As a little boy, I hated my barber and his monthly visits to my house. Those days, on the first Sunday of every month, all three boys in our house were to bow our heads before the barber for a haircut. The painful rider here was that none of us should leave home till the hairdresser 'pruned’ our none-too-impressive and lice-infested heads.
But to me, a Sunday meant playtime. I used to play marbles, tipcat, stone throwing and other favourite pastimes in the streets. I had a host of friends, sidekicks and players, waiting for Sundays.
Like many other boys, we played past midday till somebody called us for lunch. My barber played a killjoy. But I liked the barber’s weekly sittings with my father. It was time for me to play with his odd tools like soap cake, scissors, brushes and other queer items. But the barber, a long and stout man in his mid-forties, did not like my meddling with his black, greasy wooden box.
As a college-going youth, I loved my visits to the hairdressing saloons. I frequented the best saloons in town and befriended some young workers there who paid personal attention to me for hefty tips.
What attracted me to that place was the presence of the town’s bigwigs and a medley of empty cream boxes, lotion bottles, powder tins, blades, sizzling pin-ups, and glossy film magazines.
Now retired from service and settled in a city, even a run-of-the-mill barber shop satisfies my needs. I often visit the ordinary shop at the end of the street. The barber is a young man, pious and loquacious, like the barber in R K Narayan’s Guide.
The other day, when the barber was attending to my four-day-old stubble, a young man barged into the saloon. Offering `200 to the barber, he said that his father had a haircut here sometime ago and could not come to pay the money as he was bedridden
. At that, the barber expressed his sympathy for the sick man, accepted only `100 and assured the young man that he would always be ready to attend to his ailing father. Moved by his concern for his father, the young man, with tearful eyes, profusely thanked the barber and went away.
This incident touched me deeply and changed my views about the barber and his place in one’s life. Who knows, I may also need a barber at home one day.
But will my barber ever visit me again?