Sunday, September 15, 2013

Face off with a barber

Yesterday I paid a visit to the barber. Not by choice - the prospect of submitting myself to gentlemen who seem to have long whiskers, a wicked smiles and sharp razors always cause a downpour of unmanly sentiments all over me. But I am a man who can take the rough with the smooth and once in every two months or when my daughter starts reciting poems about some unfortunate bloke had owls, hens, larks and a wren living in his beard, whichever is earlier, I pop over to the nearly saloon for a haircut. 

As I entered my regular saloon, it was obvious that this simple unpretentious place had had a major face lift. The overall decor seemed more stylized with John Abraham and Salman Khan looming large on every wall. The number of mirrors have quadrupled which now reflects images of Mr. Abraham or Mr Khan at every angle and reminds you of the last fight sequence from Enter the Dragon. The cheerful happy-go-lucky barbers are now attired in some black formal looking uniform which seemed to have dampened their spirits considerably. I tried to locate my regular barber, a cheerful forever-smiling fellow who is well aware of my no-nonsense haircut ("short at the back, side, short-medium in front and don't try any special style") but gave up as the kaleidoscopic view of the bollywood stars seemed to overpower everything. Eventually I selected a timid looking fellow, took a seat and closed my eyes, thereby surrendering myself to fate.

Once the ordeal was over and I was satisfied that I need not visit this or similar institutions for a considerably period, the timid barber came up with, what he described as a "package offer". Men of world are already familiar with how these stuffs work - if you buy so-and-so, then some useless thingummy will be provided to you free of cost. In this case, the bloke offered to make the haircut free provided I opt for something called "face massage" which they have just started (i.e post the revamp of the saloon). 

I pondered. I always ponder when the word "free" arrives at the horizon. In my formative years, I grew up with my cousin brother who had indoctrinated me into a philosophy of "free food", which basically meant that whenever you get to eat at someone else's expense, you must eat till the stomach muscles are near their elastic deformation limits. This reverence towards "free" stuffs was followed even my mother, who had endeavored to create a full 12 piece set of perfectly ghastly looking quarter plates, each of which were given free on consuming 10 packets of Maggi instant noodles. My mother, being extremely finicky about her crockery set, never actually used these plates but it was the principal of the matter which was important.

"It is really good for your face sir", said the fellow. "You should go for a papaya face pack sir - it will suit you."

I pondered further. Though I can hardly be described as a "metro-sexual male", my knowledgeable friends have made me aware that the latest trend is to apply fruits, vegetables and yogurts on your face instead of shoving them down the oesophagus. Eating them will probably become a passe very soon. This barber seem to be well acquainted with the latest trends in fashion (and food).  

"Wouldn't the pumpkin face pack be more appropriate - considering that I have a face like a pumpkin?", I asked, trying to make light of the situation.

"Oh no, sir!" said the fellow. He seemed shocked and scandalized with my suggestion. "May be you start with a simple herbal face massage. I'll call my senior."

Presently the senior barber arrived. He gave me a piercing glance which lasted for several seconds and the pronounced - "You have a black head."

I felt somewhat offended. I am not racist by any means and have no aspiration of possessing a milk-and-peach complexion. Nevertheless, one expects a certain amount of finesse and diplomacy from others. So I drew myself up (to the extent possible while sitting in a barber's chair), raised my eyebrows and gave him a cold stare.

"Excuse me.." - I started but was soon cut off rudely by the senior barber. "In fact, there are many black heads", said the specialist, ignoring my stern glance with the aplomb of cowboy. Clint Eastwood couldn't have handled it better.

"Pardon me, but I seemed to see only one head on my shoulder." said I, trying the most sarcastic tone I could muster. "And I am certainly not a reincarnation of Ravana."

"Uh", said the specialist. "I mean the black heads - those black marks on your face. Never mind, I will take care of that soon enough". 

Before I could really give an opinion on this, he grabbed my face at a speed which would have put Rocky Marciano to shame and tied a kind of thick headband along my hairline - the kind of stuffs action heroes like Rambo occasionally wear. The only difference is that it looks good on them but made me look like a horror from outer space. And before I could object to this, my face was smeared with some kind of coarse semisolid stuff and I was forced to close my eyes. 
The little kid sitting next to me (had been brought for a haircut by his father; poor soul) gave out a piercing cry, which, I am inclined to believe, can be ascribed to this new Darth Vader-ish look on my face. 

After this, I was subjected to a multiple cycle process which consists of 
a) vigorous rubbing on the face with some coarse substance (which seemed to last for ever)
b) wiping the face with an equally coarse spongy stuff
c) spraying water on my eyes through a large size water pistol, thereby preventing me from opening my eyes (which, on second thoughts, might have been a saving grace)

The above three steps seemed to go on like an infinite do-loop with the next door kid's continuous wail providing a somewhat monotonous background score. Just when I as getting used to this cyclic torture, there was an assault on my nose with a sharp instrument. I whelped in excruciating pain and tried to jump out of the chair but the specialist, evidently, was used to handling un-cooperative customers with a heavy hand. I could barely move my face and could do precious little except listening to satisfied grunts from this specialist (who, by then I was convinced, is an illegal grandson of Joseph Mengel). 

I tried to raise my voice but was firmly told by this hell hound of a specialist that unless these blackheads are removed, they will become white heads. The gravity in his voice seemed to suggest that once this happens, the space-time continuum of the universe will be irrevocably disturbed. I had, by then, resigned to my fate. Even the kid next to me had stopped crying and resorted to a feeble whimper. 

Eventually the assaults stopped and I could feel the gentle touch of water and a soft towel on my face. I opened my eyes and found the specialist beaming at me with the self satisfied look of big game hunter. 

"Have a look, Sir!" said the man. "You will love it."

I looked at the mirror. 

My face looked exactly the same as before. 

Thank god for that!