Barber Shop!


Note: Highly inspired from Greatbong’s article on exact same topic but please don’t compare. I am no match to him.

I feel very nostalgic when I remember the haircuts I had in childhood. In our village, just like many other in India, barber was not just a man who cut hair. He was an institution in himself. There were just two barbers in my village who had the pleasure to hold and twist almost every man’s neck. The scarcity of barbers meant you always had to be on good terms with them,  otherwise be prepared to travel to another village everytime your beard itched or hair started falling over your eyes. The nearest other barber was around 5 kms away.

For 15-16 years I went to the  same barber. Getting a hair cut was certainly not an enjoyable experience for me given that all the parameters related to this activity were determined by the elders in the house. What size of hair is appropriate to qualify for a haircut, when should I have it etc. It was all determined by someone else. The only constant parameter was: who is going to cut the hair?. No one else but the Ratnakar barber.

I hated the process. Did I say Process? The horrors of haircut are best explained by the word “process”. My grandmother believed vehemently in the religious aspects of haircut. Besides Monday and Tuesday only Sunday was considered auspicious to have a haircut. Ironically all decisions about my haircut were made by my grandmother who herself never had a haircut in her life.Cutting hair on Saturday or Wed, apparently did not go well with the stars in the sky.

I am sure the barbers of ancient time must have bribed some brahmin to write this sort of rule, rather the brahmin himself must have had some motive in writing this rule. There was no arguing with my grandmother. That way all the Hindus who mindlessly follow this concept of  auspicious days forget very conveniently that which day should be called Monday was determined by Pop Gregory  and all the calendars were modified to suite his command.

But just determining the day was not the end of the process. After the haircut, I had to apply coconut oil on my newly cut hair. My grandmothers beliefs about coconut oil had no limits. She believed that coconut oil could fix anything, from stomach ache to loss of hearing. Once I put oil my ear and it took couple of month for me to gain back my normal hearing capacity. I displayed a tremendous courage and eventually won the struggle for my right to not pour coconut oil in my ears. But there was no escape from applying it on hair.

Those were not the days of shampoos and fancy hair products. Nor I had access to any of the comics or cartoon network. Hence I never had the urge to have Captain Naplam like haircut. I also had no problem in getting my hair cut as short as possible because it meant next trip to the barber was elongated. Unlike my peers I thought copying the hairstyle of some other celebrity was idiotic.

My problems with cutting hair had to do with my entertainment. Sunday used to be a holiday and by the grace of Indian government, doordarshan showed some children special programs. The day use to start with Rangoli and end with Chandrakanta and a Marathi movie in the evening. As per the religious rules if we cut hair in evening some catastrophe would befall on me hence morning was the only option. And I simply hated missing Captain Vyom, Danu, Alice in wonderland etc. for the sake of that silly haircut.

My parents would use Saam Daam Dand Bhed strategy in that order to finally drag me to the market where the barber had his shop. He had a wooden cabin. If someone told me that the wood of that cabin was taken from Kanhoji Angre‘s ship, I would have very easily believed it.It was that old.

But that tiny 2×2 cabin had an atmosphere that had become very familiar to me. He had a wooden chair whose architecture indicated that once upon a time it either rotated around its vertical axis or at least it was designed to do so. But now it dint move around vertical axis but it actually use to shake along the horizontal axis. The barber had applied all the little intelligence he had to keep the chair steady using empty crates of local cold drink Monica and a wooden carton.

The chair dint move hence the barber moved himself around the chair. Oh yes, there were mirrors. Two of them. One in front and one sideways. However if we consider reflection as an essential property of mirrors, those two objects wouldn’t have qualified as mirrors. They had long-lost their glory. The reflectors had turned brown in color. The barber had also stuck two tiny posters of Madhuri and another actress which I supposed was some thunder thighs south Indian actress. In the company of these two beautiful women there was another small photo of Lord Ganesha.

There was something very peculiar about that Ganesha photograph. His trunk was twisted in a manner I had never seen before. My favorite time pass there use to be to figure out how the lord of wisdom had managed to entangle his trunk that way. My father tried very hard to explain me its geometry and I too shook my head as if I had understood but even today I have not really figured it out. My father use to get upset on my very same question each time I went to this barber’s shop. “We had figured it out last time.” he said in frustration every time I brought up the topic.

After chopping off my hair barber used to go to the river to get some fresh water and then sharpen his razor to give final touch to his art. I was never scared of cuts and blood. In fact I wished that if he puts a serious cut, may be my parents will never give me another haircut. But he was good at his job.

He made me feel special by telling me that the comb and scissor he is using for me were new. Even though the its color indicated otherwise, I use to feel good. That is the great thing about childhood. You don’t require a reason to be happy. He often use to nod his head to my petty demands for a mushroom cut etc. but then he knew that it was my father who was going to pay him and not me. My principle too  (like Calvin) was:  “not to argue with a guy having a razor in his hand”. Honestly I never wanted a mashroom cut etc. I knew very well that the barber would do what my father had told him to do, I use to make such demands just to amuse myself.

Occasionally he came to my home early morning to give a special haircut. He would take Rs 10 extra. But I preferred it. Now I could cut my hair listening to the songs of Rangoli.

While cutting my hair his mouth would restlessly speak out words that I never paid attention to unless it was interesting. He told very interesting gossips to other customers in the line so that they were not fed up of waiting in the queue. A marketing strategy that will put MBAs to shame. He use to pamper the waiting customers by asking them their opinion on current affairs. He himself never had any opinion and he never took anybody’s side, he just kept the gossips going. More interesting the gossips lesser the possibility of someone leaving the queue.

But then things don’t remain  the same. Change that swept away many things also swept away this man and his business. He got a new furnished concrete cabin from the landlord. He also bought comfortable modern barber chairs. Brylcream and Nivia (I later discovered the correct spellings and realized that what he kept was not genuine) started decorating his desk. Madhuri and Ganesha went missing. But then, that did not improve his business.

Despite his improvisations the younger generation went to city to get a more “modern” haircut. Only old people and someone like me use to go to him.

I left the village in pursuit of education but still I use to travel back to village to get my haircut. I somehow did not trust my neck in anyone’s hand.  And finally one day he closed his shop forever. Later someone else took it over but I never went there.

Now cutting hair is only about cutting hair.  In greatbong’s words

Because in today’s world, a kiss is just a kiss. A sigh is just a sigh. And a barber’s just a place where you cut your hair.

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