December 22, 2008

Cutting!

Whatever it means in the English language, for boys growing up in India, it only means one thing - a monthly trip to the nearest barber after a scolding at school!

India's hair cut saloons are a lovely reflection of the culture of the place. The water and the after shave being sprayed around the place leaves a lingering smell which is at once damp and refreshing. The cut locks lying about the floor add their own to the ambience. If the shop is relatively old, the furniture would have got all creaky with lime scales lining up the mirrors. The platform in front of the mirror is littered with water sprays, blades, creams of all makes, dyes, and the like. All in all, a great place to get in touch with the real India (forgive me for sounding like a firang tourist.)

If, like 80% of the general populace, you find it too hard to get up on a weekday for the harvest and only visit the place 'subah subah' on a Sunday (anytime before 1PM), chances are, there would be atleast 7-8 people waiting for attention. These would have a liberal distribution of retired grandpas with their grandsons, teenagers wishing to look cool, and the working man, desperate to get the haircut done as soon as possible so he can rest for the R of the day.



Most of the medium range barber shops have posters showing scalps with various lengths of mane cut in different shapes.

Though for most of the people, the Q 'how do I cut your hair' is generally answered in a word: 'short', 'medium' or the like, few of the adventurous lot desire their cut to look like on of the ones in the posters, or better still, they come up with an original design which takes a lot of effort to explain, with hands going all over the place as they instruct the barber how to apply the razor and the scissors.

It is with precisely such species that the barber is most satisfied with. Though the usual 'I will get my haircut done every four weeks' sort are their bread and butter, these people provide them the freedom to explore their art and push the boundaries. They are their exotic leg glances for six to the common man's dab to the third man for a single.

They provide them the licence to exercise their creative side, to traverse their scissors and clipper through unknown paths, all the while charting a new course which would translate as their very own hairstyle and place the benefactor upon the highest pedestal among his circle of friends, each of whose barbers no doubt would have had tried to take a similar route to the unknown, only to fail miserably, finally resorting to a lift home.

These people leave the place with an investigative look into the mirror, which slowly but surely transforms into an appreciation of their own reflection and a nod to the barber for a job well done. Not for them the quick payment and the rush back home to take a quick bath. They are gifted souls who know how to appreciate a good thing and thus take their own sweet time before taking the much needed head bath.

The reluctant kid with the grandpa is the one to watch out for. For, even though the brat would have arrived a full half and hour late to the place, he is most likely to leapfrog you to the chair. He would also take more time to get an inch of his hair cut than you would for a haircut and a shave twice over. He is the one the barber is least reluctant to get his hands to, for the simple reason that the return in this case is inversely proportional on investment (time), since the rates for a 'baba' cut only being two thirds that of a 'men' cut.

This rule must have been proposed and approved by a commitee entirely comprising of bald heads and women, for anyone who suffered at the hands of these fiendish creatures would have rather banned babas from entering the domain of annas.

The advent of television has transformed these formerly troublesome but, on the whole, stupid babas into 'kids' who talk the talk. I recently came across a ten year old who insisted on having a 'crew cut'. When the barber asked him to take the seat, he, wanting to make sure the barber knew what he was doing, quizzed the barber on the various intricacies of having such a cut done, before granting the barber the approval to go ahead with the cut, with a disclaimer of a non payment in case the cut did not come up as expected! On the other hand, when I was a part of the kid parade, even my 'chota kaato', 'medium kaato' was decided by my dad! Aaah... time does fly!

As people wait to get attention while the cool dudes and the kids are occupying the chairs, most people go through the newspapers or watch the television. For some strange reason, the barber shop is the only place I have ever read Filmfare. I never bought one at railways stations or at other book shops. Maybe because I did not want to be seen reading a film magazine (?), I don't know. But that was that. I also know a couple of people who used to go to the barber's just to read Filmfare and come back without a haircut, but with vital inside information on 'who is with whom'; It must be noted that for much of the nineties, the Filmfare was one of the few sources of news on forthcoming films and of filmi gossips.

The barber's is also a good place to catch up with other 'cutting' friends (for the uninitiated, these are people you know solely because your harvesting seasons match). The barber of course acts as the mediator if you do not come across a few of these for two-three regular visits.

With 'posh' places mushrooming all over the place, the good ol' hair cutting saloon has also caught the bug with AC Unisex saloons coming up in metros. Thankfully, these cost a fortune, atleast for now. I thus have kept my 'cutting' friends till now, and hope to do so, for many cuts to come, till I go bald that is.