Saturday, January 17, 2009


When I was very young, my father’s barber used to cut my hair. He, or rather they, were local barbers who made housecalls. They were a pair of brothers, one short and slight, called Shanti, and the other burlier and taller, whom Baba (my father) called Ashanti (the opposite of Shanti/ peace) for the sake of rhyme and rhetoric. Shanti, true to his name, was more timid and patient, and I preferred him.

He would usually come on Sundays, carrying his small wooden box with a top handle, and one of the straight-backed dining chairs would be brought out in the open cemented courtyard, ready for all the family members (men or children) who wanted a shave or a haircut or theirs nails trimmed (for the stubborn male-nails, not for our tender-tips-and-toes, which were cut by Maa)

My Dadu (granddad) would sit first, and Shanti would carefully trim his scanty white hairs (on head, ears and nostrils – which fascinated us) and shave his wrinkled-wobbling cheeks tenderly and reverentially. Then Baba and Jethun (father and uncle) would come, and Shanti (or Ashanti) would be more robust and talkative, swiftly stroking the sharp blade down their cheeks and chin and briskly wiping the lather on a flat piece of leather, neatly paring their stubborn nails and giving them a joint-hand, chop-chop-chop head-banging massage.

Bhai and I would be the last, and we would sit under the sun, with the sparrows and magpies watching us warily from the trees in the garden surrounding the open courtyard. We would be wrapped in a huge white cloth tucked around our scrawny necks and Shanti (but never his brother) would chop away merrily with his scissors, giving us a brain-rattling massage at the end, and we would look down ruefully at the shiny black locks of hair fallen on the ground, and then up at our reflections in Shanti’s small spotted mirror.

These reflections would be unvarying – Bhai was always getting a crew-cut (which meant that merely a millimeter of his curly hair would remain on his head) and I would get a “boy’s cut” (inch-long curls all over my head).

I had to wait till almost my teens to enter a proper parlour, but that’s another story.



ugich konitari said...

It has to be age catching up or predementia or something, but, for the life of me, i simply cannot recall any memories, of, forget me, but even my brothers going to get haircuts. I wasnt allowed to cut my hair, but my brothers certainly got regular haircuts. I remember where and when in their teens.... maybe it wasnt considered too important then or something....But, one thing was certain. No one came home for giving haircuts. they always went to the neighborhood chap I think....

Lazyani said...

The local barber from Durgapur asked my mother to pay more for my haircut as according to him I have dense hair and that too on an oversized head!!

All my life, a lot of people have hinted that I have a bloated head and manure in the pace of grey matter, but no one has been as direct and empathic as that Barber.

Kavi said...

I had a haircut today. And was going to write about my experiences. But more importantly, the experieces that we had as children. We used to drive a mile to get to a saloon, and get a crew cut done !

And then, it just stayed. Today, the crew cut is convenient. To everybody. to me, to the barber, the man next in queue. For there is far too less hair !!!

seanag said...

ugich, your lapse of memory seemed very similar to mine about pencils and erasers. Reading other people's thoughts was evocative, and I knew that there was probably some key that would unlock a whole treasure trove of pencil and eraser memories, but it just didn't happen.

This haircutting thing though does rouse memories quite easily. The first is of being a toddler or under fiver anyway, and going for a first haircut in a beauty parlor. I think it was an emblematic moment of my life, actually, because I was fine up until the moment of truth, at which point I balked. And balked emphatically. The upshot was that my mother had to get her own hair cut so as not to waste the hairdresser's time.

The other one was when I was in maybe sixth or seventh grade. My mom took me to get a fancy cut, which involved some sort of blowdrying and styling etc. When I saw myself in the mirror, I felt so unreal that the first thing I did when I got home was to wash all the product right out. Needless to say, my mother did not find this amusing.

Actually, this reminds me of another tussle over hair. When I was a kid, my mother always put my hair up after washing, first in rags, then with those weird pink snap on rollers. I hated it. The rags, particularly, took forever, and the rollers were not ideal to sleep in. I think the onset of adolescence was marked by the declaration, "That's it, no more, no more."

Ranu said...

My earliest memories are of the sundays when Ma said that I needed a haircut and dad running after me to take me to the saloon to get a hair cut and me screaming and finding solace in my favorite hiding place (under the bed) and Ma dragging me from there and then dad putting me on the cycle and taking me to the saloon.

My most dreaded moment was when the man used a razor to shave the small hair at the base of the neck....... thats when I used to give the highest pitch of screams. It was in the fourth standard that my oldest sis started taking me to the parlor....... I was so glad!!!
never entered another saloon till date!!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, my father always be sure to have my hair-cut like Aamir Khan of Ghajini. May be he was aware of Aamir Khan attempts of movie-making. But yes, no scars.

Aleta said...

Mom would always cut my brother's hair. To this day, he refuses to go to a barber or hair salon. He doesn't like strangers to handle his head, I suppose. His wife, Roda, now cuts his hair. She does a good job with the cut too.

For me, I go to the same lady who cut my hair when I was a little girl. Carol, her business is called, Hair Design. She's seen me with long hair, curls, straight hair, very short cuts ~ has known of my friends and college years, my family members from out of town that would visit and get their hair cut too. I feel as though she's part of the family and yes, she did my hair on my wedding day. I wished she could have attended, but the shop was open and she had to work. I don't know who I'd go to if she ever retired!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Thanks, everybody, for those really detailed (splitting hairs?) hair-razing memories.

my space said...

well i remember going to this dingy dark chinese parlor! and i used to absolutely detest the lady ,she would pull and tug my hair with her small sharp comb and go on n on muttering under her breath!!

Piscean Angel said...

Altho' i don't have very vivid hair-cutting memories, but I remember that my Dida (mom's mother) used to cut my hair when I was a kid till I was about 8 yrs old I guess. And she used to do a great job of it ... used to give me a nice stylish boy cut & never complained abt how thin my hair is ... s'thg that every hair stylist has done since I started going to the beauty parlors. Sigh !!! :-)

Mampi said...

Have no haircut memories, only hairwash memories. Haircut came later, when the urge to have short hair overcame me.