Thursday, July 28, 2005

"Swish, click, tick" and the horror at the Hair Saloon

George Bush ordered those bombs to be dropped on Iraq, but but did you know that some of them were a contribution from the desis here???

'How?' You may ask.

There are more than two million desis, and most of them go to the hair saloons for more than 10 times in a year. All the loads of taxes generated would definitely cross a few millions, enough to make a lot of bombs.

Now, you agree with me. Don't you? ;-)

For a guy, who is accustomed to pay a paltry sum to the barber for a great haircut, I was in for a very big surprise in the US.

"Where can I get a good hair cut here?" I asked my friend, a month after I had come to the US.

"Arre," he uttered, with a tone of 'didn't-anybody-warn-you'.

"You should have gone to the haircut before coming here," he said, as he guffawed. He was repeating the same statement as many others, that a haircut in the US is very expensive, and in some places, needs prior appointment.

I had a closer look at him, and surely he had been to at least one haircut after he had last visited India, more than an year back.

"Buddy, I did that. But, it has been a month since I have come here, and you know, I drink a huge glass of milk everyday," I smiled.

"What's that got to do with haircut?"

"Milk helps in growing. The hair grew back," I uttered, as the other friend in the rear seats of the car burst out in laughter.

I still remember that day, some eighteen years back, seated at the rear part of my house, on the stone structure erected to wash the clothes, beside a 'water pump' fitted well, watching my sister getting a haircut from my dad. I had asked him about why were we being operated on by him, whereas he always went somewhere else to get a haircut. I do not remember his answer, but realized that feeling of the creative elation, when I accomplish my passion of washing the dishes, now. Before people start getting ideas, lemme confirm that I do not do that for a living, or my dad, a very senior level executive officer in a huge public sector company ;-).

The first time I entered the 'portal' of a hair cutting saloon, with my father, the lean barber was more than happy to welcome the new patron. I felt like a king when I was made to sit on a special wooden plank laid on the handles of the seat, whereas none of my neighbors were getting that.

I was wrapped under a white cotton sheet and then, the process began.

The sharp 'swish' of the steel scissors, then the 'click' of the steel scissors, and then 'tick' of the plastic comb when he hit it to the scissors. I swayed to his tunes, as the sleep inducing plastic comb danced on my head, the barber handling them elegantly, nudging my head in various directions in between. As the time passed, I felt the itches, as bits and pieces of the strands were all over my nose, cheeks, and ears, as though they were trying to punish me for getting them chopped off.

Finally, after almost three quarters of an hour, it was done. Two rupees, was the charge.

Summer holidays of the primary school meant loitering in the unkempt streets of my native village, Talaguppa. Some memories include the grandpa's big 'benaa' (playing field) where I have played a lot of innings of 'chinni-dhaandlu' (gilli danda) with cousins and friends, where some Olympic records were broken too ;-). Also pleasant are the memories of some unique short trips in railway steam engines (not bogies) as a railway line ended in the village, and the engine drivers were friends of my cousins. Also, dear to me are the memories of the barbers of the village, who not only were very gentle in handling their scissors, like a beautiful woman's touch, but also told me some adventurous stories of the surrounding forests. But the usual question was definitely there, "With whom did you get a hair cut last time? He has not trimmed the top properly."

Beautiful women have professional jealousy too. Didn't Aish try to malign Mallika ? ;-)

Two rupees, was the charge.

The NCC was a turning point in the way I got my hair cut. Well, it is for many, isn't it?

The high school NCC officer was very strict, and saw to it that all the cadets had very, very short hair below the barret. (Barret is the circular cap that the cadets, and other defense personnel are made to wear, when in uniform). In the beginning of every session (twice in a week), the PO cadet (senior cadet) would run his fingers on the sides and the rear of the head below the barret. If he was able to grip any hair, he would either try to manually pull it out ( relax, I am exaggerating :-) ), or give a severe punishment. This introduced me to the concept of military cut. I liked the cut, as I had seen similar hairstyle being sported by the numerous good-looking, protagonists of the American war movies :-)).

Ah! An incident which tickles my funny bone.

One fateful day, I was getting late for the session, and had forgotten to get a haircut the previous day. The image of the severe punishment loomed before me. It was scary. A weird idea struck me. I went to the bathroom with a pair of scissors, put the barret on, and cut my hair at the rear and the sides, wherever I could grip them. The result was, well, a strange expression, the blend of anger and humor on my father's face. But, I had no time, and had to rush to the session.

In the session, I escaped the cruel fingers of the PO cadet, who was shorter than me, but could not dodge the rip roaring laughter that I provided to my classmates at school, later in the day. One of them even branded me 'ili kachchida tale' [mouse feasted head, literally translating :-( ]

In the evening, the expert barber (with an experience of more than 20 years), to whom I went, was left wondering about who the dumb barber was, who had rampaged on head.

Twelve rupees, was the charge.

Well, thankfully that is all past.

After a week more in the US, I resembled the 'hippies' of the 70s. A brief research over the Internet, and I was enlightened about two chain of hair saloons. The 'Super Cuts' and the 'Great Clips'. They maintain websites of their own, and you can look up the store near to your place, over the internet. What is the world coming to ? ;-)

That evening, I found myself in front of a skyscraper of the downtown, in which one of the shops housed the local 'Great Clips'. The store is a small one, with five chairs and mirrors for the service. But first, you need to register yourself with the man behind a computer, at entrance. The first name, last name, social security number need to be given out. He gives you an estimate of the time for which you would have to wait for you to be serviced.

After twenty minutes of going through a men's magazine, in which I read all about the awesome exercises of muscle building, which I would never do, I was disturbed by a female voice "Theyaas" she called out.

That was me. 'Ja' is pronounced as 'Ya', due to Spanish influence.

A lanky female with blond hair, twisted and stuck somehow in a hurry, artificial make up biting into her pale, dry skin, and loads of lipstick, showed me to the chair.

Am I going to be operated on, by her???!!!

"Where are you from?" she asked.

"India," I spoke.

"Oh! That's a far off place," she said.


"Where is it?"

No surprise.

"Beside China," I said, very much sure that she would not suddenly be interested in India, if I gave her immaculate travel directions.

"That is the other part of the world," she said as she pulled out the electric shaver.


"What would you like?"

"Military cut," I spoke. I was addicted to it.

"What's that?" she stopped.

"Like they show in the movies. Like the marines. Very short to the sides, and back. Medium long at the top."

"Awh. Awright!" she said.

I knew I had to spell out numbers as specs. But, this time I wanted to do it the Indian way. If I had found it satisfactory, then I wanted to freeze on the numbers and spell out the same numbers every time.

That is, if she had not made me look like a bulky chicken.

In the next five minutes, she had finished my hair cut. 14$ after 1$ discount. Plus $2 tip. Dare to multiply by 45? ;-)

The bulky chicken trudged out, and rushed home.

For the next few months, I am going to enjoy a lot of 'hat' shopping, I thought. ;-))

My first time at Great Clips, was a horror.

Now you know why I have my weird hat on, in all my Florida pictures.

In the next few times, I have understood how to communicate to them though not in exact numbers, but with a combination of numbers, and images. I even did a bit of internet surfing for images with hair cut men. ;-)

But, a feeling of nostalgic sadness does sweep over me, when I think about my barber in Bangalore, getting a meager sum of Rs 35, for an excellent haircut, with least explanations from my side, and just the first time. He even does the tempering of the hair before the haircut, so that it is soft and straightened before he brings out the scissors.

One of the most relaxing times, have been the times that I have spent at the barbers at Bangalore, on Friday evenings. (Boys... you have liberty to laugh it out ;-) )

But then, he is happy with it, and continues to spread happiness to the stressed out souls of the city, through his tools 'swish, click, tick'.

From the creative scissors of my dad, to the electric horror of the Great Clips, with a lot rusticity, care, and some 'rampage' in between, it has been a great walk down the memory lane for me. Hope you have enjoyed reading about it, as I have enjoyed writing about it.

Have a great weekend.

With warm regards,



Deepa said...

ha ha... we have something in common - NCC.

Harish Narayana Bhat said...

awesome narration.. dude you are simply superb !!!