Here's a guest entry by a friend from the People's Republic who, under the pretext of doing a PhD there, spends eight months of the year gallivanting around the world. Pachacutec is in India currently and he writes about his experiences at a men's 'beauty parlour' in the garden city.
On Friday, I got myself a Facial.
And it was awesome...!
How it happened ?
Well, friday morning I got off the Madurai-Bangalore train. After two days of climbing ladders and crawling in the dirt, etc in Theni, I was pretty tired, fast asleep, and I almost missed getting off the train at Bangalore City station. But one super old-school gentleman woke me up - "Kind sir, you want to get off at Bangalore, no ? Your station has come".
I figured I was more hungry than filthy (despite others thinking the opposite), so I decided to straight away join my family members for a group breakfast rather than hit the shower. After breakfast, my 4 yr old niece was pretty diapproving of my appearance and suggested I get a hair cut at least.
I asked my cousin for a recommendation. He sent me off to the Gandhibazaar area. The streets were packed with hundreds of flower sellers - even more than usual and the usual is a lot. It was Varalakshmi Day.
So I finally find this dhinchak barber place after walking through a bunch of spaces between stacks and stacks of flowers. I love sitting at a barber's in India and getting a hair cut. Old music playing over a crackling radio, slow moving ceiling fan sending periodic air-wafts your way, shiny chk-chk sounds of scissors and just a general air of laziness - fantastic place to just sit back and daydream for the hour that the barber takes to cut your hair.
My haircut was over in 10 mins :-(
I had barely settled in and was just choosing a delicious little theme to daydream about when the last snip happened. Chap saw the sad look in my eyes and asked "What boss ? You want shorter haircut ?" To which I replied, "No saar, I actually wanted longer haircut".
This chap was totally confused now.
Bugged, he asked "How about facial ?"
Intrigued, I asked "How long ?"
More confused, "400 rupees", he replied.
I point to my watch, "No No, I mean how much time it will take ?"
"Fine, do it boss"
Then began the most complex procedure my face has been involved with. Wash, then dry, then wash, then dry, then cream, then massage, then more cream,then more massage, etc.. At some point it seemed like he was plucking things out of my skin with a needle. I don't know; my eyes had cucumbers on them. Then at another point, it seemed he was running some kind of suction device on select parts (or rather, the not so select parts) of my face. Some of it was really painful. My eyes were watering - a process that was further complicated by the cucumber slices sitting on my eyes.
Then finally he applied one layer of "special" cream on my face. I had to wait for some time while it dried and caked after which he would dust if off. The cucumbers were off my eyes now. I looked like an extra from that masquerade ball scene in Phantom of the Opera. Some parts of my face were smarting with all the needle/suction action. But on the whole most muscles in my face had been opened up by some rigorous massaging so I was pretty relaxed.
Now that my eyes were open, I took a good look around. Males about my age kept entering every now and then and were getting all kinds of treatments - some involving complicated machinery drawn over their heads. I tried to say hello to some fellow customers but they would all look away in embarrassment like they didn't want to be there but really secretly they did want to be there. None of them were looking at one another. Every one seemed to be in a hurry - lets just get beautiful and get out of here without anyone noticing me types.
Gradually all the space in the room got dynamically divided (by a process of trial and error) into vision zones where each vision zone belonged to someone and only he looked into it and you couldn't look into someone elseï¿½s vision zone, just yours only. This way no one would be embarrassed either by being noticed looking at someone or by being looked at.
At some point, a veteran customer (still around my age though) entered the place. The barbers knew what he wanted without him having to say anything. He seemed pretty self-assured and gave me a knowing smile and proceeded to set himself up for a facial and some conditioning. It was quite inspiring to watch him. The vison zone rule did not apply to him it seemed. He slid so confidently towards the machines and was so comfortable that all his movements were in total agreement with the barber's expectations. He didn't need an army of staff to prop up every awkward motion of his. And even if he did, it wouldn't have been possible because they were currently busy propping me up - keeping my head right, making sure my arms didn't slide off the tiny armrest, etc.
"Manicure Pedicure ?"
The question threw me off a little but I didn't want to stop witnessing these super interesting anthropological (or some other word) phenomena So I said Yes.
Chap then brought around a little machine that neatly said "Scholl" on the side. Filled it with warm water, threw some fancy liquid into it, started a motor, and soon enough there were bubbles! He asked me to stick my hands into the foot shaped depressions for 5 minutes to soften my skin. Then he wiped my hands dry, pulled out something that looked like wire-cutting-pliers and started cutting my nails. I was a little surprised by the gay abandon with which he kept cutting away. I was too shy to say that my nails seemed a little jagged after the cutting. But it seemed he read my thoughts and flashed a knife-looking tool before me. He proceeded to sharpen it like how hindi-movie-goondas sharpen daggers before being rudely interrupted by the heroine's man. And then he started filing my nails away. In real time,I could see imperfection being converted to perfection. It was pretty hypnotic. Plus, I could now boast of having the smoothest, curviest nail edges.
There was no place to do a pedicure there so he took my hand (my newly manicured hand) and led me to the customer waiting area and asked me sit on the bench. He took another stool and sat facing me and asked me stick my foot on his stool between his legs. I complied. My other foot was in the Scholl machine now on the floor fitting
into the foot shaped depression finally. You've seen pictures of some hot woman getting a pedicure sitting with her foot up while another hot woman is working on the foot; picture this same posture, except with me and this barber stud. And seriously, this barber was a total stud. He had a beard, slick curly hair, a big red teeka, an earring in one ear (only one ear), and a really really long nail on his left pinky. Totally Bad.
After rubbing the cream into my foot, he asked me to compare that foot with the other one.
"Which one is fairer ?" he quizzed me.
"You mean which one is yellower ?" I earnestly asked for clarification.
"Ya Ya", he said. After concentrating for a bit I realized the one he manhandled was fairer/yellower. He agreed and triumphantly showed me the bottle of bleach(!!!) cream that he used. He then proceeded to cut my nails in the now familiar haphazard way. While filing the nails into perfection, he was oblivious to the fact that he kept digging the nail-file into my adjacent toes but again, I was too shy to say anything. By the time he'd done both feet, I understood why Karishma Kapoor was separating from her husband courtesy of a friendly Stardust issue lying near me.
Once again, he took my newly manicured hand and led me back to the haircut station and then dusted off my face (the cream had totally dried by then). I felt like some archaeological specimen being dug up for the first time. As he was giving me some final touches with air blower, water spray, etc., he surveyed my head pretty closely and said "Boss, you're going bald. Maybe because of stress. What are you stressed about ?"
"I'm stressed because I'm going bald, guru" is what I told him.
Once again, he was totally confused. But he's the kind of guy who - when confronted by a confusing problem - retorts by offering to solve a problem in a confusing way.
"How about some conditioning ? It will make your hair silky. You can
comb it any way and cover your bald patches"
"Conditioning ? But I can do that at home, no ? Just put some conditioner during bath ?"
"But we will steam your hair too. Conditioner you can put in house no problem sir but who will steam ?"
Good point, I reflected. Yes, sure.
So then he stuck this giant silver bowl upside down over my head after applying some conditioner. I'm pretty sure I looked like Marvin from the Hitchhiker movie. The bowl generated a lot of steam and created a mini-sauna around my head. But it seemed that my "going bald because I was stressed about going bald" comment had him in a
thought-overdrive. He put his hand on my shoulder and started to speak. Through the bowl I could hear the metallic echo of his voice "Anna, if you're stressed about going bald, then you will go bald for sure but if you're not stressed about it, then even if you go bald, it won't matter. Correct, no ?"
This was total bomb-giri gyan. Very similar in spirit to what I've been thinking about in different contexts. So awestruck was I with this ordinary but extra-ordinary piece of wisdom that all I could manage was a meek "Correct only" accompanied by head shake but this was hidden under the bowl.
"Threading ?", he asked. Casually. I bet by now he'd recognized my "kid in a candy store" approach to all the treatments I was getting and was probably wondering what other beauty treatment could I be convinced of to try. And I too realized that I probably won't get into such a situation in a long long time if ever at all so now that I was in a beauty parlour I should make the most of it.
"Sure", I surrendered.
This threading is an awesome process. He loops the thread between his thumbs and fingers and holds on to the remaining with his teeth. He then periodically closes the gap between the threads near the surface of the skin by closing his thumbs and forefingers taking off small bits of facial hair in the process. The guy went on the rampage. I didn't realize I had hair growing out my ear lobes even! Threading hurts a little but it's good pleasurable pain - equivalent in concept to eating a karela good pleasurable bitterness.
So finally, when we were done with everything I paid him 60 (haircut + shave) + 400 (facial) + 250 (mani/pedi-cure) + 100 (conditioning) + 20 (threading) = Rs. 830. By now we'd spent close to 3-and-a-half hours together. It was intense and before leaving I felt like giving him a hug but by then he had already moved on to his next customer.
As I stepped out, I really did feel like a new man :-) The wind hit parts of my face that I didn't know existed, I could feel my skin "breathing" after the opening up of all the pores, and things were generally more aerodynamic. Plus, I felt lighter chap must've removed half a kg of dust from my face. And so I happily pranced my way home.
But sadly, upon reaching home, no one said even once that I looked fairer/cleaner/fresher/sharper/sexier/etc. I even hovered conspicuously around every family member for more than 5 minutes hoping they would say something. But alas, I got nothing. Only my grandma said my shirt was too dark which I'm hoping she said because my face might have looked much fresher/cleaner and therefore the shirt might have looked darker in comparison :-)
PS : the name of the barber shop was "Hi-Tec Men's Beauty Parlour"