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The other Sunday, I was all set to go for my haircut at Bhagwati barber shop in Gandhinagar. I have been loyal to this small and very basic barber shop located in an old shopping centre since last 30 years. So I announced this intent of my mine to my wife, who was busy with her screen-shopping on an e-commerce website. Without lifting her head and with absolute nonchalance she cracked at me, “You are so uncool. You still go to that archaic barber shop? I mean do you even know our status in the society? Grow up, be happening and stylish. Last month Ashwariya spotted you at this good-for-nothing barber shop. It was so embarrassing for me in front of others.”

I did not get angry at this barrage of insults showered upon me. I mean, after 22 years of marriage you become an absolute pachyderm. So with complete equanimity of mind I replied, “So what is wrong with my barber? He knows the kind of haircut I want. I simply have to go, sit and sleep. After 30 minutes he will wake me up and voila, my hairs are done to my liking. What else one needs?”

Now let me tell you why I do not want to give up on my antiquated barber shop.

Every time I go there, my barber Deepak, aka Deepko or Deepka, will come to greet me outside his shop. Then he will look around and comment, “You did not bring your Mercedes?” I am sure that he so wanted me to bring that car so that he can boast to other customers, “Joyu (see), my customers come in Mercedes and all.” I replied, “No Deepka, I wanted some fresh air and hence came on my bullet.” You bet he was thoroughly disappointed. Maybe he was thinking if I had slipped in to my ranking to the bottom of the MHI diamond of India’s population.

Then he greets me in to the shop and vehemently cleans the chair on which I am supposed to sit. While I take my seat, he elucidates, “When you had called, I was cutting Babulal’s (The State Cabinet Minister) hair at his home. Immediately I told Babulal that I will have to quickly finish his haircut to attend a very important schedule. Boss, at the end of it you are more important than Babulal.”

Just when I think that Deepko will trigger my haircut, he whispers in to my ears, “Bhai, relax for some time while I get my Ghutka. You know na how busy we are. Have not eaten Ghutka since morning; no time you know. Should I bring a cigarette and chai for you? Ok, while you wait, why don’t you catch up with some newspapers?” What I actually find loitering around are few Bollywood supplements of the lamestream local vernaculars; which has some poorly printed and out-of-focus photographs of voluptuous as well as skinny heroines wearing what a man wishfully desires.

Deepak announces his re-entry after some goddamn 10 minutes and starts mowing my head with a manual trimmer. With my eyes closed, I’m now all poised to listen to Deepak’s barrage of questions and gossips. He will inquire about my family, my health, my friends, my business, my last trip abroad and what did I get for him, and what I should get the next time I go… After this monotonous ritual, his long session of monologue gossip starts. Who died, who got a child, who got drunk and caught, who eloped, who married (by the way Deepko is invited to all marriages in Gandhinagar, whether it is a minister or a big businessman or a farmer), who got busted, who got in to a brawl, who got transferred in the sachivalaya, the latest scam…

After almost 30 minutes or so, he will pompously announce that the haircut was over and now I can open my eyes to see the new gleaming and dashing me. He will then access a mirror lying somewhere under the customer waiting-bench and place it at the nape of my neck, and display my men-will-be-men type army style slope cut. Then he takes a comb having very thin bristles and does my hair, and asks, “Kevu (what say)?” And I say, “Jordaar (amazing).” Finally he gives me a manly head massage (without any oil) for two minutes and then relieves me of the gossip ordeal.

Pleased with his attainment, he finally calls the job concluded. Even without asking him, I pull out my wallet and give him Rs. 100. No questions asked, no answers given. A quick goodbye and while walking off, I hear him talking over the phone to another customer, “Party, come over anytime you like. This shop is yours only.” Though I wonder every time, what happens to the cigarette and chai?

Imagine this happening almost every month for last 30 years. Give me one goddamn solid reason to shift my barber.

Back to the scene with my wife.

“Ok, so what do you suggest?” I asked.

Wife responds, while her head is still sunk in the phone, “Arey, you have Nrich salon just below your office na.”

“Ok, I will go there tomorrow whenever it is convenient.”

“You are useless”, she replied. “They are not your Deepkas of this world. You need to take an appointment for the haircut.”

I retorted, “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles, why in the f…..g world should I take an appointment from a barber?”

“Hairstylists. They are not barbers.”

And I thought only celebrities had ‘hairstylists’.

After all, my narcissist self could not bear my devaluation and went ahead to take an appointment with the hairstylist for the next day post my office-hours.

“Don’t get late or else they will take the next customer”, my wife gave the final piece of advice (advice #26) for the day.

Next day, post my office-hours, I reported to the Nrich salon dot on time. A lovely receptionist (whose face I could not see) asked for my name, mobile number and e-mail ID. I was asked to wait in the lounge for few minutes; while the hairstylist prepared the seat and counter for me. A cold bottle of Bisleri was served to me. Maybe, they already knew that my anxiety levels were shooting up. In the meantime, I was impressed at the cleanliness, décor and lighting of the place and the kind of super-impressive equipment they had got; without having an iota of understanding as to what they can do with anyone’s hair.

At last, the moment came and I was ushered to my designated seat. My hairstylist wearing a complete PPE kit, mask and a face-shield smiled at me and greeted, “Mr. Desai, how are we doing today?” Last I heard someone greet me like this was by the air hostesses on the Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines.

“Mr. Desai, I am Neville and I will be taking care of you for the next one hour. In case you need anything, do let me know and we will most certainly attend to it”, the hairstylist announced.

“Thundering typhoons, why the hell do you need one hour? My Deepko always takes 30 minutes or less. Ridiculous.”

Neville then adorned me with pleasant smelling paraphernalia over my bust.

For some time Neville examined my hair, my facial skin and all. Finally he announced, “Mr. Desai, your hairs are too rough. I will have to shampoo them in order to execute proper hair styling.”

I am like, “Does it cost extra?”

“Just 500 bucks Mr. Desai. That’s nothing”, replied Neville.

I was thinking, “That’s nothing? You cheater. That’s like my 5 haircuts with Deepka!” But then, I had to pretend that 500 bucks didn’t mean a jack shit to me. After all, my wife belongs to the high society. So, without showing any disapproval on my face, I replied with a lot of confidence to Neville, “Oh that’s ok. You go ahead; don’t bother me with the charges and all. Doesn’t matter.”

Only I knew from within what kind of stupid and irresponsible statement I had just made. But then like a hurt lion, I chose to face all the consequences of getting a haircut in a high-society salon.

Immediately Neville got my head over a basin, which was specially designed for shampooing. Hot and cold water from the jet spray reminded me of the Liril TVC. La, la, la, la…la, la, la. And then Neville carefully applied shampoo on my head and started gently running his fingers back and forth through my scalp. It almost felt like Neville and I were gays. “Why can’t you do it like Deepka? The manly way”, I was pondering.

Once done with the shampoo, Neville slowly and rather girlishly maneuvered the Braun trimmer, Victorinox scissors and some expensive comb through my hair; cutting them with finesse. Appreciating his own piece of art and labour of love, he would pose once in a while to check my haircut from various angles; further trimming my hairs in microns.

Finally it was done. Before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’ Neville once again pushed me back gently to the seat. “Mr. Desai, while cutting your hair, I noticed that you have split-ends and that will require some immediate attention.”

I was like, “Can’t it wait?”

“No Mr. Desai, I will not recommend.”

Now with the kind of societal status that I had manufactured in front of Neville, I thought it was best to say yes. And then that long agonising Keratin treatment left me mentally exhausted. But even that got over somehow.

Once again, when I was just about to get up, Neville once again advised, “Mr. Desai, now that I have taken care of your hair, let me tell you that you have lot of blackheads on your face. I will recommend a facial treatment to get rid of them.”

By this time, I had reached my all-out level of patience and durability, and gave a stern look at Neville, “Look Neville, there is a big party at my house and I need to leave now. I hope the facial treatment can wait.”

“Of course Mr. Desai. As you wish. However, I will recommend getting it done ASAP. Should I book some time for the facial treatment tomorrow?”

Where is my Walther? I swear I wanted to shoot Neville there itself. And not feel an iota of guilt after that.

And then the moment of further unrest. What will be the bill amount? Style me amount toh pochcha hi nahi!

“Mr. Desai it will be just Rs. 5,500. Hope you had a wonderful experience with us.”

55 rounds of my haircut done and dusted in just one go. Reluctantly I paid up and was about to leave, the concierge opened the door and said, “Mr. Desai, see you very soon.”

See you very soon, my foot. You have robbed me. Mummyyy…these guys have cheated me. Aaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh.

I had lost the battle, but won the war. Gathering enough courage and the smile back, I rang the doorbell of my house.

My wife opens the door. Once again drowned in the screen-shopping on her mobile, she did not even look at me.

I was like, “Baby, I just got my haircut done at Nrich. Look at me. I am all happening and stylish. Dhen ta nen. How do I look?”

But she was unrelenting. Absorbed completely in her mobile phone, she snapped, “Amit, what is wrong with you? Why are you talking to me directly? Take a selfie and WhatsApp it to me. I will revert when I am free.”

All for that pseudo desire of getting qualified for that affluent-class section of India’s population diamond.

Inspired by Amit Tandon’s stand-up

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