Extracts from my life

23rd Dec 2023

The Barber

The barber

Today, I went to see my barber; almost 3 months had passed, but I hadn’t gotten a haircut. I am quite lazy in getting haircuts, and I don’t really like messing with my hair. Pushed by my parents, burdened by the school, and finally, on 23rd December, 2 days before Christmas, I got up and went to get one.

Upon reaching, I saw a new poster on the gate. The one eerily familiar design that hadn’t changed in 12 years of me being there was finally no more. It felt surreal to see something so old yet so new. Whenever I enter that place, it hits me. This sense of nostalgia. It's hard, almost impossible, to do it justice through words, so I’ll talk about the next best thing. I’ll talk to you about how it started, why that shop.

Born and brought up in Punjab till I was a year old, we moved to Gurgaon in search of better livelihood and job opportunities. As far as I can remember, I used to live with my Grandparents. I was quite close to them in my early years of childhood, or at least that's what my partial recall tells me. Being a student of science, I am not falling into the trap of trusting my memories, but I really hope they are true. I remember cuddling with my grandfather; it was quiet, my parents were away for work, my grandmother was working on picking peas out of their pods, and I had a sense of calm after long school hours, just sleeping on his shoulder. Once upon a time, we would go and get a haircut from a nearby shop in Sector 21 called Blue Star. It was one of the only shops in a newly developing market. Currently, it has 3 sides, but as far as I remember, when I was young, it used to have only one, with barren land beside it. Rotary public school in front. That's where I used to go before Ryan and before my current school, but that's a story for another time.

I remember seeing this happy barber, content with his life, recently married and had just bought a new shop. He was truly living his dream. We used to go every month, and I would sit on a plank and get a haircut. He was so gentle yet so precise. His hands moved like he was doing some complex surgical procedure. In my 15 years of going to him, I have only been nicked once, that too by my own fruition. My memory is fuzzy after that. I remember after we moved to Sector 22 and bought our own home, my dad used to take me with him to get a haircut. Now I go alone.

In the past 2 years, I hadn’t seen this barber, the owner. I never had the courage to ask around. I didn’t even know his name. I remember him so vividly, yet don’t even know his name. That daunts me. But I never dare to ask. Hadn’t seen him in such a long time; I thought he had sold this shop to someone else. Maybe he had. I don’t know. Underneath, I didn’t care, too. It was transactional, I didn’t think of him in my free time. I didn’t have a strong attachment to him. He was just my barber, but seeing him today, he was anything but. He looked sad, lost in his own thoughts, his world, his dream. He was angry, maybe at the world, maybe at his circumstances. I don’t know. I didn’t ask, I couldn’t. I felt as if I had wronged him somehow; a sense of guilt, as if I was meeting my ex, came over. It's not a romance, and I didn’t romantically like my barber. Why was I so nervous? Another barber got up to take me, he interrupted, “Inka mai kardunga”. Did he remember? Every month for 13 years. I thought he did. How could he not? I just wanted to stay there longer. Don’t know why, I had no reason to. He finished cutting my hair, and the time for trimming the edges came; he instinctively picked up a blade, then as I went to say “Bhaiya …” he said, “ha machine se hi karunga”, kept the blade away, and picked up the shaving machine.

I felt calm. I thought he remembered. Why wouldn’t he? How would he know he had to trim my edges with a shaving machine instead of a blade. He offered to shave my beard. I gladly, almost excitedly, accepted. He was still sad, almost as if he had given up on life. Not a material sadness. A sadness that knew no end. Usually, they had some movies running in the shop, but today, none. He wasn’t singing like usual, and I thought there for 30 minutes. I’ll give him 50 rupees and say Merry Christmas. Ask him if he remembered me, and ask his name. As I went to get up, I gave him a note of 200. He said do you have 50 in change, I said keep it bhaiya; Merry Christmas. He didn’t hear me and as I started walking away, he said, “Haa?”. I said “Rakhlo bhaiya, Christmas aara hai”. He almost panicked, scared, angry and sad and shouted “Thank You!”, he exclaimed. I couldn’t look him back in the eye. I was guilty. I had no reason to be, I just was. I awkwardly exited the store and as I was closing the gate, I saw in his hand the 200 Rupee note. He was just standing there. I had left. Another person to leave him, like the hundreds of barbers he had hired, thousands of people that moved through his shop. I couldn’t get myself yet again to ask his name, ask him what was disturbing him, ask him if he remembered me, ask him if he remembered my granddad. Maybe it will be a mystery after all.

I left, and he stayed, like he always does. like I always do.