So while a young man pulls at my hair, strand by strand, 2 women pin me down with their disapproving glances. In their eyes, I can see myself – a dubious fish that has been lying on the stall for too long a time, definitely black at the gills. I squirm around, trying to get a look beyond their overcoats and the mirror before me. I hear voices from all around me, and conveniently associate them to the backs of the heads I can see in my section of the mirror.
A head, gray growing out of fading dyed brown, seems to be saying, in a young voice, “I want it long on the right side, and absolutely short on the left, and at the back, it should run down in a spike, with just a short tail on one side. You know, like the English footballers have. You’ve seen that, right?” The voice, and the demand doesn’t seem to go with the checked brown shirt below the head.
It takes me a moment to realize that the voice is not coming from that particular head, but from someone sitting beside me. I squirm for a while, until the women move aside a little, and the young man turns my chair to allow me a better look. I sigh with inexplicable relief when sound matches visual again. The demand for an English footballer haircut has come from a young man sitting next to me.
He continues to nag his cherubic looking hairdresser for the next 40 minutes, unhappy with his right, his left, his spike, his tail. He even threatens the cherub with a tale of his regular hairdresser who has gone home to Kalimpong, and whom he could forsake forever if the cherub gets this one right. The cherub, tall, round-faced, very fair with a curly mop of hair and a placid countenance does not look overjoyed at the prospect of a new loyalty.
Next to the aspirational footballer, a young man with shoulder-length hair, in thick, black waves that any girl would kill for, looks at his own sharp-featured face and thin mustache with evident pleasure. Quietly he asks his hairdresser for flicks that will brush past his forehead to the back of his head.
Next to him, a young woman looks down on her husband’s tight curls, and shakes her head sadly as the hairdresser commiserates with her on how little they can do with his hair. She is almost contemplating whether she can exchange her husband for one with more manageable hair.
Next to me, a young man comes out of a hair spa, and negotiates with his hairdresser on the hair products he wants to buy. The hairdresser is trying to sell him what is available, the young man wants something he has seen before. He already has a gel at home, but would like a serum, or some such thing.
The gray head now turns and looks at himself from all angles. Then he makes a call. In a few minutes, his wife is there, inspecting him, and scolding the hairdresser for what she considers an imperfect job.
Meanwhile, my hair has been dyed, washed, blow-dried. Several other women have had their haircuts, and gone away quietly, without much fuss.
The men meanwhile aim for perfection on their heads, and leave, not quite satisfied.
I am quite certain I have never seen men fussing so, in any salon in Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land. In Bangalore, the men seem quite particular about their hair. For some reason, whenever I think about that afternoon, it makes me smile, even after a couple of weeks.
Also more people here have thick, lovely black hair, than they do in Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land.
In an aside, my hairdresser in Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land, who used to come home to cut our hair, has now gone to Uganda for 2 years. My friend, Pu called me today and said, “Ali has gone away from our lives.” All of us are very sad, Ali.