An adult account of childhood minutiae: Episode 1 – The Haircut

June 8, 2016 at 3:34 am (Uncategorized)

Of the numerous events that became regular features of my childhood, few are as unexpectedly rich in fascinating trivialities as the monthly haircut. This account, apart from allowing me to relive those wonderful memories, offers you a glimpse into this enigmatic experience.

Growing up, I did not play or watch sports with my father; the haircut was our de-facto father-son bonding activity. Haircuts were typically taken on Sundays, shortly before noon. Clad in yesterday’s t-shirt and shorts, my father and I would begin the walk to Central Hair Dressers, Shivajinagar (fondly referred to by my dad as Saloon Sri Central Haircutting) shortly after breakfast.

The route to Saloon Sri was always bustling with activity. As we turned the first corner, we would see families buying bathroom fittings at P C Mallappa & Co. and elderly men haggling over furniture prices at Saleh Ahmed & Sons. At the next corner, we’d inevitably find a respectable middle-aged gentleman of medium height trying to replace his scooter’s battery at the Amaron store (lasts long, really long, lasts long, really long). Cars, buses and autos would execute their respective Brownian motions, leaving their fates (with much success for the most part, I might add) to a higher power. The sights of chaotic motion, the sounds of honking horns, and the stench of exposed sewage would join forces, becoming a rich treat to the senses.

Saloon Sri was typically busy on Sunday mornings, but inventory was turned fast. Entertainment in the waiting area involved watching old Telugu movies on an 8″ portable television. The wait for me would typically last 5 minutes: two chairs almost never freed up at the same time, so my haircut would always commence before my dad’s.

There were two pieces of haircut apparatus that I avoided like the plague – the electric trimmer and the manual razor. My discomfort with the trimmer had a simple reason – plain old fear. My aversion to the razor had a slightly more nuanced reason. Saloon Sri rarely changed the blades on their razors. Moreover, behind the curtain in one corner of Saloon Sri, grown men would take off their shirts and get their underarms shaved. By the same set of razors! I’d rather not have some uncle’s underarm sweat on my cheeks, thank you very much!

With these requirements in mind, my instructions to the barber were rather simple. “Medium-short. Razor beda, machine beda“. In hindsight, I’m surprised that I never questioned this “medium-short” business. What on earth is medium short? This was along the lines of what I ended up getting, and I’m sure medium-medium would’ve turned out better, but I never tried it.

So, the medium-short haircut would commence. I would sit back while the barber draped a cloth (which I suspect was a discarded bedsheet) over me, sprayed my hair with water till it was soaked, and attempted (with minimal success) to comb it down. He would then proceed to measure hair out with a comb and cut it with his stained stainless steel scissors.

My damp black locks would fall onto the drapery, and I would keep my head fixed facing forward, using my peripheral vision to check on the progress of my dad’s haircut. Since there wasn’t much to do when my hair was being cut, I would devote all my mental faculties to ignoring the itch that had begun to tickle my nose. After my haircut was complete for the most part, the barber would bring out his hand machine to shape my sideburns and trim behind my ears. One particular barber had a peculiar custom that he followed when he was doing this – he would let out a couple of loud burps. While normally, a burp would be perfectly acceptable, I recall being a bit peeved that he insisted on burping when he was right next to my ear.

Once the burping and shaping was dispensed with, he would bring out a mirror to show me the shape on my neck, at the back of my head. I had no idea what I needed to look for, and I would always nod saying “sari“. Excess hair was then brushed off, talcum powder was applied, my dad would pay a grand total of Rs. 30 for two haircuts, and we’d begin the walk back home.

While the levels of hygiene at Saloon Sri were admittedly worrisome, the combative actions taken at home more than made up for it. The moment we set foot in the house, we were banished to our respective bathrooms and provided with special buckets in which to place our used clothes. These clothes would be washed separately. The bathing process was almost ritualistic – mix 1 part Dettol and 3 parts warm water and apply in generous quantities on talai, paying close attention to close-cropped areas. I’d come out of that shower feeling so thoroughly clean and germ-free! It felt almost cathartic; I would beam with an intense glow that would last for weeks. And then, it’d be time for my next haircut.


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