly, he had to think about all those things! The anonymity of Baroda Men's salon was no longer there. There was going to be an expert, worse still a friend, who was going to pay complete attention to me, scrutinize my head in every angle possible, toot-toot about how unkempt it was and most probably scold me for all the neglect! Then, there was the image of a professional salon as being the bastion of the metrosexual. And I know that even if I try, I will never be even close to being one. So all in all, it took me a lot of courage to call up Nimisha and hesitantly ask her for an appointment. Misha being the sweetheart she is, said, "Oh! Come tomorrow itself!" Why is she such a sweetheart? Couldn't she just say, I am busy the whole week! How I would have loved to escape that way! But no. She had to be so nice!

Normally, whenever I have to go to my barber for a haircut, I am at my worst appearance. I have just gotten up, brushed my teeth and am off in my old t-shirt and shorts, hair all unkempt with a 3-day stuble adorning my sleepy face. But this was different! After a sweaty cricket practice, I couldn't just go to Nimisha all smelly and unkempt. I feared one of her assistants would probably kick me out. I shaved, took a bath, combed my hair, put on a fresh pair of clothes and went to her like a good boy!

I called up ahead. She said, "You reach here. I will be upstairs. I will tell my assistants to shampoo your hair!" "No no no..." I cowered. "You meet me first, have a look and tell me if I really need to do anything about it." It was my last attempt. Somehow hoping to get out of it and tell the world with a smug grin, "See I did go to a stylist. And my hair is just fine the way it is!"


When I went through the glass door of the salon, a nice soothing music greeted me. I had a look around. The place was artfully done. My old image of a “saloon” was beautifully driven out of my mind like one of VVS Laxman's wristy flicks to squareleg. A nice receptionist greeted me and asked me to take a seat. I am no interior designer, but the waiting area seemed like the setting of a tastefully done lounge. Deep seated sofas with a water curtain for one of the walls, it somehow soothed my nerves. And then there was Nimisha. "You already look like a dude!" she said. I grinned. Maybe I could get out of it then. But the wily fox knew what she was doing. She had just put me at ease. And the curious child in me started to surface.

This was a new world for me. And like a small child, I started asking what everything was. First up, the chair. Wo! That was something. Nice and comfortable. And once I sat on it, she just pumped a lever at the back with her leg and up it went. OK, I know it's nothing out of the world. But at that time, I was so much into the curious child phase, that I found everything interesting! Next to the chair, there was this long stick, attached to a base with a beautiful spiral at the top. Must be a show piece, I thought. But no. It was just a stylish holder for the hair dryer! I am in unchartered territory here, I thought, as Nimisha started looking at my hair. "Hmmm... you already have your hair short at the side and the back..." I cringed. Here comes the tirade. The "champu gabaal" look was going to get me hell. Instead, she just smiled. "Don't worry, we will just work with the top a little. And you will have a new look!" My bewildered look made her laugh. "Now, go get a shampoo done". OK, I said. Then I looked around again, like a lost child. "What exactly do I... err.." I started off. She laughed again and led me to a recliner chair at the end of a basin like thing.

By now, I had stopped noticing stuff. It was a different thing that my glasses were off and I was sitting there in an awkward reclining position. One more lever, out popped a support for my ostrich legs, and I was comfortable again. I could not see what was going on behind me now. I could just here sounds. There was the sound of running water. And suddenly, there was water in my hair. "Is the temperature right?" the assistant asked. "Yes, yes" I mumbled. After carefully rinsing my hair, she applied something, then rinsed again. Applied something again, rinsed again. The whole atmosphere was so soothing, I felt like going off to sleep right there! I am not accustomed to such pampering, I told Nimisha. "You are in my hands now. Get used to it", she replied.

After the wash, I sat on the chair again. I was looking around for the normal 'dabba' holding the scissors et al. Instead, another assistant pulled out a trolley full of instruments! "Are you going to perform surgery here?" I though of asking. But knowing that she could do whatever she wanted to with my hair now, I kept quiet. And then she was standing there, with a comb and scissors in her hand. Accustomed to the rough handling of my head as if it was a punching bag, I didnt even realize it when she started off. And what skill! I could barely see as her hand just went from one end to another. Tiny snips here and there. So fast. So subtle. And before I knew it, she was done with the scissors! Man, this woman knew her trade! And then, came out a strange looking device with a nice strobbing light at the back of it. What was that? I almost asked. She guessed my apprehension. "It's just a trimmer!" I nodded my head as if I understood everything. Yeah right! But soon i realized what it was. It was the modern day replacement for the "vastara"! The long knife like instrument used to take out your sideburns and sometimes parts of skin along with it! But here, again, didnt feel a thing. This whole experience was turning out to be a little too surreal for me.

"OK, I am done with your hair". I grinned. But it vanished as soon as she said the dreaded words. "Now, I am going to style it." What??? After another round of shampooing and drying my hair, she said, "Put on your glasses. And check to see whether you like a particular style." My vision grew clearer. And as I looked into the mirror, for the first time, I could really appreciate what she had done. This was a side of me I didnt know existed! I was still too confused to really tell her what I liked and not. Finally, she decided on one. "Here, this should give you a good business look for the interview" I just nodded in wonderment. Then she gave me simple tips on how to style my hair. I kept nodding.

After that, everything was like in a daze. Her next client had come in. Before I could say anything, she told me straightaway, "Don't talk about money, or I will kill you." I just nodded again. We made plans to meet up with friends later. And I walked out. As I sat in my car, and once again checked in my rear view mirror, it started finally to sink in. That after years and years of the parted down the side blob of hair, I finally had something that I could call a 'look'. And I was really happy with it. I beamed. And then I realized, I hadn't even said thank you to her. Knowing Nimisha, I guess she would have 'killed' me for doing that too.

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