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Thursday, September 19, 2013

[OFF] The Old Bearded Barber

I have meaning to write about this seemingly common incident that happened last weekend for a long time. So finally, I see I have been able to gather wits together.

It was an idle Saturday afternoon in Mumbai, contrary to what you might say, the place where I live is a rather calm and serene area with not an iota of chaos that one would normally associate with the city. I woke up at around 12.30 enjoying more than a night's sleep to my delight as Kavita Bai had  switched off the fan. If she hadn't done that, I was up to break the Guiness Records for sleeping for sure!

Now, the story is not only about me and my laziness, which on the contrary would make an amazing story as well! (I would creep you out with that later, sometime) The story is of an old bearded barber. Now you would say, what is so special about an old bearded barber? Nothing. Just the way I looked at that entire encounter of around 25 minutes maybe.

I just convinced myself to get a hair-cut and relieve myself of the ton of hair on my skull. Pestered by a certain person, I finally decided to take the plunge. I decide to part ways with the wonderful "crows-nest" (bangla translation, pardon me, am a bong-with-dhong) on my head.

So, I was on my way to the nearest barber shop. Wagging away my dilly-dally as I made my way past the ton of garbage lying on the street. As I passed the shops I finally found a barber shop to my left. Dim lights inside, the afternoon light did not penetrate much inside. It was a proper shop with 5-6 chairs for cutting and a bench for waiting. It was empty, with the exception of an old bearded man. It was an old place, dusty at places with a colourful wallpaper. It was almost romantic. I was enticed inside by the sheer feeling of mystery in this man.

I went in gesturing rather vaguely that I wanted a hair cut. The man, in some indistinct hindi, told me to take a seat. The old man was about my height and wore spectacles that gave him a look of a scholar. He was well built and pretty fit for his age. The air was filled with a smell of some classic fragrance that was not customary of barber shops. (Remember that heavenly smell of heavy after-shave and shaving cream?) The television, a small box on top of the door, was playing an old hindi movie, Padosan.

I sat down facing one of the parallel mirrors in front of me. Been a long time since I have gone down this path. The gigantic length of my hair bears witness to this fact. The old bearded man looked at me with suspicion. However, he continued to take a white robe and cover my torso with it.

"How do you want it cut?", he asks

"Medium", I say. Figuring he must have, with all his white beard experience, figured out what I meant by that amazingly precise description of how short I wanted my hair to be cut.

He proceeded nevertheless with an imposing air of self-confidence never seen in any other barber. He seemed to be a romantic guy, enjoying the scene where the women are in the river and the hero encounters them bathing. My head wanders off to his days. Imagining that once upon a time this old man was young as well. I argue in my head, about him having a love affair. Did he break the social norm of arranged marriage? Did he fall in love?

I could not make out any hint of emotion in his eyes as he cuts the hair with amazing precision. He is slow. He is a master. He is so delicate and unlike the local barbers rushing it on, he has all the time in the world. Probably, the movie has had a soothing effect on him, I wonder.

A little later, a boy of about 10, in school uniform come inside and starts grooming himself in the mirror. The old man man keeps cutting. The boy takes the water spray and sprays his hair. He then delicately combs his hair to his liking. He is probably his grandson, I thought.

Of all the places the boy has to go, he came to his grandfather in a old dusty place, in his shady salon. He must be his grandson, I reaffirmed myself. The old bearded man did not speak a word, however I did see him steal a glance at this boy. I think I saw a glimmer of smile. Yes, it was there, the love. This is his grandson.

I had started liking this old bearded man. I knew nothing about him but I figure he was a god fearing man, who loved romance and love. He had no need to work, he probably had very little work. He probably loves his work. It is probably something he has been doing for a long time and he has grown old with it. He is still so ever faithful to his work. He is still so good at his work. I am probably just brain dead.

As he finishes cutting, he asks me, "Shaving?"

"No", I say.

"Should I leave a mark on the side-burns (so it will be easier for you to shave)?", he asks

I was taken aback with the honesty in his work. No barber ever asked that. He was unique that was for sure. I quickly reply, "No thanks, I will shave later on".

He proceeds with his job.

Not a single glitch.


I loved my hair-cut.

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