Sunday, September 4, 2016
2016, Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. I open my eyes and look in to the mirror. The barber had done exactly what I had not wanted done. Before sitting on the chair, I had explained to him with sign language that only the hair around the ears were to be trimmed, leaving the rest as is; he did not understand English, and I do not speak Thai. Fait accompli. I gave him a smile, paid him his dues, and walked out of the shop, not particularly happy. On the way to the hotel I rationalized that I had to look at my face only while combing my hair, whereas the others looked at it throughout the day. So, it was now their problem, and not mine or the barber’s. I generally have a haircut once in every 3 – 4 weeks; a habit from my Air Force days.
Most of my service life while serving across India, I had no problems, as every barber knew the standard haircut, as per regulations; the hair around the ears should not curl up around the peak cap, and the side lock not longer than 1/3rd from the top of the ear. It was only before, and after, my service career that I started to have an issue every time I moved to a new place, and until the barber got used to my style of haircut, which seemed outdated to most professionals of the ‘hair styling’ trade.
1969. I remember the day I landed up at the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA). I remember paying off my cab, offloading my trunk, and thereafter being dispatched straight to the barber shop for a haircut. The barber knew exactly what had to be done; he did not ask me; there was no need to. As I got into senior terms the barber deferred a bit to my wishes but ensured that the haircut was within the regulations. In our final term most of us managed a decent but ‘acceptable regulation-wise’ haircut. This would not last.
Haircut NDA style.
Image: Courtesy: Google images
1972. The Chief Ground Instructor at Bidar greeted us on our first day with a barber in tow, and promptly cut us down to size by making sure that we forgot the ‘acceptable regulation-wise’ haircut in a hurry.
1989. After 3 weeks during my staff course in the US, I entered the barber shop for my haricut and found one vacant chair and a pretty female barber to attend to me. The chair was turned away from the mirror. While sitting down when I tried to move the chair to face the mirror my barber stopped me saying that it is she who needs to look out for my haircut, and not me. So, two firsts for me - haircut by a female barber, and that too while looking away from the mirror, signifying that she had full control. I now realized that once you sit on the barber’s chair, you lose control. I believe, barbers are ordained by God to cut any one’s ego down to size in a jiffy.
2012. Retirement, and I decide to now stop colouring my hair. When and how? Everyone in India had seen me with black hair and I did not suddenly want to shock them with a grey outcrop. Our extended vacation to Toronto seemed the ideal place for this mission. Mission was accomplished as planned, on reaching there. Three days later I decided to visit my brother in New York. The officer at the border looked at my passport, looked up at me and continued the to and fro between me and my photograph in the passport. He finally says, ‘you do not look like this’. I replied, I just shaved off my head three days ago. He still looked quizzical and in two minds about letting me go across the border. Finally he said, ‘it’s all black in the photograph, and you are all grey’. I smiled and countered that ‘I used to colour them earlier, and now these are naturally coloured at 60 years of age’. I was lucky that day; he let me through. Hair I realized happen to be a part of our identity, and ego. No wonder the greatest offering that one can make at Tirupati is the human hair, or the alter ego.