I had stared at her uncomfortably because I had never been asked that question by my hairdressers in India.
“Short” , I had mumbled, not knowing what else to say., My wife had squealed in horror after I had come back to our apartment with my commando cut.
“Please don’t make it too short”, I had answered the same question imploringly when I went for my next haircut several months later. Over the years the instructions got more and more refined ‘Clippers on the side – size five and a half please. Scissors on the top. Not too short - just take an inch off. Leave the sideburns long. Shampoo. No gel please’, I would rattle out without having to think and get (almost) the same results whether I was in LA ,Washington DC or Boston.
‘Have you considered trying gray blending’ , I heard this suggestion a few years ago. Gray blending. The word had a nice mature ring to it. It did not have the urgency of hair dying. Or the pretentiousness of hair coloring. My hair had started to gray with a vengeance in the past few years. Especially, after I had started my own business. My mother had just a few strands of gray hair at near sixty. My grandfather had a good crop of black hair at eighty. I had more gray hair than both of them combined. I had somehow let my gene pool down. ‘ It is perhaps the stress’ , I would explain half apologetically.
‘We have a special going on ...’, she continued, blinking her false eyelashes ‘ Tea Tree Treatment - Free shampoo & head massage ..’ . The deal was made. Several degrees of ‘blending’ were tried. The color combination of the one that suited me best was then recorded in the database. I could now go to any Supercuts in US and just tell them my name – they would then pull up my record and blend my grays like nobody ‘s business.
And then we moved to Bangalore.
“New Paradise Men's Saloon”, the barber shop is located on the main road, about half a kilometer from our house in Bangalore.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to look for a bit more upscale place?’ , my wife had suggested looking at the crowd of the patrons sitting on wooden benches inside the shop. But what did she know about the pleasure one would get from an authentic experience of getting a haircut from a roadside barber shop.
‘You and your authentic experiences’, she did not like my response apparently as I expertly maneuvered my scooter around a huge pothole. I had bought the scooter despite warnings and threats from my close friends. ‘Authentic experience my foot’ , one had said ‘ You know it takes much longer to heal a broken bone once you are past forty ..’. But I prevailed. My Honda Activa was not only an authentic experience; it was also my companion in looking for other authentic experiences. Like a haircut from a roadside Barber shop.
I parked my scooter outside the shop, glad that I did not get the car which would have perhaps overwhelmed the patrons and owner of the shop. The proprietor – a man with neatly combed hair and smartly trimmed moustache serviced the customers diligently, as I waited for my turn. A television played a Kannada movie dubbed in Hindi – the out of sync dialogs were punctuated by the clicking of scissors. The shop was well furnished with hair products. On one side were different type of hair oils – Himgangay, Jabakusim, Parachute, Navratan . Hair colors were also displayed prominently – Godrej, Revlon, Garnier.
‘Your turn, Sir’ , the hairdresser addressed me politely.
I took a deep breath as I settled down in the wooded chair and got draped by a clean white cotton sheet that was neatly tucked along my neck. Authentic experience.
‘Do you have clippers’, I asked. The man stared at me puzzled. ‘ ..to cut the hair ...’ Still no response. I took my right arm out and showed him how the clipper worked. His eyes shone.”Machine”, he pulled a manual clipper out of the drawer.
‘Clippers on the side – size five and a half please. Scissors on the top. Not too short - just take an inch off. Leave the sideburns long. Shampoo. No gel please’ .. I rattled out. The man stared at me, puzzled.
‘You want haircut? ’, he asked after a long pause. I nodded.
‘Please sit, sir – I do haircut ‘
I looked at my hair admiringly. The man knew his job. This was perhaps the best haircut I had got in many years – and he did it without any instructions! I was so pleased that I wanted to try out all the services he had to offer.
Gray blending ? I looked at the hair color products in the shelf in front of me and decided to give it a shot. My man Friday looked extremely pleased that his patron was interested in the most expensive service offered in the saloon. Even the customers waiting on the benches seemed interested. Everyone in the shop watched as our hairdresser got a stepping stool, reached out and retrieved a box of Garnier hair color from the shelf in front of us, mixed it in a dirty plastic bowl and started to furiously applying it on my head with a brush.
I soaked the authentic experience as ceiling fan cooled my wet colored hair. The man worked expertly, wiping the dripping color from my face. I had never got my hair colored facing a mirror. I realized that it was messy. I had been spared of reviewing this mess in the past since there were no mirrors in the coloring booths in Supercuts. You would actually see the results after everything was done. The color washed, hair shampooed and patted dry and the hairdresser giving you well rehearsed compliment as she took you back to your chair. “You look like a new person !’
Today, I was looking at all the mess that I used to miss out in the past. Head smeared with color. Authentic experience. And that is when my communication with my new hairdresser stopped abruptly. I was waiting for him to say or do something to get me cleaned up from the messy hair color. He was also waiting for me to say or do something – what? I was not sure of.
I then realized that something was wrong. Terribly wrong. There was not a single wash basin in the shop. Not a single faucet. No washing station. No towels. No shampoo.
‘Please go home and shampoo’, the guy’s voice boomed across the room. The movie in television echoed an extended gunfire.
That day I learnt several things.
That never wear light colored T shirt when you go for a haircut. You never know when you could be subjected to an authentic experience.
That wife gets pretty mad if you ruin a polo T shirt with hair dye.
That people do notice when you drive a scooter with your head smeared with color. Sometimes enough to actually turn back and stare at you. Or giggle.
That the stern security guards of our gated community do laugh once in a while. When they see a new resident riding a scooter with color dripping from his sideburns.
And that authentic experiences come with authentic learnings !