Barber of Bangalore
This is a poem about a haircut! But lofty, nobel, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter “s”!
Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Some savage, spectacular suicide.
* * *
There was a time when Sowpadu did not even have a barber. Of course, the need was not much, considering that men sported long tuft, and the women, needless to say, never let scissors touch their hair.
By the time I started needing haircuts, we had a functional barber, who would come to our house for hair cuts. Or, occasionally, he would come around to the old tree, where he would spread his tools out, inviting people for hair cuts. As I said, these hair cuts were merely functional.
I still remember the horror of my earliest hair cut — the so called summer cut. It was more like a summary cut. At the end of the hair cut, there was no hair left on either side of the head. Again, as I said, it was a functional hair cut.
Over time, his son took over the hair cutting trade. Of course, he practiced on us. While I was at the IITM, one summer, I had the hair cut done by him. When I went for my next hair cut at IITM, the barber gently enquired if I tried hair cutting by myself!
* * *
Flashback to USA. I have been to different saloons in the USA — all the way from “Visible changes University” to “Drukker hair cutting”. I visited el-cheapo philippino hair dressing places to expensive parlours where French women speak in intimidating accent. In a momentory lapse of sanity, I even bought one of those do-it-yourself hair cutting kits. I tried to cut Kamala’s hair, but in the middle of the cut, she said “I don’t want to play this game”, and quit, as it is normal for her precocious five year old mind.
* * *
This time, I was coming to India, I had to run around so much before my visit here, that I did not have time to get a cut. I came to India looking like an imported ruffian. They had to verify my signature wherever I was using my Credit Card. That was the level of confidence I was inspiring!
Thanks to the heavy, self-imposed workload, I leave the apartment around 8:30 AM, after eating a heavy breakfast from Dosa Camp. I come back exhausted around 9PM. So, I could not get my hair cut all these days. There never seems to be right time.
Finally, my intrepid local guide, Gopi, could not see my plight. He explained the options: I could go to a local place, or I could go to a five star hotel, or get somebody home to get my hair cut. I was going to go to Hyderabad, and thought that I could get my hair cut there.
I had an eventful trip to Hyderabad. It was the first time in my life that I stayed in a hotel in Hyderabad. I was staying at Ramada Manohar. As soon as I went there, I was looking for places to get my hair cut. I wanted to get my hair cut in the wee hours of the morning when I don’t have meetings that I had to attend.
On Sunday Morning, I asked the Duty Manager, if there is hair cutting place on the premises. He denied that they provide such services. I pressed further and enquired about the “beauty saloon” listed there. I explained that while I can do without the “beauty” part of the saloon, if it is a whole process, I am not one to object. He was adamant that this saloon was only for women; in fact, even more strictly only for “ladies”.
Discouraged, but undeterred, I asked them to recommend a saloon, and crossed the dangerous roads of Hyderbad to get to the other side. Yes, there was one saloon, but it did not inspire my confidence. How would like to leave your neck to a stranger with a knife in his hand?
The next day, I again enquired, if there was better one. This time, I explained my predicament about knives and trust. They were sympathetic to my plight and recommended that I go to Grand Kakatiya hotel, where I could find such trustworthy people. However, I had to meet Dr. Jampala and had to postpone the program.
As soon as I came back to Bangalore, I decided to go with the first person wielding a knife. I was defeated; there was no fire in me any longer. I could feel my unruly hair clouding my judgement. Still I had to wait for one more day, as Tuesday is the holiday for all the barbers.
I woke up on Wednesday and went to the barber shop opposite to Adarsha Gardens. The place was quiet, except for rustling newpapers, snipping scissors. Eventually, my turn came. I still was afraid. What kind of knife would he use? What if I get cut? Hepatitis, B? Or even worse? I could see he was sterilizing the scissors. He spent a careful half an hour, trimming my hair, and mustache. He was extra careful; perhaps, Gopi hinted to him about a large tip. Finally, the bill came to even 25 Rs.
* * *