Retrospective Series: Part 11: Greener on the other side.

Its been a bleak weekend so far, been drizzling since morning. Bit nippy for this time of May actually. Amidst such weather, a hair cut is what my restless mind has been focused on for the past week or so and so to put that nagging to rest, I decided that I should have a hair cut, weather not withstanding. Drove to the strip mall in my community, remembering that a new stylist had opened shop in the neighborhood. This was a nice opportunity to check them out. Walked up to the counter, a lady greeted me


"Hi !, I'd like a Haircut and Shampoo please"

"Sure, whatz your name ?"

"Be El Ay Hech"

Tap, tap, tappity tap...beep.

"Thanks, follow me please."

Followed the lady, plopped in her chair and I waited for her next question...absolutely certain of what it will be.

"What kind of a hair cut would you like ?"

"Blah , Blah , Blah, Blahhhh blaaaahh blah. Not spikey please !"

Small grin... and out comes the comb and the trimmer, and she gets to work on my hair.

I leaned back in the chair and my flash back switch immediately turned on. When I was growing up, precisely on the last Sunday of every month my dad would schedule a visit by the hair stylist (ahem, barber in cruder 20Th century parlance !!). The hair stylist would come home, with his kit, complete with scissors and comb, oily gel(that stank to high heavens actually) and all sorts of paraphernalia. The mystique was in figuring out what the next contraption would be used for. There was this little device with two handles that looked like a lawn mower, only smaller, as if shrunk in some scientific experiment. It went "Clippety clippety clop" when he used it to trim the sides. It was an old world equivalent of today's electric trimmers. A hand mirror positioned at an appropriate angle provided me the necessary view of the locks being discarded. A razor that was sharpened on a barber's stone, was the mechanism to trim of excess hair on the nape of the neck. Invariably that resulted in a cut on my nape and I hated that pain the most.

The most interesting part of the entire hair cut though, was the conversation. I would be asked everything that one could possibly ask a person. Right from what grade I was currently studying in, what were the subjects that I liked, to what I wanted to be when I grew up. I actually did not enjoy this invasion of privacy even then. (Talk of someone being far ahead of his times..ahem ahem ;) ). Anyway I put up with it because this person was an old barber that my dad considered to be good and good barbers were very far and few. So the 'Asian-guilt-and-duty' charm worked its way into me and I could never get myself to say anything against this person. All said and done, the task would take at least an hour. There was no rush. The world waited for the barber and so did we.

Years passed by and the barber retired, his son took over his reins and the son continued his dad's legacy. He watched me grow out of school, into college and beyond. But the conversation would always be very personal, I knew everything about his family and his home and he knew everything about my family and my life. Well almost everything. He still doesn't know about the dash of honey I would pour into the ant hill below the badam tree. You see I would love to see the ants signal each other and create a frenzy when they discovered food right at their doorstep..but then I digress and that is a topic for some other day.

After I moved out of home, I never got to hear about this barber. But sometimes on occasions such as this, I tend to remember those conversations.

"You like it ?"

The voice suddenly woke me up from my day dream.

The lady was smiling and looking at me expectantly. I noticed that she was finished with the hair cut and had even trimmed the sides.

"Yup, that looks perfect" I said.

She led me to the shampoo station and a couple of minutes later, I was standing at the front desk writing her a tip and bidding her good bye.

I checked the clock as I walked out and it was 20 minutes since I had come into the salon. I know the ladies are amazed at this, but a guy's hair cut does only take that long, if at all. I have had stylists finish it up in 10 minutes flat. I loved the chance to dream when my hair was being trimmed, something that I would long for growing up. This new stylist had let me be to myself and hadn't bothered me. My earlier stylist was a nice lady, but chatty like my old barber. When I moved from that place, I missed the conversations that I would have with her. We would exchange stories of our respective countries, our childhoods and our current life. The location was different but the conversations had a similar ring, something very personal. The fact that I am thinking about the conversations tells me that even though I had crossed over to the greener side with this new stylist, I had not liked the lack of conversations. The cliched grass is not greener on the other side, isn't it ? But I had to discover it for myself.


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