When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to this tiny neighbourhood barbershop called 'Malabar Hairdressers'. Speaking of which, have you ever wondered why these people call themselves 'hairDRESSERS'? I mean, they're not adding anything to the hair. They're just cutting off a bit and in fact, leaving less of it than there initially was. Doctors dealing with unfortunate patients who need to have a foot amputated don't go upto them and say, shaking their heads meaningfully, “Mr.Kumar, the infection is spreading fast, I'm afraid you’re going to need a little leg-dressing.”
So anyway, as the name suggests, 'Malabar Hairdressers' was run by a mallu. And that was reason enough for my dad to take me there. He ached to talk to fellow mallus, discuss mallu movies, criticize mallu politicians and generally babble on and on and on in Malayalam, deriving some weird pleasure from it. Sometimes, he'd miss malluness so bad that I'd get a haircut just for the heck of it. “Geetha, I think Vinod needs a haircut. He’s looking like a little rowdy. I'm taking him to Malabar.”, “But Dad, I had one just last week!”, “Never mind, you bleddy punk! Come fast now I say, don't waste my time”, “Nooooooooooooooooooo, mommmmmm, HELPP…”
And so, he'd drag me, kicking and screaming, to the shop, leave me with one of the evil barbers and go on to discuss Mohanlal's latest lungi pattern with the owner. Sometimes, we'd have to wait for my turn, and I'd sit in the waiting couch beside which there was a huge stack of ‘Filmfare’ magazines dating all the way back to the silent movie era. No ‘Outlook’ or ‘India Today’, which would have some pictures of politicians with bad hair. No sir, only ‘Filmfare’, with those handsome Bollywood superstars and their impeccable hair. I would flip through the issues in silent horror, only seeing the barber's subliminal message on every page, “Take a good long look, son. Your hair will NEVER look like theirs. I'll be taking care of that. Ha!”
And then, my turn would finally come. The barber would take out that ominous white cloth and throw it all over me, and knot it tight at the neck, almost suffocating me. The radio would be tuned to that standard barbershop station that played only happy songs all the time. I’d watch the white cloth slowly get filled with my bits and pieces of my hair, tears welling up in my eyes and streaming down my face. I would hear my dad talking to the shop’s owner in the background, and catch a few stray words, probably 'Chaye', 'Mammooty' and 'Gelf' and I’d want to scream. I had a rough childhood.
Today, as a mature adult, I’m pleased to announce that barbershops don't worry me anymore. Now that's not because I've overcome my fear. I'm still terrified of barbershops and I still wake up in a cold sweat when I have nightmares about Malabar. But I've just stopped caring. It doesn’t matter to me anymore when I walk around looking like an ex-con. No, seriously, I know my haircuts will continue to go badly. Every time I step into that saloon, I'm dead certain that I'll come out looking like I just lost a wrestling match with a lawnmower. But I don't give a damn, because if I've learnt anything in the last 23 years, it is that no matter how bad the haircut, I can always, following in the footsteps of the immortal Himesh Reshammiya, wear a cap.