Things I learn from my barber

Why am I able to argue with most people but barbers?  I mean, I am usually not the kind to suffer in silence.  For instance, I was at the grocery store last night. I wanted to take in my old Trader Joe’s cloth bag for my veggies, but no fewer than three attendants told me that I was not allowed to carry veggies in MY bag inside their store.  I could carry it in THEIR plastic basket and then transfer it later to my bag, but for whatever reason, customers are forbidden from bringing in their own bags. Of course, I should know better than to argue with the poor attendants, who are but messengers bringing the stupid message, but argue I did. This resulted in three remarkably similar, almost scripted, ManiRatnam-style exchanges.

‘Saar, you can’t bring that here’

‘What?’

‘Bag’

‘What bag?’

‘Cloth bag’

‘Oh, this?’

‘Yes, that’

‘Why?’

‘Management’

‘Why?’

‘Management’

‘Why?’

‘…’

‘What is the reason?’

‘Don’t know’

‘Why?’

‘…’

‘Don’t you want to ask why?’

‘No’

‘Why?’

‘…’

‘You are so good-looking’

‘What?’

‘Why no bag?”

‘…’

Odi poidalama?’

‘No’

‘Why?’

‘…’

And like that only we whiled the evening away.

Wife, auto-drivers, parents, in-laws,  kids, students, queue-jumpers,  friends, perfect strangers, public urinators … everyone seems to be fair game for arguments.  Except for one group: barbers.

Over many years now, for reasons unknown,  I have simply been unable to put up even a token fight with my barbers.  Not only does this mean that I have to put up with questionable hair-dos, but more importantly for an argumentative person, I have had to accept all manner of dubious statements from men and women with scissors in their hands.  At the time they are made, these assertions usually make a lot of sense.  But,  as soon as I step out of the barbershop, I realize that these are things that I wouldn’t normally be silent about.

For instance, I was told by a lady once that one should never apply a conditioner right after shampooing because,

Shampoos open pores up, but conditioners close them.

I gushingly agreed with her and mother-promised her I would never do that. ‘Only an idiot will grab the conditioner right after the shampoo, damn straight!’, I probably said. Granted that I am no expert on cosmetics and their effects on pores,  but this one seems pretty weak. Yet, the moment it was offered, I accepted with nary a whimper.

More recently, I have been advised against growing my curly hair back because it won’t be good …  for the hair.  You see, when I ride my motorcycle, the hair gets all tangled up, and when I try to untangle, I end up pulling the hair out.  I mean, hard to argue against, no?

What else? Yeah, one of my barbers once convinced me that I would look really cool in a ‘punk-style’ do when I was in 11th Standard.  This came at a time when I was really vulnerable, since a good friend had just then told me how much she hated Physics and how that was the sole reason she had run screaming to the Commerce stream. So cold, how could she! Anyhoo, I took my barber’s advice and sported a curly-haired mullet for a few months before I couldn’t deal with my friends hiding pencils up my neck anymore.

And I have never got a straight answer from them on the ‘step cut’.  Just where exactly is this step supposed to be?

So, what gives with the barbers’ upper hand?

Perhaps it is the toxic mix of yesterday’s sweat and today’s humidity and the endless stream of nightie ads on the 10″ screen that renders me senseless when I am in the barber-shop. But, I think it is really the confidence that these guys and girls have.  Have you  ever seen them hesitate before a snip?  NoNoNever! They just go for it, no?  No doubts, no nothing, total masters of their domain.  They can do no wrong and you better not tick them off with meaningless questions.  After all, they are the ones with scissors in their hands and you are the one with hands tucked inside the apron.

A better man than I am could do it, for sure.  I am thinking Clooney here.  Maybe so, but part of me says that if Clooney were to swagger into my neighbourhood barbershop, they will convince him to ‘konjam black podunga saar, … summa suparaa irukkum’ (dye your hair, saar, it will be supar), and he will be putty in their hands.  Between you and me, the look on Clooney in the first pic is priceless.  I think the barber must have just then given him the shampoo-conditioner bit.

George Clooney before and after a session at Olympic Hair Stylists, Ashok Nagar, Chennai

My luck may be changing a bit now though. During my last visit, my barber did tell me that Udit Narayan has no fucking business singing in Tamizh, and that, contrary to the mullet or the pores or the step cut, I don’t think even I can argue against.

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3 Comments on “Things I learn from my barber”

  1. Bala Says:

    I think there’s a (literally) more compelling reason why one doesn’t argue with a barber—a barber of the old school, at any rate. (I don’t know anything about today’s hairstylists of both genders, barbers having become superfluous as far as I’m concerned about 25 years ago:-)

    The reason is simply that they generally had a cut-throat razor right next to your Adam’s apple as they made their pronouncements on everything from politics to cosmology! Can one think of a more persuasive argument?

  2. Arunn Says:

    one could say, the arguments of a barber are only as sharp as his razor. but not to the barber, of course…


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