For those of you who know me personally, and those who may have seen me and not come forward to meet owing to the forbidding exterior, and for those who have seen my photos, especially in profile (which I hate), this may come as a bit of a surprise. For among my various deficiencies, my lack of hair is the most visible. For those who don’t know me at all, let me inform you that I have been called “uncle” from the age of 20 and that will show you.
But I still need the occasional haircut. That is because, the thinner your hair becomes, the more difficult it is to maintain. There is nothing worse than the two or three wisps flying hither and thither. And I am not one of those men who grow long strands in odd spots, comb them together somehow and then plaster them across the scalp. This is the human version of the bar-code and I have strong views about it. And when you walk along an industrial fan or even a powerful table fan, what happens to all that carefully arranged hair? They fly and it is back to square one, with the added embarrassment of having stray locks hanging about your head. I have known elderly men who have mastered the art of keeping such hair in place. They instinctively duck when near a fan or try to walk around it. Those who ride two-wheelers always keep their face to the leeward side. But I cannot handle that kind of stress. A not-so-close uncle chooses to collect the strands and knot them on top. That way they don’t fly. But does he sleep with them knotted or does he untie the knot and let them fly about like a sea-anemone’s whatsits? I don’t know.
And so, yes, I need the haircut. And whenever I go for one, I muster up enough courage and tell the man-in-charge firmly that I need a close haircut, by which I mean I don’t want to be tonsured but it must be close enough. This invariably draws simpers and a few giggles from those around but one glance from my good eye is enough to quell these insensitive specimens.
Nowadays you have a number of fancy places with French-sounding names for haircuts but I avoid them all. Once I was forced to visit one by my younger son and on arrival I was told that my kind of hair needed a shampoo before being cut. I left immediately. I mean, how do you trust your head to a man who can’t see enough to identify a bald gent? When I need to get my hair cut, I prefer going to the Madras Cricket Club. There, the hairdresser is a man of few words. Having smiled a welcome he proceeds with his business and within a few minutes (yes, that is all it takes), he is done. The Gymkhana Club specimen is too talkative and rather familiar for my tastes though my father-in-law swears by him. I am aware that somewhere in its aristocratic recesses the Madras Club has a hairdresser too. But I haven’t as yet been round to him. He would probably scare me to death, used as he must be to catering to billionaires. I would probably end up addressing him as Sir. As for the Madras Race Club, of which also I hold a membership, I am sure like everything else, such being the vast number of members, you have to wait in a queue to get your hair done.
There are certain habits among hairdressers that I deplore. I mean they have come a long way from the days of the simple barber who used to invariably reek of native liquor. But BO and bad-breath I cannot stand. And I also do not like familiar questions such as “Why don’t the boys come here any more” or “You have lost a lot of hair since I met you last” or even worse, “Come more often, the more frequently you cut it, the faster it will grow.” What I deplore the most is the tendency to parade a mirror around my head after the job is done. To me, it is all just a blur as I am then in the process of groping for my glasses. But I have often wondered if they do it to show me the latest evidences of erosion and deforestation.
You may wonder as to why I don’t shave it all off, rather like my friends Jasper Cornelius and Mohan Krishnamoorthy. The point is, I come from an orthodox family. My in-laws are more liberal but my mom-in-law is firmly of the view that no householder ought to shave his head except when there is bereavement. The day of the haircut too needs to be monitored. Having lived in the North most of my childhood, I shy away from even cutting my nails on a Tuesday. The wife’s paternal grandfather would invariably have his hair done (he did not bald till he died at 89) on Friday evenings much to everyone else’s distress. But he never cared. My dad, who would laugh at most superstitions and quote the Gita, will not have his hair (or for that matter anyone else’s in the family) cut on the new moon and full moon days and the 1st of any month. Then if you exclude festivals, the days when someone in the family travels and birthdays, you have very few days left.
Why don’t I just silently slink off and get it done you may wonder. But that is not possible in a joint family anyway. Someone will notice and there will be chaos. My standing is low enough after the P Orr & Sons case. Which reminds me of a granduncle with four sons none of whom were on speaking terms with each other. All four got their hair done on the same day and turned up to visit the old man who promptly announced that he had better kick the bucket the same day to ensure the expense was not wasted!