I’m turning 30 in two months and things are not looking good. Not good.
My body is failing me, my skin is peeling, so is my mind. I am no longer the youngest member in the room. I don’t remember the name of the youngest member in the room. I have a patchy beard. People are asking me for advice. They’re actually asking me for advice. And still not letting me into bars. And my hair is falling.
That’s right. I said it. My hair is falling. I can feel it now, the wily widow’s peak. Like a girlfriend whose recently bored – slowly but surely slipping away. The hold is slighter, the mornings horrible, more gel is required to get things going.
I could blame my dad, his dad, his dad even, but it’s not going to change a thing. This story has been written, years ago by a generation of racist genes that deemed my kind as just not good enough. And that Panjabi’s would give them rosy babies. Well fuck you racist genes.
Why do you play with me such oh might one? Why do you entice me and then take it all away? I see the pain in my dad’s eyes. I see it in my uncle’s. I saw it in my grandfather’s. The deep wrenching hurt of hair that once was. I see the scars on their shiny bald heads. A battle fought tooth and nail, hair and clipper, oil and shampoo, but a battle lost, lost even before it was begun. It pains me, these paternal wounds. It reminds me that I’m not strong enough.
So I strive. I preserve. I persevere. I curate and farm and nourish. I plan for the drought. I wait for the drought. I water for drought. I hope that the drought will never come. I, the overtly optimistic one, hope against hope hopen.
But reality doesn’t waste time on such frivolity. And with each passing day, I notice; I notice little threads of my being, symbols of my twenty’s and my teens, my first kiss and my first fight, gently waltzing down the cushion and the sink and the gutter. I see them mocking me as I once did the mirror. I don’t like the mirror so much now.
Time had come for drastic measures and so off I went to the barber, heavily willed and sufficiently sedated to cut my dying locks into shape. To keep them short and crisp and army like I purposed. To make them my soldiers at bay – the ones who stand straight! yet gently sway. I had to stop them from defecting, my men. Every war has sacrifices. And I was going to make mine that day.
The setting was the local barbershop. A nice quaint little place. Clean cuts and close shaves it said at the door. That’s the stuff, I told myself. A man doesn’t need long hair to prove that he’s a man. Long hair is for boys. Little squiggly metrosexual boys. I’d like to look crisp and clean I announced. Grow a beard maybe. Yeah. That’s what’ll I do. I’ll cut my hair and grow my beard. A full beard. Like a man. Women will like such a man. Yeah! I amuse myself such while waiting my turn. I curse and amuse and convince and retract and convince and rebut and hold my turn. We’re old friends we are, me and the locks. We know each other too well. This break up wasn’t fun.
Peter came through smiling. Peter, I think his name was. It could’ve been Pran, or Pankaj or Paul, I was too consumed with grief to really bother. His scissors were shining, as was his smile and I felt a bit relieved. Maybe this was a good thing. I felt comfortable around Peter. His friendly glance and receding mane, told me that he felt my pain. I felt an urge to let it all out. To tell him my story, to ask him, to beg him for help. A hand, a shoulder, a strategy – anything that could prolong this long torrid affair. He smiled at my innocence. A disarmingly pleasant smile. The smile of a sage who’d seen it all, who’d seen many a men squander down this path, a soul who’d lost the battle but had won the war. The war of the mind. It was a disarmingly charming smile I tell you. The kind that told me that things were gonna be all right.
Let’s get started, he announced, fiddling with my hair to get a better feel. He turned them left, then turned them right, exposing the true damage of the years. I was afraid to even look, as if being stripped naked, questioned on my callus attitude and lack of conditioning. I took it all – the jibes, the prods, the repeated speculation. Then promptly handed in my spectacles as a prisoner would hand in his sword. I’d left it to him, this battle. Thrown in the towel. Retired from the race. My eyes were now closed, as if in deep meditative silence. Only the sound of scissors filled the air. It was excruciating. The imagination going wild with each snip and each cut, strands of hair gently falling to my lips, as if teasing me of my decision. I clenched hard and resisted.
Hmm, Peter bellowed. It seemed the problem was far deeper than he had expected. This might take a while, he said, requesting me to pick up my glasses and watch. Watch? Does a slave need to watch his own execution I wondered? But he wanted me to watch it seems. He needed an audience. Even Peter, the veteran, the enlightened one, needed an audience. Such was the scale of my problem.
You see, he explained, the problem is with the roots. They roots are too weak and that, well, is the root of the problem. He smiled, admiring his uncanny wit. I sneered. The roots are stronger at the back here he continued, tugging at a tuft of my hair. Leave them alone, I begged him with my eyes. This hair is fine, but the ones in front, well…I eyed him this time, daring him to touch me again. He seemed to understand my angst and stepped away, at once disarming me with his smile. This is a problem, he said. We’ll have to cut them a different way perhaps. I can’t grow more hair for you, but maybe, maybe I can hide it somehow. I can’t guarantee. But, hmm, there might just be a way…
Hide? I asked myself. Had it come down to this? Did I need to hide my hair now? I used to have good hair. Rich hair. Bouncy hair. Hair with fucking volume. Many a hand had fiddled with my hair. Was it so bad that my barber could only offer a maybe guarantee? Was my hair nothing more than a saintly stylist’s annual challenge? I think I know how Shahjahan would’ve felt when they took it all away. Those fucking Aurangzeb racist genes. My receding hairline had become Peter’s purpose. There’s was a glint in his eye. As if a challenge finally worthy of his skill. The end of a long glorious career, the final bow, the big finish. He was going to salvage my hair and then retire his tale. Oh boy, what joy I saw on his wrinkled face. As if, Michelangelo himself, prepping before the Sistine Chapel.
We can leave the top long, the front short, the sides slanted, the back planted. It’ll look like there’s a crop of hair, but it won’t really be there. Got it? An illusion he announced, snapping his scissors as if a magician before a reveal. Now you see it, now you don’t, aha! He started humming a tune now. Something that told me he was enjoying my ungainly display of courage. He clipped and he cropped, he swerved and swayed. He bent down, brought mirrors, changed sheets thrice. There was a lot of hair that day. I kept my eyes closed throughout, relying on my ears to narrate this tragedy. His scissors clipping past my ear as if whispering the winning chant. I could feel my head lighter, the skin nearer, the sounds clearer. It seemed we were getting close.
Just a while longer he said, 45 minutes into the act. I was getting restless now, but I knew the master needed time. I was his canvas, the chapel wall, and I was to offer myself, in all my glory, with no lumps, jerks or resistance. Just the top part left now, he said. You can see if you wish. I declined, preferring to attend the victory march instead. Carry on Peter I told him. I know I’m in good hands. Just go gentle on the top alright. They’re really not used to visitors.
10 more minutes and I began to feel a strange tingle above my left ear. You know, a tingle, like a tickle but almost unnatural. I took hold of my specs to investigate, but instead found Peter smiling from behind. The same disarmingly charming smile. He seemed pleased. Pleased at his accomplishment, a job well done, the smile that told him he still had it going on. That’ll show ‘em newbies with their gelled hair and pocket knifes. Old school is the only school. Clean cut, close shaves he seemed to murmur. Yeah! I was happy to have offered him this moment of glory. I was happy to have witnessed this moment for a while. It even distracted me from my key purpose of inquiry. I could still feel a strange tingle above my left ear. More than a tingle maybe.
It was my scalp. Specially, a red rosy rambunctious gash on my scalp.
Why was there a gash on my scalp I wondered? And why could I feel my scalp in the first place? And where the hell was all my hair? Sacrifices are common in war I told you, and this time it seemed it was common sense. Peter, the man I once called master, the barber with the disarming smile, the swine of a man had snipped the entire left mane off my head, leaving little but skin and tiny wisps of hair, as if rookie soldiers being called to action well before their time. I looked like a skin head with glasses. With little hair on the sides and a mop crop on top. Ooh watch out folks! He’s gonna skin us then spin us!
A modern day Don Juan, Peter insisted. Machismo style. My hairline seemed invisible, sure. The sheer ugliness of my new crop did make the hairline less of an issue. GI Joe, he encouraged. More like Dilton Doiley joined GI Joe. I’d won the battle, but had lost the men. The entire left wing of men. In my attempt to salvage my receding hairline, I had been handed the haircut from hell.
Months of misery followed. 3 months and 16 days to be precise. I did win a lot of arguments though. Jumped quite a few queues, even the cabbies seemed to oblige. Maybe it was my tone, maybe my accompanying beard, maybe just the pain of feeling my scalp every time I sneezed.
I wear my hair longer now of course. As if in defiance. As if to compensate for my adultery. As if to remember a better time that was – a playful nostalgia when the sky was blue and the wind was fine. I can’t keep her, I mused, but I can surely keep you. We’ll hold each other tight I promise.
I even hear him singing sometimes, Peter, that swine. His hum like the sound of church bells, each strung together with the strands on my head. Ting ting ta di di ting ting, ting ting ta da di ting. But I like this sound. I laud this sound. I sing with it everyday.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece, a part of the main. My hair is the less, as well as if yours were, as well as if a manor of my friend’s or mine’s own were. Any man’s loss diminishes me more, because I am involved in mankind, the whole, the sum. And therefore never send to know for whom the hair falls; for I know I know, it falls for me.