Hairy Tales

“Watch out for the American girls! I heard they are out to trap smart and  good looking Indian boys!” – this was the ominous sounding warning from my mother when I came to the US in 1983. It seems she  got this piece of advise from her friend (so.. it must be true!). I chuckled and told her that  I was safe.

She’s the one?

“Do you like Cheech and Chong movies?” the blond beauty asked, while lovingly running her fingers through my hair!

It’s only been 5 weeks since I came to the US. I was yet to lose the bad habit of staring at everyone. In this case, it is quite understandable – this was a very good looking young college girl standing next to me and saying something. It could have been her accent or the fact that I was not paying full attention to what she said, but I didn’t get it the first time!  I suddenly remembered the warning that my mom had given me before leaving for US. I just hoped that this girl would not be too picky about the “smart” and “good looking” attributes and just focused on my Indian-ness! And then .. this smiling and giggling girl repeated

“Do you like Cheech and Chong movies? They are hilarious!”, she said.

“hmm.. I do not know who or what Cheech and Chong are..” – I said, captioning the puzzled look on my face.

Then she went on to give a detailed description of who these guys were and the types of movies they made,  all the while giggling and playing with my hair. It took me a little while to figure out the connection between her “Cheech and Chong” references and her giggling. It seems these guys were two comedians who made marijuana/pot themed comedy movies in 1970’s and 1980s! Once this sank in.. I just froze  – even more than I was required to (considering that I was in a barber’s chair and she was armed with sharp scissors)!  It took me a while but even stupid ‘ol me could put 2 and 2 together! This chick was totally high as a kite!  Oh.. and I did not have to guess for too long .. for she came right out and told me that she just smoked a ‘joint’.

In the orientation session that I had at the university or even those informal orientation guidelines given by my roommates and friends, they had not prepared me for this situation. That is, how to react when your  hair stylist just announces that she was  high (on Pot/Marijuana/Weed)  while operating sharp tools inches away from your neck, eyes etc! What are you supposed to say or do?  Much later,  I did find out (thanks to “Harold and Kumar go to While Castle”)  that offering some snacks to them in such situations would be the right thing to do! Intuitively, I did know that I should not make any sudden movements – for the results could  range from hilarious to disastrous!

Most of the Indian  students at the University went to “Jackie Goran’s Academy of Hair Science” for haircuts as they were the cheapest ($5) and were right there on-campus. It turns out they were cheap because you get the hair cut by students learning to be hair dressers. This was my first visit to the “Academy” and turned out to be quite a memorable one!  The giggler came to her senses briefly, just as she announced that she was done. She asked me not to report her to her boss.  I gave a faint smile and nodded (that famous Indian bobble head  – which is a hybrid of a nod and a shake)!  Then her teacher/boss showed up and reviewed the work and gave a huge compliment on my hair –  “So thick .. nice & natural curls”. Then she gave specific and academic feedback to the student and then she was off to review the next haircut!  As I left .. the hairstylist-in-training giggled some more and said “Thanks for not ratting on me”!  I rushed back to the apartment and breathlessly described what just happened, to my bewildered roommates! When they were done having a good laugh, I asked  “what does ratting mean?”

Hyderabadi Trimmin’

Growing up in Hyderabad we had quite a contrasting tonsorial experience!  Till I was almost 15 years of age – we used to have the haircut at home! Chandraiah who was our barber – would show up on a Sunday once every month or so – without any appointment. Then my dad, brother and I would get standard haircuts one after the other. For some reason, it was decided that this needed to be done in the front yard. It was a beautiful and an unnecessarily public location for such a job. We were surrounded by a Pomegranate tree and several colorful and fragrant flowering plants – Hibiscus, Jasmine, Sampangi.  We would sit down on a “PeeTa” – which is a small wooden plank that is only 2 inches off the ground.  Chandraiah would squat behind and open up his leather case and go to work.

koppa_barber

There were no questions about what and how much to cut or any instructions from us. He did it all very skillfully with just a comb and scissors. He did not ever touch the hair with his  hands. Most of the time I was totally embarrassed to be doing this in the front yard. We were always worried that our friends would see this spectacle while walking along the road! We were quite sure that everyone else was getting their hair cut at a fancy Salon (or Saloons as they were called in India). By the time we were in high school – we also started going to one of those saloons in Chintal Basti! I can still visualize the old guy nonchalantly cutting the hair .. taking a break once in a while  for bouts of cough and to drag a few puffs on the cigarette. These places were strictly for men and the barbers were always men. There wasn’t much of a small talk or any magazines to flip through while waiting. I am sure it’s quite different now.

hyd_moments_16

 

Scissors or Clippers?

The first thing I noticed about hair cutting routine in the US was that there are a lot of questions –

“Would you like a shampoo or just wet the hair down?”

“How much off?” — When I say an inch off – they actually do a imaginary measurement with their fingers before cutting!

“How do you want the sides? How about the back”

“Would you like some gel”

“Clippers?”

The place I go to now has computerized records (just like the doctor’s office has my medical records) – so no matter who gets to cut my hair  they already know my preferences (clippers or scissors? How much off? etc etc) – ‘cos they look it up based on my phone number. They probably also have a note in the system that asks them to compliment me on my ‘lovely natural curls’ – ‘cos they all do it and it automatically prompts me to add an extra dollar to the tip!

“My name is Jenny” , “So how was your weekend” , “Isn’t it a lovely day?” , “I cant wait to get out of here” — she rattled off even before I was seated and she got hold of the scissors! This was the first time she was cutting my hair.. but she was talking up a storm, with me chiming in once in a while!

I noticed that people are generally quite at ease discussing personal details freely with their barbers/sylists. I told her that my kids were off at school and she mentioned that she and her boy friend were thinking of getting another tattoo!!

These women (I had male stylists only 3 times in 31 years) could take the traditional role of the barkeeper or even a therapist –  who engages the patrons in idle banter  thereby drawing some interesting conversations and feelings out of them..

“I am the best man in my buddy’s wedding this evening” said one guy getting a buzz cut for the event!

“My boyfriend’s coming back tomorrow after 2 years”.. I thought he was coming back from the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. It turns out (based on further conversation) – that he was in prison for something to do with drugs and she was excitedly primping herself for his homecoming!

Kids getting their trim before school starts – the parents are usually right there giving specific instructions about where to cut and how much! “A close shave with the clippers  please, I don’t want to have to  come back in 2 weeks!”

Jenny paused from her monologue about tattoos in general and the specific one that they had picked, to announce that she’s done! Before I could stop her, she pulled out a mirror to show me the back of my head – bringing to clear view my bald spot!  I smiled and nodded my approval on the good job she did and told her “Extra tip for you next time – if you DO NOT show me my bald spot!” She had a hearty laugh.. and before she could recover, I pointed to the hair on the floor and said “Can you see if you can glue that back there to cover up the bald spot?”

As I walked out .. I told myself that I have to keep looking for the hair stylist that will take me seriously!

Author: Yash

I immigrated to the US in 1983 from India. I feel that I have been here long enough to not be called FOB (Fresh-off-the-Boat) by my kids. But I guess they seem to have some other standards which involve pronouncing words like "Vote" ,"Vending" and "Video" properly - which I guess I will never achieve (because of my 21 years in India) - so, I am going to pass myself as that Indian with an "exotic" accent!! My interests : WRITING - Just realized that most of my work so far has been Nostalgia-centric. I enjoy this genre and feel it's an un-ending well that I can draw from. As a matter of fact, this right here is fresh nostalgia for 10 years down the road!! (-: GOLF - I am terrible at it and it's a damn frustrating game, but I still love it ("painful pleasure"). One of these days I will actually take lessons so that I won't embarrass myself too much on the golf course. As long as there are golf courses around here (with low standards) that would allow me to play - I will play and enjoy golf!! STAND-UP - I have started dabbling (performing) in stand-up comedy recently and am loving the feedback I have been getting! I am going to attribute this newfound hobby to mid-life crisis! :-) (as an alternative to a toupee or a red sports car or a girlfriend-on-the-side!!). Here's clip of my very first performance on April 14th 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScMLgRAGyNs&feature=youtu.be MUSIC - I am a huge fan of Shakti (John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, Vinayakram, L.Shankar) as well as their later avatar - "Remember Shakti" (John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, Selva Ganesh, Mandolin Sreenivas, Shankar Mahadevan). Thoroughly enjoyed the two live concerts that I attended of this fusion group. I enjoy Hindustani and Carnatic classical instrumental music. YOUTUBE - YouTube has an unbelievable amount of entertainment from which you can draw your specific narrow niche!! In my case - these areas happen to be - street foods from various parts of the world, Indian classical music, debates about religion & belief, Indian Classical Music played by non Indian (e.g. Ukrainians doing wonderful Bharatanatyam, a French lady performing amazingly in a Carnatic Concert, a Chinese lady teaching Bharatanatyam in China etc.)

27 thoughts on “Hairy Tales”

  1. LOL. That was fun ! Thankfully, except when I visited my grandparents in their village, I didn’t have those embarrassing haircuts in the front lawn 🙂 And by 8th grade I rebelled against my mom’s wishes to have my hair cut to what was usually 4mm from the scalp 🙂

    btw, I didn’t realize that the girl running her hand thru your hair was a barber until you mentioned it 🙂

  2. enjoyed that- and though i haven’t had hair cuts like your’s, have seen my father and brother get similar. also found your american experience very good reading.

    1. Thanks a lot Anuradha for your feedback! While the specifics of each of the experiences are different (between the Indian and US situations for eg) — I found that if I look closely enough there are interesting stories to tell with each scenario. Glad you enjoyed the writeup..

  3. Yash..great to be abreast on your journey over the years. In contrast, I still find myself going to one of the Chintal Basti saloons..though I now notice it is almost generations old since we first started going there. The loud radio has given way to blaring TV now. I quite suspect the old mags are still there..to be handled very delicately..lest it gets torn off.

    (ofcourse there are airconditioned spas and wellness saloons..but then you need to take an appointment ..imagine it aint a mere haircut nowadays)

    Oflate one finds more youngsters..from hindi speaking areas though..and who provide value added services like a oil massage ( navratan oil or some hamdard one?)..and facials. Variety of hair dying options.Guess with the social life being more important..there is a good reason to look better.

    What unnerves me..like your story..they still carried away looking at their own profiles..while being at work on my hair. (second hand) Battery operated shavers have replaced blades..

    hey..I realise..its indeed unique experience..thats quite refreshing..as one banishes multitasking ( whatsapp, check mail, etc) as one has to be singlemindedly monitoring where the next clip is likely to happen :)!

    1. Achyut.. thanks for the feedback and your perspective of the changes that have happened in this area (since I left). I wanted to get a haircut in Hyderabad last week (just for old times sake, as well as to write a footnote to this blog). But things got too hectic.. Maybe next time.

  4. Excellent recap of how all our typical haircut “Sundays” used to be back in Hyd and your depiction of everyone’s first haircut experience here in the US!

    I remember, back in our Philly days, there was a huge turnout at a Russian-owned salon on Cottman Ave, when they put up a sign” $5 haircuts”!! They were actually good stylists despite what they charged.

    Keep writing.,.Best wishes. Madhukar.

  5. Yashodhar, enjoyed your blog on hair cut.My experiences in UK are similar especially about the questions they ask before they start. I can’t say I am impressed by the styling skills of hair dressers here in UK, but I never visited top hair dressers.

    1. Hi Srinivas – I am very happy that you enjoyed my writing! Thank you very much for taking the time to give me your feedback! I am happy that this writeup helped you reminisce and analyze your own experiences with hair stylists/barbers etc in UK (and possibly even Hyderabad?)..

  6. Yash, excellent piece of writing! I think you hit the nail on the head when you had me guessing your next move while the girl ran her fingers through your lovely natural curls. The last thing I had in mind was you cowering in a barber’s chair and a smoking hot chic clanking a pair of scissors !

  7. Hi
    Yash thoroughly enjoyed the write up
    You remind me of my all time favourite author PG Wodehouse
    Lovely

    1. Rajani – Wow! a comparison with PG Wodehouse!! That’s certainly high praise! You are too kind.. 🙂

      Thank you very much! I am very glad you enjoyed this piece..

  8. Yashodhar/Yash.
    I have heard so much about your blog and finally read your narrative about the hair specialist/ stylist/ barber! You are funny and informative. Loved it! Especially because as transplanted Indians we can all relate to these hair raising / eye opening experiences! Will look for more of your writings!
    Best to your family ,
    Yash (the other Yash)

    1. Yash B — I am very happy that you enjoyed this piece! Appreciate your kind feedback! Yes.. please do checkout my other blog entries!

      -Yash

  9. Just read both the blogs, the one on the haircut which had me in splits and the Ma Bell one, which was great..I’m thinking to myself, “this is how blogs should be written” :/
    just hilarious and kept my attention the entire time! Keep writing! I can’t wait for the next one :).

    1. Aww.. Thanks Vijaya! I am very happy that you enjoyed this piece (and the Ma Bell one too)! Thanks a lot for your feedback.. This encourages me to get back to writing at a more regular cadence!

  10. Wonderful piece. Last Sunday, I had taken my Six year old boy for the monthly ritual of a hair cut, accompanied by my curious 4 year old daughter who is already made up her mind about having long hair.

    And it took me back to my experiences of having a hair cut at Balaji Saloon, S R Nagar, Hyderabad. Only, at 6 I was expected to go by myself, with a younger brother in tow.

    Watching while waiting all the adults and young boys get ‘Hair-styling’ done only to be given a standard school boy cut was difficult. And invariably, it used to end-up looking something like a Sadhana cut, or worse still, like the cut on a puppy dog.

    That saloon had since relocated. And I visited the place some two decades later. One of the boys of the owner runs the place. And he recognised me. And remembered my Father.

    These days, I don’t get the same barber to cut my hair beyond 3 months, just after I have successfully managed to communicate my style of Dev Anand cut, with customisation!

    And unfortunately, my experiences don’t involve a blonde. But thanks for the trigger!

  11. Wonderful piece. Last Sunday, I had taken my Six year old boy for the monthly ritual of a hair cut, accompanied by my curious 4 year old daughter who has already made up her mind about having long hair.

    And it took me back to my experiences of having a hair cut at Balaji Saloon, S R Nagar, Hyderabad. Only, at 6 I was expected to go by myself, with a younger brother in tow.

    Watching while waiting all the adults and young boys get ‘Hair-styling’ done only to be given a standard school boy cut was difficult. And invariably, it used to end-up looking something like a Sadhana cut, or worse still, like the cut on a puppy dog.

    That saloon had since relocated. And I visited the place some two decades later. One of the boys of the owner runs the place. And he recognised me. And remembered my Father.

    These days, I don’t get the same barber to cut my hair beyond 3 months, just after I have successfully managed to communicate my style of Dev Anand cut, with customisation!

    And unfortunately, my experiences don’t involve a blonde. But thanks for the trigger!

    1. Thanks a lot for your feedback Srini! I am very happy that this piece helped jog your childhood memories! Please do checkout the other nostalgia pieces when you get a chance..

    2. Hi Srini

      I am very happy that you enjoyed this piece and that it helped you take your own walk down memory lane!
      Ahh.. I do remember the “Sadhana cut” phase! 🙂

      I am very sorry that your comment seems to have fallen through the cracks and that I have seen to it today (more than a year and half later)! I apologize for this..

      Regards,

      Yash

  12. Yash
    Fun story-I enjoyed it! This is your old neighbor- our house backed up to yours until we moved in 2014. Keep up the writing!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Lisa! I am very glad you liked it! My blog entries are lighthearted nostalgia pieces and I was hoping that they would take people’s mind off of the current situation with the pandemic. Hope you all are doing well and staying safe. Best wishes to you all..

      PS: – If you haven’t had a chance, do checkout my very first stand-up comedy clip (always appreciate feedback and ideas to improve) Thanks
      https://youtu.be/ScMLgRAGyNs (my first performance at the Ambler Theater)

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