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Silent Scissors

Written on Sep 10, '14


Yesterday I re-realized (for the umpteenth time, which means there is no real-ization!) - that time waits for nobody. Its the final arbiter of all. We are reminded of this truth in every simple way, yet we seem to suffer this immortality complex, and continue to imagine that life would go on as usual. 

I was looking to have a haircut last afternoon, while returning from - what seems like one of those endless visits to the gas-booking office (Ugh!). Anil babu has been dressing my hair for nearly 30 years. He even saw through that vainglorious phase of my life when I used to sport a pony-tail :P I have watched his hair turn from black to gray, even as he has seen strands of gray appear in mine. Other than that, he was always the same person - perhaps lulling me into this false sense of perpetuity about Anil babu and his saloon. 

He has this incredible sense of calm about him, going about his job in the most unhurried manner, even when a string of clients were waiting impatiently in line. Nothing fancy about his haircutting, just the same traditional thing that makes Bengali men look a little neater - from the scruffy look they tend to develop after about a month and half.

He didn't own the saloon, he only worked there. It was a narrow, no-nonsense place, with mirrors on facing walls, and ancient wooden chairs (to be later replaced by even more ancient metal ones, but with push-pedal facility to raise or lower the seat - remember that famous saloon scene in Chaplin's 'Great Dictator'?). The staff consisted of a mix of Bengalis and Biharis, and there was a nice, congenial ambiance to the place. They would often exchange wisecracks amongst themselves, although never at the expense of the client - to whom they were invariably courteous. However,  Anil babu was always this somber gentleman, deeply engrossed in his work. Earlier, the place had a radio, always turned in to A.I.R*, which was later replaced by a tiny black & white TV. One also had a choice of newspapers to read, a Bengali daily, and a Hindi one.

Since the job was adequately done with minimum of fuss, I had never thought of migrating to a fancier place. In fact, I had grown accustomed to the familiar feel of Anil babu snipping away at my hair, gently pushing my head around to his convenience. Its a wonder that I didn't fall asleep most of the time - even his voice, in those rare occasions that he spoke, had a soft, somnolent drone to it. I think the cost of hair-dressing was Rs 5/- when I made my first payments to him, and later it rose to the lofty height of Rs 25/- ! I would always pay him nearly twice that amount, considering we would meet only about 6 times a year. 

Anyway, back to the story... I was dumbfounded when I couldn't locate my favorite little saloon yesterday afternoon. The same doors were there, padlocked, but the sign above was missing. When I peered through a crack, I could see nothing inside, just debris. Even the walls were stripped of plaster. Not a chair, nothing to remind me that this has been a constant and intimate part of my being for more than 30 years (someone else had cut my hair in the beginning, but after about a year or so, I had shifted to Anil babu on account of his gentle nature).

I queried a neighboring shopkeeper about the missing saloon (who wasn't very pleased to have to respond, since he was obviously doing this to a constant stream of people), and he informed me that the place has been sold off. 'So what happened to the staff?" - I asked (obviously I only had Anil babu in mind). Apparently, a couple of new saloons have opened up in a nearby lane, and some of the staff were re-employed there. I thanked him and proceeded towards that lane.

Having shortly opened doors, both places were eager to see a customer, and there was nearly a competition to nab me from the street! That they shared a common partition perhaps made the competition stiffer! However, before committing to any one of these, I inquired about the old saloon, and about that most senior hairdresser (I didn't even know his name until then!). They said Anil babu has retired for good. 

That was a little shocker, I have to admit. 'You mean, he doesn't cut hair any where, any more?' No, they answered. Apparently, he has decided enough is enough. I queried his address, and was told that he lives outside Kolkata, in a suburban township, and that is all they know. 

Well, that was that, there was no going back to my past now. A bridge has been dismantled forever, along with the dismantling of that little shop. I tossed a mental coin and submitted myself (my head to be precise) to the first gentleman standing before me with scissors. After about half an hour, I came out feeling none too displeased. He was a bit rougher with my head (but then, compared to Anil babu, anyone would appear less than gentle), but he was competent enough. 

About an hour ago (This was 7.30 in the morning) I digitally sketched his portrait in Mypaint. Come to think of it, I don't remember his face distinctly, he was always standing behind or beside me, and my glasses were mostly off  at those times. But here's Anil babu as close as I could imagine him to be. 

May you live a long and happy retired life!

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*A.I.R - All India Radio

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