Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.

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faults in the clouds of delusion

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Hair Dresser

I’m at the local barbershop (or, as they call it, “Hair Salon”) for a haircut. Just a regular normal peaceful cut. I do not want my hair colored. I don’t want it frizzified. Or straightened. I do not want to look like something out of Bananarama or the Thompson Twins. Short back and sides, easy on the top – that’s what I always say. I’m eternally wary of what we labeled the tennis-ball cut – from the time in high school when the guy who sat next to me showed up one day with his hair reduced to the same length as the fuzz that covered his pre-shaving cheeks. “Kya karoon, yaar, main kuchh aur soch raha tha,” he lamented, “aur woh saala kaat-ta hi gaya.” I make it a point to not surrender myself to such risky reveries. Still, settling into a comfortable chair, eyes enforcedly closed for long stretches, muscles relaxed from the free shampoo treatment, it’s hard to stop the mind wandering.

My earliest memory of a specific haircut is from Sydney, long ago. I remember the barbershop clearly although we only went there once. It had blue modern art décor on the outside, which made me distrust it. The guy had been running some strange clippers along the side of my neck and that had sent shivers right through me. “Hey Stevey, mite, we got a giggla heeah!” the guy had said, and I’d had to suffer the ignominy of having a second guy hold me in my chair. My father hadn’t looked too pleased – “If you wriggle so much you’ll get yourself badly hurt.”

Haircuts were so much more fun in India. There was the formidable metallic throne that one ascended, clearly manufactured with but a single purpose in mind. The knowledge of having graduated to the world of men the day you were no longer made to sit on a wooden plank straddling the arms. The first rough straightening out of ones collar, prior to its being reversed and tucked in (always made me feel a bit of a renegade). The crisp white sheet thwacked open and layered around in a protective cocoon. The odious coolness of the powder the man would whoosh on, carpet-bombing ones neck from a distance. The refreshing cool of the siphon-sprayed water, droplets cloaking ones face obliquely, always leaving you wanting more. The rapidly accumulating crescent clumps of hair on the floor. The stolen glances at the guy in the next chair, stretching back luxuriously with his white lathered chin to the peeling ceiling. The SNIP!-chikchikchikchik as the guy snapped the scissors like a man possessed, slicing the air several times for each actual strike delivered. The odd comfort from that sound, as if one is safe in the hands of a professional. Much the same as when a doctor solemnly administers the cold of a stethoscope to your torso, except that here there’s no existing illness to lessen the feeling of well-being. Then finally, the liberated zingy feeling from running ones hand along the freshly awakened bristles up the back of ones neck. It was a complete experience.

The people were unique, too. There was the barber who came home at the height of summer, the year I had typhoid. He came from Punjab Hair Dressers, Prop. Bishamber Dayal. I went religiously to those guys for almost ten eventful years of my life. Major changes happened in every other sphere, I grew to recognize words such as tonsorial and alopecia, but every time there, the experience was the same. “Musheen chalaana, bhaiya, buh-laid mat lagaiye,” I learned to say when the threat of AIDS became real. One time I deviated and got him to cut it as short as possible all round. “Jitna chhota kat sake.” When I arrived home that day even our lovely dog didn’t recognize me. I identified some true friends that time – they were the ones who didn’t ask me why I did it. To all the others I said I did it because of the weather. It was mid winter. The teachers at school didn’t look too happy, but it wasn’t against the rules. They’d been going on against long hair. (“School ke bachhon ke baalon mein tel hona chahiye.”) I stuck with that style for a few months but gave it up when it proved high maintenance. Once the short cut hairs grew beyond an inch or so, the center of the front spread out like a Japanese work of art, as a consequence of which it had to be attended to like a bonsai. My friend malapropped his nemesis the geography teacher and called it an alluvial fan. It was fun while it lasted.

My first desperation haircut was the evening before the first day of my MBA job. Suddenly I realized with a shock that all the assembled rookies looked like smart young bankers. I looked like a hippie coming off a happy summer. I made a jump for the nearest barbershop available. “He cuts each hair individually,” suggested a co-recruit helpfully. I located the said merchant. It was only later that it struck me that that said strategy may actually not be the most efficacious. It turned out to also be the time I realized how bad a bad haircut can be. And I learned why my helpful recommender - and soon to be roommate and good friend - bore the nickname Random. Lots of learning.

My first haircut in the US was in the boondocks of Maryland, at a chain barbershop right next to a store I used to call the Rugged Worehouse. The nice lady who attended to me used a plethora of musheens and wrapped the job up in less than ten minutes flat. That was it? I felt cheated. “Next time, just say you’d like a Number 4,” she said with an American smile. “Number 4,” I repeated, doubtfully. I had no idea what that meant but I committed it to memory. Never used it since, but now I’m telling you. What I did know then was that I was walking out eleven dollars shorter. Sticker shock: that was almost fifty times as much as I’d ever paid in my life.

I had never paid more than ten rupees before. The most expensive haircut I’d ever heard of was sixty rupees. That extravagance had been indulged in by this clean-shaven Sikh guy who lived a couple of doors down from me in the hostel. He was one of my closest friends, and he was prone to doing strange things. Once he’d gotten so fed up with work that he’d climbed up the wall. We suddenly realized he was calling us from the roof, asking us to throw his slippers up to him. So what could we say to his pre-placement sixty buck splurge? He was also the one who used Lakme face wash. A hard core cut serd who was dating a former Miss Punjab. Maybe that’s why. They’re now the proud parents of two wonderful little surdlets, just like those in the old Bajaj ad. But I digress. That ten Indian rupee haircut budget bumped straight to ten US dollars plus tip, and that’s what it’s stayed. Hong Kong is slightly better since they throw in a shampoo treatment. But then last summer I was in Gurgaon – orange-coated overstaffed yuppie ripoffs sucked out 175 straight for nothing special. I felt like a bit of a freak that day – my hair wasn’t even shorter than usual or anything.

I remember walking around in Spanish Harlem looking for a suitable boyber. Three of them on Amsterdam Avenue, all looked weird. Walked into Melvin and Pat’s, went back a couple of times, but these weird Latina teenagers kept running in and out – who let them into the Drones? Then I found Ari’s, run by this guy Aristide who was apparently 91 years old. That was according to the newspaper cutting in the window; must have been dated. Ari hung around the place and made small talk with some folks who’d come in to get their nails done or whatever. His staff did the actual cutting, and they were all striplings from the next generation. There’s nothing nicer than a plump matron stroking your head and chattering away, saying words like Dearie. A grad student needs to feel loved. At the least it’s an improvement on the belly of the plump Punjabi pressing into your shoulder, back at Bishamber Dayal’s.

Then there’s the music. Barbershops have never been silent places. Here in Hong Kong, of course, it’s all about the 80s. Right now Phil Collins impinges onto my consciousness.

Take a look at me na-ha-ha-how
There’s just an empty pla-ce

Twenty years after I first heard it, it finally strikes me – the bugger was singing about his scalp. My mind goes back to “Hazratpur se… Tinkul, Hunny, Babli, Mohan, Ram Partap aur Shreemati Kumud Shiriwastaw ke liye, pesh hai filum Umrao Jaan se yeh geet, In Aankhon Ki Masti.” Vividh Bharati. That was something else. Wonder how I can turn it on now – the soundtrack that wasn’t there.

Gecka winshy?” I wake with a start. The man is talking to me. “Gecka-winshy?” I grunt acquiescence, and allow myself to be led into the alcove to get a rinse. My man for the day Billy (Bill-lee) hands me over to the winshy lady. Then he gets me back, sits me down and zaps a last few meditative stragglers from here and there. Funny how much attention they pay to the neck, which I’d say is the least noticed part. He settles my hair with a proprietor’s pride. The latest in a line of colorful curators. I’m allowed to rise, the Teflon dressing gown helped off my shoulders. No white sheets here.

I walk out, lighter again from the shoulders on up.

Coming next – Nail-cutters I Have Known Loved Before.

30 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

:)
I was hoping that you'd revert to normal mode soon. Thanks (its the season)!

11/23/2006 2:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, even in India you cant get a hair cut for less than 200 rupees anymore. And $10 is cheap. I can't find a place that will even trim your hair for less than $30 - $40. Bleh.
Don't you find men in Hk terribly metrosexual? I think they take a lot of trouble to style their hair.

11/23/2006 10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

szerelem -- I get my haircuts either for Rs 25 (at a place down the road) or Rs 60 (at a moderately trendy salon called Green Trends, a chain run by CavinKare). Rs 200 sounds outrageous. I'm sure there are places that charge much more, but it's hardly a necessity.

New York was typically $15 plus tips, a little over two years ago. This was the upper east side, presumably not the cheapest part of the town (or the country).

One occasion that brought it home to me that the US (or is it just LA) was a different country was when a friend and I were waiting in Santa Monica for another friend, who was supposed to show up at 6. It was 5:55 and my friend said "wait a bit, I'll go and get a haircut." I said "we only have 5 minutes". He said "it will only take 5 minutes" and popped into a nearby shop. At 5:59, he was out, I won't say elegantly coiffed, but his hair was much shorter. Apparently they have a machine that fits over your head and does the job. My friend (known for his elegant dressing and careful grooming) said it was the only option in those parts. And it cost $10, as I remember -- more than the salon I used in Paris at that time, which called itself the oldest salon in Paris, and did a half-hour job by hand.

Perhaps it was just LA -- my barber in NY was the usual, handmade-haircuts kind.

11/23/2006 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

szerelem - ps. yeah it's a bit more for women, but I'm pretty sure Green Trends is still well under Rs 200. I need to check with the better half.

11/23/2006 11:25 AM  
Blogger kundalini said...

really enjoyed this one, tr! waiting to hear about the nail-cutters you have known. :)

11/23/2006 12:26 PM  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

You rich guys had it good. I remember that haircuts were very painful until I finished school.The village barber would come with a pair of scissors and a rajor (cut-throat?). We had to squat outside the house and subject ourselves to those scissors which would simultaneously cut and pull. The end was even worse. The barber would shave the edges leaving a few cuts and even now my eyes water remembering those haircuts.

When we graduated to shaving, it was worse; the choice was between the barber and almost as painful blades. Some rich uncles used Gillete rajors and blades and after 3-4 shaves would give us the blades which were much better than the ones we could afford. One of my (distant) uncles was a communist leader and one accusation against him was that even when he went underground, he used Gillete blades. I cannot resist mentioning that I served fish curry to him and Jyoti Basu once.

I do not seem to remember much after those painful days except when I started going to barber shops, they seemed similar to cool drink shops in A.P. I do not even remember where I got rid of my long hair (people started saying that I looked like Satya Saibaba); only that I got rid of it when I went to visit a grandfather on death bed.
Only recent experience I remember is going to a barber shop in Hyderabad 2-3 years ago. I went to a bookshop around 8:30 AM to get some Telugu books and found that they would not open until 10 AM. There was a barber shop (probably called a hair cutting saloon) next door which was open. The owner, a muslim, chatted away for half an hour in Telugu without using a single word of either English or Urdu. That is very rare in A.P. these days.

11/23/2006 12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rahul - wow, Rs 25. I don't think even my dad gets his hair cuts that cheap. Hmm I'm quite sure for women Rs. 150 would be the base price.
I knw there are places that have these $10 haircuts in 10 minutes. I think it's a pretty good deal. Though this term I found a better solution and trimmed my hair myself...I wouldn't try a full blown self hair cut though =P

11/23/2006 5:00 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

ws:
? what, me normal?
normal is boring.

szerelem:
are you talking about prices for men or for women? (and in what currency?) prices for women are in a totally different ball park.

yes, hk men go out of their way to do weird things to their hair. my hypothesis is the uglier they are the further they go.

and about the self-cuts, i have friends who bought haircutting kits for 60-odd usd almost as soon as they reached the us, then sported diy jobs the rest of the time. (see my comment on "bowl crops" to rahul below.)

rahul:
i'm sure they span the range of possibilities. your story reminds me of the bengali jokes about "italian cut" (getting a haircut while sitting on a roadside brick ("iNt" in bong), and the "bati chhNaat" which translates roughly into "bowl crop" -- the idea being the guy puts a bowl over your head and then runs the scissors around whatever's sticking out.

kundalini:
hmmm. i'm almost afraid you're serious.

swarup:
as always your stories outdo mine :-) although this time i have to ask -- why didn't the guy just sharpen his scissors?

11/23/2006 8:08 PM  
Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Such nostalgia. As you can imagine, your post took me back a VERY long time.
(Now can the wisecracks, Prof!)
And hey, don't diss the DIY stuff, I've used it for 5 years now. One circumnavigation does beard, moustache and vestigial cranial hair.

Can hardly wait for the living present (I still use nailclippers)

J.A.P.

11/23/2006 8:33 PM  
Blogger kundalini said...

well i was, but now that you've changed it to "loved", i'm not so sure. :D

11/23/2006 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Giri said...

funny..
read my experience here

11/23/2006 10:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

szerelem, tr - checked with better half as promised. Green trends charges women Rs 100 (vs Rs 60 for me). Not really a different ballpark. Of course, shampoo, gel, etc are extra (and maybe it's better to tell them in advance that you don't want all that).

11/23/2006 11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmm Rs. 100 is really reasonable. And I guess you are right, men generally don't have to pay as much. Plus for women I think some salons charge by the style etc.

my hypothesis is the uglier they are the further they go How mean. And I only trim the split ends so no danger of sporting a bowl cut...*shudder*

11/24/2006 12:08 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

jap:
lol! i wasn't thinking of you when i wrote this, i promise! can't stop laughing now, especially since you put it that way :-D

kundalini:
true, true. I changed that after reading your comment -- it was what i'd intended to put, can't explain the slip. but anyway, i'm not much of an expert in nail-clippers (do have one good story though).

giri:
thanks for stopping by. yes, i agree this world of codes is mysterious to the extreme.

rahul:
don't tell me you're into the bob marley look again?

szerelem:
how mean
but true, right? right?!

*shudder*
hey we never said you were ugly :-D

11/24/2006 1:49 AM  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

TR,
I am not sure. Once in a while some guys would come to villages to sharpen knives and such. I do not know whether the barber used their services or had his own system or went to nearby towns to get his scissors sharpened. Probably he had more than one pair and used the better ones on more valued customers. For finger nails, we just used our teeth. Toe nails were usually taken care of by roads ( we did not wear shoes until we left school) or half blades or the barber in more difficult cases. I will check with my classmates when I visit USA next year for my nephew's wedding. We do not keep in touch by e-mail but it seems like old days again when we meet. I do not know why but your posts seem to bring back some of these childhood memories.

11/24/2006 6:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First time reader... came here by way of the Cosmic Elevator. Great stuff! Was laughing with tears in my eyes. Good times, good memories.

Each time I visit Mumbai, it's a pleasure to have my usual barber (among the dozen who work there) greet me and meticulously cut my hair just as I like it (well, it helps that there is a lot less to cut now!). I pay Rs 60 with tip now.

I found one old-school barbershop in LA where I always go, and for $15, the guy cuts my hair like any real barber worth his salt should - with scissors and comb. But I still miss the clean feel of the razor and astringent on the neckline - the hallmark of the Indian haircut. And the optional maalish!

11/24/2006 8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Normal" = this kind of flawless free form nostalgia trip. You are a complete natural at it, man, though, after that Salvia trip, I am not surprised. Keep it going. :)

11/24/2006 11:25 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

swarup:
I hope that's a good thing! if so, please keep reading :-)

antarananda:
welcome, and thanks for stopping by! (especially when you could have stayed on the cosmic elevator -- ridden it to the top :-) i guess we share the preference for the "old-school" haircuts, although i personally am not so glad that there's a lot less to cut. what price vfm?

ws:
heh heh heh. salvia, haircuts, same difference. any escapism will do :-D

11/24/2006 11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think i weeped a bit right there. i remember those shops. and more, i remember the fauji barbers - one in particular - chopped off my long, black hair and turned it into what he called a mushroom cut. i was in the fifth grade and i refused to come out of my room for two days. traumatized, i was.

these days though... hair cuts are more about side-swept bangs, a trim, a wash and some straightening irons please.

loved it.

11/25/2006 2:35 AM  
Blogger MockTurtle said...

Lovely! Brought back so many memories. I remember the arguments: "Naya blade lagana"; "Naya hai bhaiya"; "Humne nahin dhekha, ek aur kholna"... and the 3 year old editions of filmfare on the waiting area table.
Good old days indeed.

11/25/2006 8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dodally unrelated to har cutting and such but are u alreday in boston?

11/25/2006 1:09 PM  
Blogger Salil said...

Oh, nothing beats a haircut in India. That relaxing, long process in a place like Deccan barbershop in Bandra can't be beat, with a haircut that lasts something like 15-20 minutes, and then a head/shoulder massage for another half hour or so.

The rushed, 'get the customer in and out' process in most of the salons in the US, HK or Singapore is nowhere near the same experience. Thanks for bringing those memories back.

11/25/2006 1:31 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

scout:
thanks :-)
can't resist adding that i hadn't a clue what "side-swept bangs" meant until i googled it. the good news is that If you haven't worn fringe since you had training wheels on your bike, you'll be happy to hear that they've come a long way. The newest bangs range from long and blunt to side-swept and wispy, which means every girl can find a style that's perfect for her. Hooray.

mt:
oh yes! topaz! snapped lengthwise in two. :-D

sudo phish:
nope. arriving mid-december.

salil:
my hk experience usually lasts half an hour or so. the time before last i worked through three old issues of Golf Digest (or something) but that's probably reflective of my interest in the magazine. this last time i was wiser -- hunkered down with an issue of vogue that had a nudie pic of britney spears on the cover. didn't get past the front page.

11/26/2006 1:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but true, right? right?!
ummm....no comment. =P

11/26/2006 2:23 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

sheesh! and that with a pseudonym!

11/26/2006 2:36 AM  
Blogger GhostOfTomJoad said...

Might've said the post is nice but, as you must've noticed on your visit, hair is a sensitive issue :-)

Lack of decent places to get my hair cut in and the price (I'd been paying 350 rotten bucks for the chop lately!) meant that I've only had my hair cut twice in the last one year. Luckily, sanity prevailed and I rushed back to the good old 30-rupee joint and reverted to my awfully short hair style.

A 'nail cutter' post? Hmm, interesting :-)

11/27/2006 1:11 PM  
Blogger sattva said...

had fun reading this, tr :) my bro used to go, with great pride, to a roadside-barber who charged him 10 ruppees...he called him "dhoop-chaaon', for the barber set up shop beneath a tree! then my bro met his air-hostess girlfriend who helped him get styish, and now it's some swanky place in singapore. it's a travesty!

11/27/2006 9:33 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

ghost:
so i guess i could summarize your first two points by saying hair today, gone tomorrow?

sattva:
the bong term for that treatment is "italian cut" -- you get the cut while sitting on a brick ("iNt").

11/28/2006 1:05 AM  
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3/22/2007 8:51 AM  
Blogger pedro velasquez said...

A barber (from the Latin barba, "beard") is someone whose occupation is to cut any type of hair, give shaves, and trim beards. sportsbook In previous times, barbers also performed surgery and dentistry. In more recent times, with the development of safety razors and the decreasing prevalence of beards, most barbers primarily cut hair. Some hairdressers consider the term derogatory. Although many barbers may still deal with facial hair when requested, in American and Commonwealth culture most barbers specialize in the simple cutting of men's hair. They do not generally offer significant styling or 'fancy' haircuts when compared to hairdressers working in hair salons. bet nfl The place where a barber works is generally called a barbershop, or simply the "barber's
Some barbers prefer to see themselves as hairdressers or hairstylists. There is a common misbelief that barbers do not perform any service other than hair cutting, and that cosmetologists perform all coloring and perms. In fact, barbers can cut hair, trim beards, color, sportsbook perm, provide facials, and shave. They are also licensed to work with artificial hair replacement products (toupées, etc). Many working stylists are legally barbers. There is some professional rivalry between barbers and cosmetologists, both of which are licensed and regulated. At one time, both groups were allowed to cut hair, but only barbers were allowed to shave or trim beards: this required mastering the arcane technique of using a straight razor. Today, barbers and stylists may be found working side by side in establishments known as male salons. http://www.enterbet.com Male salons have afforded the barber the opportunity to remain traditional in all aspects of the term, yet also progressively contemporary as fashion and trends evolve. In male salons, hairstylists and barbers seek to accommodate the modern male hairstyle trends by employing traditional hair styling and straight razor shaves with modern practices, such as texturizing techniques and color.

11/25/2009 4:46 AM  

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