I have immense respect for barbers.
I remember paying Rs 5 and getting my hair cut as a child. I would be provided a plank to sit on and a green cloth (probably stolen from a nearby hospital) would spread around me. Seeing myself in the mirror was a treat – if you were as handsome as I am, you would also feel the same way.
Back then, we had a ten inch by six inch mirror in our house which was nailed six feet high so that my father could shave properly. Six feet was so high for me that, till I was twelve years old and our family bought our first ‘mobile` mirror, I didn`t even know how I looked. Mirrors in our house were such a royalty that my father would say: “Fine…here is the deal…you get 90% marks in fifth and I would lift you in front of the mirror once.”
Being the hard bargainer that I am, I got 91% and made my father lift me to the mirror at least three times.
Anyway, coming back to the present…I have always wanted to have my hair cut under a tree and a few days back, I wore my worst clothes, parked my car some distance and walked towards a barber who had set up shop under a neem tree. Believe me, walking is tough -32-year-olds can start panting.
“Welcome sir.” The barber was forthright.
“Thanks. I need a ….” I stammered. What do I tell this guy? Do I go ahead…will he be hygienic? Will he cut my hair properly? I was confused.
“Sir, my guess is you would like your hair cut…but aren`t so sure of a shave?” The barber was bang on target.
“Hmmm…” I didn`t know what to say.
I looked around. The neem tree shade was breathtaking (the fact that I had walked 300 meters helped!). The last time I had been under a neem tree I was 11 years old and had been trying to climb it. On the neem tree`s trunk, he had nailed a mirror – a 10 inch by 6 inch – but not as high as my father had. In front of the mirror he had a wooden chair, probably bought second hand from a hair stylist who went bankrupt. One leg of the chair was broken, and I could see that he had used long, orange, nylon laces (the ones that were a craze in the early nineties) to tie together the two pieces of the wooden leg. He had a small stone under another leg because the land was uneven.
I looked around to see if anybody was watching me. “Do I sit or walk away as if nothing happened?” I asked myself.
“Sir, do you want to sit or not…I have other customers waiting.” The barber sure meant business.
I can`t recollect what happened in the next five minutes but when I regained senses, I was staring myself in a 10 inch by 6 inch mirror nailed to a neem tree trunk and listening to the barber`s banter.
“Do you know sir…our head has at least 100,000 strands of hair?”
“Yeah?” I expressed surprised. I made a mental note of checking that on the internet as soon as I reached home.
“But blonds have more…don`t ask me why…but they do. They have more than 120,000 strands.”
“Maybe that`s why their brains feel the strain,” I tried to use my humor to ease the tension. But my humor was lost on him.
“Do you know sir…that every person has over 5 million hairs allover his/her body?”
“Yeah?” I was surprised and asked him: “You seem to know a lot about hairs?”
“Yes sir. Also, did you know that hair on your head can only grow up to six inches in a year?” Now he was trying to show off.
“I didn`t know that.” I had resigned by now. It was as if the barber had Google at his service and was reeling out information about hairs.
“And here is another interesting bit about hairs – did you know that for three days after your death your hairs and finger nails will keep growing?” He now came in front of me, shrugged his shoulders, and gave me a naughty smile.
“I didn`t know that either. But I do wish the wives` stop pestering after death.” This joke also went past him.
We continued our conversation for a while during which I would come to know that Bush shouldn`t have attacked Iraq …Michael Jackson wasn`t a pedophile but it was the Music industry that was taking its revenge on him…that Steven Spielberg should stop looking for real life incidents to make movies on…that Leander Paes was a spent force…that Coke should be banned in India…and a lot more.
Once he was done, he asked: “Sir, would you want Old Spice after shave or Gurgaon`s tap water would do?”
“Gurgaon`s tap water?” I was surprised.
“Yes sir, it works just like Old Spice…burns your skin when you apply it…wanna try?”
I declined and started walking to my car parked away. On the way to my car, I spotted my neighbor, an Assistant Vice President in Microsoft, walking towards the barber in his worst clothes. We exchanged smiles.