Fiction: The Haircut (Part IV)

Note:
I've only written 500 words of part I, and they need to be rewritten because the tone of narration has changed. Part two and three will be thought about when I visit TC next. The ending, as you shall see, is cringe-inducing and possibly 'in bad taste'. It will gross you out and for some it is probably a barbershop-nightmare.

I've modified characters I know/used to know and put them in a difficult situation. The experiment was interesting because I spent some time thinking about how a particular individual will react to a comment/taunt and in the given situation... Also thought about how some move in a distinct manner: the little mannerisms, the seemingly odd behaviour. I don't think characters in fiction should be made consistent, because no one really is in real life. There's more work to be done there, though... And this is my first serious attempt at writing since May, so criticism is solicited. This is the first draft: not even done a spellcheck. Changes shall be made. As always, I think I've rushed things in the end, but I would like to hear what you think about it.

IV

As Gaurav and I exited the mess, he stopped, put his hands on his hips and surveyed the scene around him. There was nothing to look at really: it was a warm Sunday afternoon and the road was empty, but for a couple of cows, some crows and a family of mongrels rummaging through the garbage-deposit twenty meters to our left; it was just far enough from the mess for the stench to not trouble those eating at the mess, and allowed the mess a monopoly of sorts: A ‘Parantha Point’ had opened once, a few shops to the left of the mess. Strangely enough, they hadn’t taken the garbage-deposit factor into account. The first few weeks, the last of summer, had hinted at a profitable future. Then the monsoons brought with them strong winds and a few showers later, I noticed the portly owner pulling the shutter down on ‘Parantha Point’ for the last time.

Gaurav glanced to his left, but didn’t seem to be searching for anything in particular. His nose slightly up in the air, he looked right again at the towering buildings nearing completion, before stepping forward, which was my cue to follow. Automatically, his right hand left his side to stroke his long hair. We walked past the sunlit crossing and into the shadows of trees arched across the street.

Come afternoon, this suburb of Pune became a ghost-town of sorts. Shops were shut for lunch, even on weekdays, and few people walked the streets. The barbershop was among those that remained open for business.

I was still pissed off with Gaurav for what had happened on Wednesday, but at the same time, he had only offered to take me to the concert, not to bring me back. There was no explicit deal between us, and I did owe him for paying for the entry, which had allowed me to have a few more proper meals since. But still, I held him responsible for that night. What really took the cake was that he hadn’t asked me how I’d managed to get home; he hadn’t given me the opportunity to tell him what he had made me go through.

“Anuj. Tell me something. Do you think I should get a short haircut?”

His hand was at the back of his head again, and feeling his hair as it bobbed up and down. He turned his head a little towards the left so as to allow me a better look at the now famous shoulder-length locks. For a moment, my hands were tempted to tug at them, but I restrained them and looked straight ahead.

“I don’t know,” I said, as he turned to look at me. “I mean, your hair gets you noticed, doesn’t it? Do you really want to change that?”

From the corner of my eye, I spotted a finger pointed towards us. Some kids were playing cricket in a small courtyard, and one of them had spotted the man in a polka-dotted red shirt, sporting shoulder-length hair beneath the polka dotted red bandana.

“Y’know, there is more to me than my hair,” he said, looking down and grinning. “There’s eight inches down there.”

I laughed; it was expected of me.

“What? You don’t believe me? You want proof? This is what gets me noticed” His hand moved towards the button of his jeans.

“No,” I said, still laughing, “I believe you.”

“So," he asked, this time a lot more seriously, "do you think I should cut my hair short?"

“I think this is just fine. It’s really up to you. In fact, extremes suit you and the other extreme would be to go bald. I can help you with that, for free.” With a sly grin on my face, I attempted to tug at his hair. He backed off, laughing now, almost stumbling as he walked. We walked past juice corner before crossing over to the barbershop.

Shyam wasn’t around, but that didn’t surprise me. Sometimes I had to wait for as long as an hour before he came back to work. It was his shop, so he did as he pleased. He was value for money – he probably gave the best 20 bucks haircut in the city. I knew Gaurav didn’t have a budget when it came to his hair, but for me, this wasn’t about the haircut. Shyam had probably gone home for lunch, and the other barbers whom he employed weren’t worth the time. So we sat on the steel chair placed on the uneven ground outside and flipped through magazines – I picked up a three month old Autocar India, while Gaurav chose a month old Stardust. They were all old, and the stamp on the magazine cover indicated that Shyam had bought them off Ganesh Library, which we had passed on our way down. I had gone there once, and found that they kept mostly magazines. They had a few thrillers -- mostly Sidney Sheldons, Michael Crichtons and Robert Ludlums -- but even those were dilapidated and unreadable. Some had the last pages missing. I'm not too fond of books anyway, and thrillers are poor substitutes for movies.

Gaurav got up, magazine in hands, and looked up from its cover, into the barbershop. Almost in slow motion, he stepped into the barbershop, still holding the magazine with both hands. He returned shortly, and sat down, opening the magazine again.

“They don’t keep new issues,” he informed me.

Shyam arrived shortly, on his noisy Bajaj scooter, wearing a helmet that seemed rather small for a man of his size. Shyam must have been 40 years old then, slightly balding with closely cropped hair. He was taller than both of us, at almost five feet eleven. He walked towards us with a slight swing of the hips and a smile on his lips. He had magazines in hand, fresh Ganesh Library discards: an Elle and a Cosmopolitan. He placed the Elle on the table in front of us, and his hand measured the length of the mop on my head.

“Back so soon? You still have dandruff,” he said, disapprovingly. “Did you try the mixture?”
“I tried,” I lied. “Nothing works on me. Forget it, na.” Shyam smiled. “He wants a haircut,” I said, nodding towards Gaurav. “Mine are still short. I still have a month to go.”

Shyam had already been eyeing Gaurav’s hair; there’s probably nothing a barber loves more than well maintained hair, and Gaurav obsessed over his hair like Mohite, my ex-roommate, obsessed over his books. Gaurav rarely spoke a sentence without mentioning his hair or touching it. Gaurav got up, and untied his bandana, freeing his straight locks as they swung forward, towards his face.

“Do you think,” he asked for the umpteenth time that day, “I should cut them short?”

Shyam’s hands, creatures of habit, reached for Gaurav’s hair. He bounced the locks off his fingers. Almost dazed, he asked “Why would you want to cut them?”

“Y’know, I have had this style for two years now. I am getting bored of this. Can you suggest something?” Looking at me, he said “Anuj said that that I should go bald. Y’know, just shave all of it off. What do you think?”

“You don’t listen to what he says. You’ve got lovely hair. Go and sit. I’ll just come.” Shyam looked at me in disbelief.

Gaurav grinned and stepped into the barbershop. It was as if he felt he had won another battle against me, and I felt the rage rise again. I would have my revenge, of course.

Another barber put a towel around Gaurav’s neck and clean white sheet around him. His hands emerged from under the sheet, and he ran his hands through his hair several times by the time Shyam emerged with a few magazines in hand, his fingers serving as bookmarks. He showed Gaurav several hairstyles, as I watched from the side, amused. He pointed to one and Shyam got to work.

He wheeled Gaurav to a basin and lovingly ran his fingers through the hair as he shampooed it. His head dwarfed by the towel on top of it, Gaurav was wheeled back in front of the large mirror and given an impromptu head massage, his head rocking back and forth. For a few minutes, Shyam stood there, looking at Gaurav’s reflection in the mirror, and probably at himself behind him. His hands moved to Gaurav’s shoulders and rested there, occasionally moving up towards the neck and down the arms. He moved to the side and looked at the hair as it fell across Gaurav’s face. He moved to the other side and felt the hair again, lifted it slightly before allowing it to drop on to Gaurav’s face. Gaurav eyes were shut, and he was waiting for the Shyam to begin cutting. It was when Shyam ran his fingers up across Gaurav’s face that Gaurav opened his eyes. I half expected him to look for me, but he didn’t. He looked on calmly as Shyam put his arms across Gaurav’s shoulders and using clips, raised his hair up. His hair, to me, looked like black waves rising from his scalp. Shyam began cutting, deftly moving from one side to the other. He frequently leant across Gaurav, his half open shirt touching Gaurav’s nose. Gaurav shut his eyes, visibly uncomfortable with the pelvic thrusts that reached across the arm of the chair. I noticed a slight movement on the surface of the sheet that covered Gaurav, as he moved his arm off the arm of the chair.

This wasn’t, of course, a first. Many a customer, several from the hostel, had patronized Shyam just once. Some, self included, had praised him and suggested that others visit Shyam’s for a haircut: Great value for money, and a variety of magazines to read while you wait. I took adequate precautions: my arms were off the arm-rest and I was always ‘already late’, so Shyam hurried up.

Still, like Gaurav was doing now, I had to bear the feel of Shyam on my shoulder while his hands hovered over my scalp. Gaurav’s face had contorted now, his forehead was creased and I think he was holding his breath every time Shyam leant across him. Wednesday night almost seemed worth it; the look on Gaurav’s face was priceless, the colour completely drained from those ‘cute cheeks’ now. I wished that Mansi could see him like this. I was a little surprised that Gaurav hadn’t gotten up in disgust, though; I had heard about at least three guys from the hostel who had walked up and left mid-haircut.

Gaurav waited as Shyam’s fingers took hold of his scalp, and gave him long head massage. When Shyam's hands began moving down his spine, he thanked him quickly and got up. He stretched his arms and again felt his hair bounce off his fingers. Twisting his neck, he looked at the way his hair fell onto his face on both sides, at the grungish, almost unkempt look that Shyam had given to him. Straight, thick clusters of hair falling till midway down his neck: if anything could stand out more than his last haircut, this was probably it. Gaurav paid Shyam for the shampoo and haircut, and added a fifty percent tip. He bounded out and felt his hair again. I extended a thumb in approval.

“So Gaurav,” I asked him, “did you like your haircut?”
He turned around, and with wide smile across his face, said. “Yeah! Y’know, it was pretty nice. I enjoyed it”
2 Comments:
Blogger Crisscrossing Sanity said...

ha ha!.. it didnt gross me out fr sure...

i like the way the story transforms from a light hearted beginning to something more substantial... a haircut wud otherwise b somethin quite trivial, and the most i cud associate wid it wud be agonized girls, or those osgasming wid joy after a satisfatory one...

so, the idea's good... can't say further coz i dont know how it wud turn out.. i'd read it once ur finished and only den b able to comment, whether ur interested or not... btw, do correct the grammatical errors...

December 09, 2005 11:32 AM  
Blogger Nikhil Pahwa said...

Well, the best Haircut story that I've read is by Somerset Maugham. I don't remember its name, but if do search around.

this is, in fact, how the story turns out. Yeah, someone else told me that it didnt gross him out enough - that I seemed uncomfortable with it and ended it too fast. Will work on it. Parts II and III need to be written, though. Grammatical errors - okay. Tenses or punctuation?

About time I read 'Eats shoots and leaves'.

December 10, 2005 10:56 PM  

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