Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Straight from the Saloon!

Straight from the Saloon!

The barber smiled a toothy smile as I entered the saloon. Snapping his scissors violently, he asked me to sit in a corner as he tended to other customers. I counted I was sixth in the queue. Loads of time.

Getting a hair-cut (and a shave at times) has always been an intriguing experience. It is a potential time for introspection, enlightenment…and entertainment ofcourse. New acquaintances, old acquaintances with a new hairstyle, latest gossip on a platter…these make me look forward to a hair-cut each time (though we always end up giving hair along with money).

It taking thoda time, Bhai Saab…” the barber said, in his customary broken English. I looked at him and smiled an approval. He always looked forward to my approval of his English. I wanted to keep him happy(I wanted him to listen to my precise instructions during the hair-cut).

I looked around casually, seeking old faces or new ones willing to enter into a conversation. "Sachin Bhai will play the next world cup”-an elderly person, around 40years was saying. “But then there was no necessity for him to join politics now…”he continued. I wanted to interrupt and correct his line of thought, but decided against it.

But uska hair-ishtyle pukka politician jaisa-correct saab?”said the barber and winked at me. I remembered how he told anyone who cared to listen that Sachin had had a haircut in his shop in his pre-national side time. And how his look(and luck) changed completely after that.
I want Sachin haircut” said a young one to his father, excited by the conversation and the whole shop burst into laughter.

Vaise that Sethji’s younger daughter is coming up for marriage” said a bald man who made his way to the “barber’s throne”. I wondered why he’d come here of all places.  "I need a hair-cut" he then announced. “These small strands of hair keep disturbing me…” .I watched him with all intent as he instructed the barber to cut every little strand of hair he could spot, for a whole half hour. He chatted about the Seth’s household all the while and how much they were willing to pay as dowry.

Some 25 lakhs in cash…atleast 300gram gold..” he said pompously. He said his commission for finding the right groom was a lakh. “I need to look my best .Haina…?”He asked all of us in general. I saw the barber then proceed to cut the strands of loose hair that hung from the bald man’s nostrils. I vowed I’d never let him use the same scissors on my hair. They didn’t deserve it. 

At long last it was my turn to occupy the throne. I’d waited two hours for this moment. “Welcome Sirjee..”the barber said with a show of courtesy and a mock bow. I smiled uncertainly. This part was the most uncomfortable. I could stay on the side-lines for an eternity, but I was always unsure when it actually came to the hair-cut part.
“  Medium short..Thoda leave hair”I said uncertainly, accompanied by a liberal dose of gestures.
Maalum saab”the barber said. “Customer ko jaante hain” he smiled that dreaded toothy smile again.

He sprayed water on my head and wrapped my upper body in a cloth. “ Royal saab!” he said. It was a taunt no doubt. But I was at his mercy. He snapped his scissors and started his job. After the initial jitters, I began to relax. I even started enjoying the retro music being played on the old radio, as old as the shop itself.

He was probably midway when the tea-wallah came in. I cursed his entry. It would  mean 10 minutes of an unnecessary break. “Bhai Saab tea..?” the barber asked, fully knowing that I had to refuse as both my hands were under the cloth-again I felt I was being mocked.
The tea-wallah spotted the bald-old man(now balder) sitting in the corner, rummaging his bag.
Oye Sirjee..aap yahaan? Woh Sethji ki ladki bhaag gai…..”he said and left the shop.

It took a couple of seconds for the information to sink in. Then a babble broke out.
Aapka commission saab..” the barber said mischievously at the bald man. He probably shouldn’t have said that.
Sab teri vaje se. I shouldn’t have come here for the hair-cut. This shop is very unlucky for me…” he said angrily. The barber ofcourse couldn’t understand. He merely said “Zara Hindi me bolo saab….English thodi na aata hain..”The bald-man simply stared at the barber and walked out of the shop.

I pitied my good old barber. May be I shouldn’t have. He asked me what the bald man had meant. I told him clearly, without trying to be diplomatic. He was obviously enraged. But then, what mattered was that he took it out on me.
Saab aaj hum haircut kar nahi sakte..”he said with a tone of finality. I couldn’t even protest, with that look in his eyes. I paid him up the full price(I didn’t want to take a chance) for a half hair-cut and walked out of the shop, cursing my lack of tact.

“Regal Hair-Ishtyle”the name on top of the shop read. I shuddered at the thought of how Regal I’d actually look when I had to inevitably look into a mirror later that day!
                                                                                                May 5th 2012.