Myriad Images at a Mumbai Barber

Hair Cutting - Rs. 20.

It seems like it is time for my quarterly haircut. How do I know this? Well my raven-coloured hair have grown into a uncontrollable mass of cellulose, which in their moist uncombed state are taking the shape of an ecosystem more diverse than the Sunderbans.

Pali Hill, Bandra, for all its amenities, is filled with barbers the likes of which charge large amounts of money. Alas, this is a burden my light wallet cannot take. I am forced, like an economic migrant, to commute to meet my hair hygiene needs.

A glass store front, rimmed with wooden blue welcomes me. Etched in red on the glass are the styles and fashions the 'Hair Cutting Saloon' deals in. Barber shops in India come in various avatars viz. the corner nahee [barber] who sets up his unpolished mirror and rickety chair under some tall tree or a puccha [brick] barber establishment that employs several such masters of the trade. Scissors, brushes, stainless steel blades, and circular foldable plastic razors are the versatile tools of their trade. Inside men wait patiently on worn-out rexine sofas, hiding their faces behind a local newspaper or a glossy gossip-spilling film magazine. As I enter the men make space for me, bunching up together almost by reflex and one of them hands me an old issue a film magazine.

Stylised posters of popular Bollywood actors and screen starlets adorn the walls. Barber shops often become tiny Meccas to Indian film culture and the sense of style derived from Bollywood or the local cinema. If a film becomes a 'super hit' fans want to emulate their favourite stars' hairstyle. It is a place for music and entertainment as well. No shop is complete without an old pocket TV in a corner or a grungy loud cassette player or a small portable transistor radio.


My turn finally arrives and I am lead by the smiling wrinkled man (who I assume is going to be my barber today) to the chair. I prop myself up sloppily on the chair and stare into the mirror right back at myself. The barber chair is old and is a cross between a "lazy-boy" recliner and a dentist chair. Parallel mirrors have this magically quality of affixing me with a sense of wonder. Myriad images of me, my barber and everybody else in this tiny colourful room give me a sense that I am part of something big, a momentous occasion when a man and his sharp tools are going to rid me of some excess dead tissue. I am woken up from my day dream by tiny droplets of water sprayed from a mobile dispenser. The barber observed my long hair for a moment and then softly whispered into my ears,

"Sahib aap ko dandruff ho gaya hai."

[Sir you seem to have dandruff]

I nodded in the affirmative. He continued talking to me as he now tried with some difficulty to comb my hair into some shape,

"Sahib apko kaise baal katana hai?"
[How do you want you hair cut]

I looked at him sullenly through the mirror as I said,

"Bhai sahib sab kuch kat lo, bilkul gunja kar do"

[Brother, cut it short - real short, just short of making me bald.]

Thirty minutes later, I emerged from the shop satisfied - a presentable man .

[Cross Posted on METROBLOGGING Mumbai]

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The Comic Project said...

Hey akshay..nice picture :-) Once again, you are fantastic at capturing the city life. Am going to be in bombay for a week, take in the sights, sounds and SMELL. Can't wait. btw..TCP will be linking the mumbai metroblog but lemme know if TCP can help in anyway in the mumbai metroblog effort.

Geetanjali said...

LOL Akshay, trust you to come up with a post like that! Next time I wanna read abt the facial you got at the nahee's place ;-)

Nick said...

Thirty minutes to give you a Marine's buzz cut? What took so long?! Inquiring readers want to see before/after photographs.
(Another great post, by the way.)

aparna said...

i agree with nick .want to see your snap after the make over.i remember i used to go to one of these shady salons when i was very small when my dad thought he could drag me to these salon and get my hair cut the way he wanted too.i too had no issues cz the nayee at our place used to give one chocolate to all the kids who came to his salon for a haircut.

Flypig said...

So I am not the only idiot who goes from out of Bandra/Andherifor a haircut? I just find it convenient cos by the time I get back home they are all closed. NO 24 hr barbers? And why waste a Sunday getting bair chopped off? Now I no longer work at Nariman Point but still go to Churchgate for a haircut. Its a habit now.