“Kisiki muskaraahaton pe ho nisaar,
Kisika dard mil sake to le udhaar,
Kisike waaste ho tere dil mein pyaar,
Jeena issi ka naam hai…”
The All India Radio FM sang the classic song in the background on a rusty-dusty radio equipment. The old chap at the salon adjusted the radio’s antenna in a specific angle to make the song more audible. It was almost as if the salon was immune to the marching of time and decided to stay back in the 70s.
“So, how many days of stay this time?” the barber asked me while choosing the combination of scissors and a comb for the haircut. He used a water spray to wet my hair, and few water drops found their way down my forehead.
“Oh this time, I’m back. Back for good. Permanently,” I said looking at him in the mirror.
He paused and sported a genuine smile on his now-wrinkled face. He was attuned to me visiting the small town every alternate weekend from the Capital city where I worked.
“That’s really good. Mummy and Papa will be very happy, no?”
More water was sprinkled on the backside of my head followed by scissors running through my curly hair.
“They are happy, yes!”
He is a local barber at my hometown. ‘Our family barber’ would be an apt description.
The first time I entered his shop was as a two-year old child holding my grandfather’s hand. My grandfather had very proudly introduced me as his grandchild. I don’t know if I cried like most kids do when they get their first haircut. But my grandfather would often tell me how I was an immediate favourite of everyone at the salon that day.
My grandfather was loyal to the salon throughout his life. My father followed the suit. I did too, for a long time. After my grandfather’s demise, I would visit the salon with my father. I remember him asking me how my father is coping with his loss. His father too joined my grandfather in few months. He told me that my grandfather need not worry now as he will get his haircut from him in heaven. I kept picturing it in my head for a long time. Him getting a haircut sitting in a chair that rested on clouds.
“He is getting a moustache. Your son is a man now” the barber once told my father while giving me a haircut. In response, my father lifted his head up from the newspaper in his hands and retreated back to the same after a formal smile on his face.
But as I grew up, I could not manage such a long-term commitment to the barber shop. I came across fancy salons and parlors in the cities that I visited for my college, work, etc. So I sort of cheated on the local barber shop.
I remember the first time I decided to ditch the local guy and get a haircut at one of the newly-opened air-conditioned parlor. It was a luxury for a middle-class person those days. I must be in high school at that time. I had saved extra money especially for this occasion. I was bored of a routine haircut and wanted to try out something special.
I entered this posh salon which had opened not more than half a kilometer from my house. The staff welcomed me with a kind of half-hearted smile that airlines staff gives you as you enter the plane. You almost feel sad for them having smiled at you.
“Would you like a hair wash with a shampoo first?”
“No, I don’t think so” I tried to sound confident as I wondered if that was a ritual in these parlors. I sincerely hoped it was not.
“What kind of a haircut do you need?” the guy with blonde hair only on the left-side of his head asked me. I felt that I had seen him somewhere. I couldn’t place him where though. Was he the same guy who used to sell vada pav somewhere nearby?
“I want to do ‘spikes’,” I said. This was going to be a game changer. Not just a routine reduction in hair length but a super-cool haircut.
The guy took out a pair of clean scissors and placed them in the pouch that he wore on his waist. It was like being a superhero barber with a plenty of scissors to choose from. I found it quite cool.
I stared at the variety of hair creams and gels set on the shelves in front of ads from brands such as Loreal and Garnier. Few men in the adjacent chair were getting a haircut or beard-shaving done. One of them was getting some sort of a skin treatment. I wondered how much would that cost and whether all of them too felt equally awkward walking in the parlor for the first time.
“Do you want to colour your hair? I think it will look great on you” the guy surprised me with a question.
“No, not really,” I said trying to recall once more how much cash I had on me.
It was followed by few more attempts of him tempting me with their add-on services and me safeguarding my honour every time by rejecting each one of those moves.
Finally, my haircut was done. I glared at my reflection in the mirror. It was not exactly the kind of hairstyle I had imagined in my head. But then the very next moment, he removed a hair gel tube from one of the drawers and applied some of it on my hair. With his deft fingers, he made my hair stand in a fashionable way.
“Good? Anything else?” he asked me.
I checked myself in the mirror again for no reason and asked the most important question of that day.
“100” he said and called the next customer in to sit at my place.
On my way back home, I checked my hair again in one of scooter’s mirror parked on the street. As I was about to enter home, the uncle staying downstairs gave me a look as if hundred pigeons had pooped on my head.
“Did you even get a haircut?” my mother asked the question which was usually reserved for my sister.
“Show me. Come here” she called me and pointed out how he had done a shoddy job.
“He has not even cut them in a straight line over here” she said and I just ran to another room.
As I grew old, I changed cities for my college and later jobs. With the change in location, I tried out different barbers and salons to experiment on my hair.
“Sir, would you like a head massage? That will be 50 Rs extra. 100 Rs extra. Would you like to get this hair treatment done? 200 Rs…” the conversations were repeated with few more additions in questions.
Every time I visited my hometown, I made it a point to get a haircut at the local shop just to avoid all these questions.
Sitting in that shop which still wore a familiar look would bring back my childhood memories. It was like a cheap time machine. He still treated me like a kid who entered his shop holding his grandfather’s hand. I felt comfortable sitting in that chair despite the extra water sprinkled by him which ran over my forehead. I even started paying him 20 bucks extra.
“What kind of a beard is this?” he asked me with a grin.
“It is called a goatee beard. Do a simple haircut. Medium length.”
“Okay,” he started the job that he had acquired from his family. His son adjusted the radio antenna and increased the volume.
“Maana apni jeb se fakeer hein,
Phir bhi yaaron dil ke ham ameer hein,
Kisi ko ho na ho hamein to aitbaar,
Jeena isi ka naam hai…’’