Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Mane Man

“Chumma irikkadei!” (Shut up, you!) he growled, as he dragged a blunt razor across the back of my neck. I was six and petrified. Nicknamed “Kandan The Barbarian” by all who knew him, this guy was known to draw blood at the slightest provocation. “Aaaan. Mindaathe iri.” (Not a word!) He said ominously, and went away to sharpen the razor on a rubber tube he’d tied to the window for the purpose.

I whimpered and looked at my brother, trussed up similarly in a white sheet next to me, and prayed for our mother to appear miraculously and save us. A few more snips and scrapes later, his work was done. I tried my best not wince as the blunt blade sliced into the side of my neck, but he wasn’t impressed. “Poda!” (Get out!) he roared, as we paid up and ran for our lives. For if anyone took the old adage: “Fashion is pain” seriously, it was this man: Manikandan, our not-so-friendly neighbourhood barber.

After several tear-filled entreaties to our parents to spare us the torture of Manikandan’s rusty blade, our parents finally agreed to take us to a slightly more upmarket barbershop a few km away. My brother discovered the joys of the 80s bouffant there. It swayed like the fronds of a coconut tree as he towered a good foot and a half over his classmates. I, however, decided to stick with my Beatles-Goes-To-Pulayanarkotta hairstyle all through my childhood.

And thus I remained right until college, when a rather nasty bump into a lamp post made me realize that hair flopped over the eyes wasn’t a great idea in the era of electicity. I was all set to get a rad new 90s Bangalore cut that would give me the Hollywood edge that I’d always dreamt of. However, the 8 rupees that I paid Jagganath Reddy of Up To Date Hair Style, Vyalikaval, didn’t quite seem to do the trick. He’d grab a clump of my head, shake his head and say “Yenri, hing ide nim koodhlu?” (You sure that's hair?) He’d then call his assorted baavas, maavagarus and thammudus sitting around to come have a look at it. I’d close my eyes tight and pretend to die.

At one point, I’d had enough. I sent Jagannath Reddy an I Hate You card one September, and grew my mop out until it threatened to engulf the Sankey Tank. When my strangulated family pleaded for mercy, I took it to the best salon in town at the time – Spratt on Magrath Road. The proprietrix looked down her nose at it and said “Relaxer, maximum strength. Now.” to her waiting assistant. Four hours later, after much grunting and groaning, as assistant after exhausted assistant relaxed and flat ironed my hair, I emerged looking like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. The Spratt lady took one look and burst out laughing. In my face. “I’m sorry, but it looks hilarious. Hahahahahaha. That will be one thousand five hundred, thanks and do come back.” I covered my face with a towel and ran to La Bamba to buy myself a very large hat.

I did everything to my hair to get it to look like Zulfi Syed and anyone else who had long hair those days, but could never get it to look the way I wanted it to. The sweet Srilankan girls at Squeeze on Lavelle Road had a go at it a couple of times, and would send me home looking like professor Snape from Harry Potter. The bearded, bejewelled stylist at Bounce told me to wash it with yoghurt. Couldn't bring myself to do it. I even had an Australian woman cut it when I was in Melbourne. “You’ve got quite a thatch up there mite”, she mumbled, grunting as her tiny little scissors tried in vain to snip through it.

Two years and a depleted bank balance later, I gave up. It was back to the barber shop for me. I now share a special relationship with Muniraju of Royal Men’s Beauty, Bhashyam Circle. When he grabs a clump of my hair and says “Yenri idhu?” I smile benevolently. When he says, “Ayyo sariyag maintrence maadbekri koodhalge. Shamf-geemf ella hachi condeesn nal itkobeku.” (Ever heard of product?), I gurgle. And finally when he says, “Shaarta, frighta?” (Short or spiked?) I say “Nimge gothallaa..” (You know it best, dude) and lie back and enjoy.