Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Unseasonal Tales #1

4am. A sudden, long roll of thunder wakes me up. I unlock my cellphone to check the time. And groan. I went to sleep only a couple of hours ago. I stagger to my computer to turn off the UPS, which is going to go into a terminal beep any second now. The second I hit the bed, the electricity goes off. I feel so smug at my prescience that I can no longer fall asleep. What the heck. I have to wake up in an hour in any case.

10am. I was looking forward to today. I was going to pack my son off to school after more than a week and get down to some serious work. Instead of, for instance, blogging. But no. After making his lunch by candlelight, waking him up and nagging him until he moved his butt fast enough; after sitting in the car waiting for the school bus; after returning home and heaving a sigh of relief, I get a call. His teacher wants me to pick him because the school's policy is, no school for two weeks for those with chicken pox, never mind what the doc says. Rain is beautiful
only when you don't have to drive in it. But all's not lost. There's electricity, at least for now. After six hours, the rain's finally let up. And I can tell you haircut stories.

The year was 2003 and the month was January. If the year was new, it didn't feel like it. Instead it carried with it all the sourness of the last few months. December had been the worst. I had finally quit my job(s) and hooked off to Goa early in the year with an old friend who had become - though I didn't know it until it was too late - unbelievably weird. Returning to Delhi, to an empty flat with too many doors and windows, I wanted to run away again.

In those days, my lifeline to sanity was S. So I called and he said, Come to Bombay, no? I'll look after you. You can chill, watch movies with us and sleep.

So I went. If S was shocked to see how I looked, he concealed it admirably well and cooked for me and cooed over me. I drifted through the first couple of days, catching, every once in a while, a glimpse of K's and S's life: hand modeling, scripts, some talk about an impending Vipassana course at Igatpuri. When should I leave, I asked S. Stay as long as you want, sweetie. I'll go only after you leave. Somewhere in my head, I was ready to make some decisions.
One morning, S and K, watching me hunt for a bun-pin/pencil/anything that would hold my hair away from my face, asked if I had ever considered having a haircut. I immediately felt mid-way down my back to see if all was intact. What had they done while I was asleep?!

K started telling me about this place called Juice. Some talk about how all the guys in DCH had got their haircuts there. I was deeply suspicious. How much does a haircut there cost, I asked. About 5-600 if it's a trainee, but I'll ask, said K. I don't want one, I protested. But I may as well have shut up, because before I could work myself up into the necessary state of indignation, an appointment had been fixed. With a trainee, for 6pm, Juice, Bandra. Being broke, and not really in the market for a drastic change of look, I piped down only after S said he's sponsoring the haircut, so would I please shut up now.

At least, he didn't say it quite like that. He said, as he stubbed out a cigarette in an overflowing ashtray, I'm going to quit smoking. Oh? I asked. Vipassana. There's some hash left. You want some?

Now, considering I was in as austere phase in my life, which included, among other things, no alcohol or cigarettes (the vegging had happened earlier) I can't really remember why I said yes. Perhaps because what it would be like would be not very different from what it already was like, just, maybe, more muffled. Muffled was good.

Yes, I said.

In a very short time, the Rizlas were laid out and S asked me to roll. Now, I can do emptied out cigarettes and suchlike but I've never managed to roll a decent joint with papers. And this was not 'joint' as in singular; this was one gigantic lump of leftover hash that S would throw away in a few days if we didn't finish it now. And it needed three papers.

K declined to participate. I looked at this huge cone of paper and was already beginning to feel giggly. Half an hour later, it was time to leave for Bandra. We were in Kandivli, and were going to go by train. So naturally, I wore the most frivolous skirt and top and three inch heels. And a bag that a child could have snatched from my nearly nerveless hands. But I was filled with deep affection for the world that I knew would return my love several times over. No one would touch my bag.

At the station, no sooner had S got our tickets than he saw a train arriving on the far platform. Come on! he said and we all started to run. Up a flight of stairs, down another one and all along the length of the platform up to the ladies compartment at the end. I don't know why it had to be the one at the end, and not the one in the middle but I was happy to follow where S and K led. Just in time K and I made it and S must have hopped on elsewhere.

All that adrenaline - I could hear my heart beat in my ears and listened as it matched the train's heartbeat. I ought to have been amazed by how I'd run all that way without once tripping over the three inch heels or twisting my ankle. It didn't occur to me to ask why we had to run or why we couldn't have waited for the next train. If this was drifting, it was of a very energetic variety and if I had been on the Titanic I might have yelled into the waves.

At Juice, the girl looked at my hair and started a long discussion with me about what kind of a haircut I wanted. Just take it all off, I said. She looked shocked. I thought I'd said something very witty but choked down the giggles. At some point between her analysis of my hair and K's responses on my behalf, we decided I needed to get a shampoo.

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but shampoos at these places are most uncomfortable. But this time, even with my head jammed into place I didn't want it to end. Heck, I didn't want anything that was happening at any given point in time to end, but was happy enough to move on to the next thing when it happened and didn't want that to end.

Finally, when I sat in the chair looking at the mirror, I was ready to say several interesting things. My hair may have been just one of the things I wanted to talk about, but I cannot be sure because I was at once voluble and sleepy after the shampoo. The girl listened and if that was a small smile quickly suppressed, it didn't matter because I was smiling back at her and we were now complicit. I closed my eyes and let her get on with it. The scissors snipped and snacked at my ears and I could feel every lock of hair as it fell away from my head and curled up on the floor. One time the girl told me to keep my legs uncrossed and evenly placed on the floor so that both sides would be cut evenly. She's a trainee I said to myself, we have to make allowances. I hope to heaven I did not say it aloud. Some haircuts take a very short time, but this was not one of them. It seemed to go on and on and on. Every small change it made to my face was fascinating.

Eventually it was over. The girl blow-dried my hair into a small bouffant and brushed the small bits of hair off my shoulders. I turned around and saw K's and S's faces.

That was when I felt, for the first time in months, deliriously happy.

And the hash may or may not have had something to do with it.


??! said...

I re-iterate - you should have a camera following you around. Yeh story picture hoti toh kya hit hoti.

Tabula Rasa said...

very cool. would have been even better if blogs had been around in those days, but yeah, very cool.

dipali said...

Sounds like the best haircut ever:)

Anonymous said...

Lovely story. Has your hair always stayed the new length then? Or did it recidive?

Anonymous said...

Great anecdote! :) Here's hoping all your current blues come to an end soon.

SUR NOTES said...

lets make a film spacebar! start with this post.

and i always meant to ask about yr goa trip. i had met you before or after, cant remember.

km said...

I loved the perfectly normal, domestic prelude to the stoner adventure :)

//traveling stoned on Bombay's local trains is NERVE-WRACKING. Specially when an elbow-jab in the ribs produces giggles and day-dreams.

Space Bar said...

??!: No, ya. Where's the fun in having one image in your head when you could have so many possibilities?

TR: And weren't blogs around in them days? Not mine, but there musta been.

dipali: Oh, it definitely was. I've always been looking for the holy grail of haircuts ever since.

lekhni: Thanks. And yes, pretty much. Sometimes it's been shorter but never longer.

Sharanya: :D oh panta rhei, panta rhei.

sur: film?! me?! what are you talking about? I've had my quota for the next decade. Five minutes per is enough, don't you think?

km: :D well, I don't make a habit of it, you know. I mean, one would prefer to chill, no? Giggle in private, frown in public.

??! said...

arre, but you have so many adventures. Or we could create adventures.

I mean, there's this, there's the spouting-poet-in-bookstore montage, there's the second act tragedy (the garden).

Boss, bahut solid picture banegi. Bas title chahiye.

Banno said...

what a fun story, sad, funny, and change-bearing as all good stories must be. and do you know, i have that bit of hair comb, don't know what they are called, that you used to put in your hair then, from that visit I think, and maybe that's why you were looking for a pencil. don't ask me how it landed up with me????

Anonymous said...

Would you say the hairdresser made a hash of your haircut?

I just realize we missed the opportunity for a grand pun session :(

Space Bar said...

banno: wow...really? and i don't even remember. this is what happens when you hash!

lekhni: :D if she had, you can bet i wouldn't have passed up an op to say that one!