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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A lungi, a movie and a haircut - happy birthday!

Last Friday was my birthday.

Now a birthday is a day that most people use to either reflect or celebrate. Some in India even go to a place of worship or, alternatively, have some sort of prayer session in the privacy of their homes. At the very least, many make it a point to wake up early that day – in the belief (or should that be hope?) that it will set a precedent for the next 364 days.

I must confess that last Friday I belonged to that minority to which none of the above apply. I woke up at 9.00 a.m – and had my mother not wished me a happy birthday, with a look that I had, with years of experience, managed to interpret as suggesting at least mild disapproval, I might well have lazed around in bed for a while longer. Somehow, 9.00 a.m didn't seem too late an hour to wake up.

After breakfast and coffee, I had to work out my schedule for the rest of the morning. I say morning, because the afternoon and evening would be consumed by office work. I was working European hours – which meant my working day would start at 12.30. I had about three hours to kill.

Reading the paper would take up close to an hour. Not that the content deserved this kind of respect, but the realisation that I was travelling to Europe in a couple of days, and that for an extended period of time, suddenly made me want to practically devour the papers, for the smallest bits of news.

I decided to put the remaining time to good use and not just while it away. One’s last few days and hours in India are always precious. There always seems to be so much to do, and so little time to do it in.

Since I was leaving in a couple of days, I decided to have my customary pre-departure haircut that morning. I quite like to support my hyper-local saloon in Bangalore. It's not a particularly sophisticated place – for twenty-five rupees one should not expect Taj-style hairdressing - but the guys who work there do make an effort to keep it clean. And, in all the years that I've been frequenting the place, I've never had any cause for complaint.

Now, the custom – at least where I come from - is to wash one’s clothes thoroughly after a haircut. This, I believe, is for hygienic reasons. Anyway, with Bangalore’s weather at that time being about as sunny as New Jersey in mid-Jan, I decided that any clothes I'd wash that day wouldn't probably make it through a drying - and ironing - experience in time for my return flight on Sunday. And I didn't want to leave any clothes behind in Bangalore.

So I decided to go to the saloon in a lungi (a striped one!) that I was planning to leave in Bangalore anyway. I'd never gone to the saloon in a lungi before – and I must admit I wasn't totally comfortable with the idea. A lungi needs a little more caution than trousers, but it seemed the practical thing to do. So I told myself “what the heck, let’s just do it!” and set off.

It must have been a distance of two to three hundred meters, no more, but it felt like I was swimming the English channel. I saw a number of raised eyebrows – or maybe I was imagining some of them. I was suddenly very conscious of the way I walked, acutely aware that the lungi was all that stood between me and respectability.

I was relieved when I reached the saloon in one piece. The guy greeted me with his usual warm nod. I nodded back, hopefully as warmly. Despite several encounters over the years, our communication had not progressed beyond this nod. This guy was Telugu. Probably all Telugu guys who do not end up as software engineers or doctors in the US - or real estate agents in India from the Reddy community - end up opening hairdressing saloons.

Anyway this guy’s domain expertise was in Telugu and Kannada, mine is English, Hindi and some Tamil. The Telugu I know does not go beyond “Reddy garu, cheppandi”, “randi”, “ikkade petko” and “manch neeru kavaali” – none of which, those of you who know Telugu will agree, are particularly useful expressions to be deployed in a hairdressing saloon.

I noticed that the saloon had upgraded itself since my last visit some months ago. I found that the wash basin area had been renovated, the furniture had been replaced - heck, even the Filmfare edition was of July 2007 (Very disappointing. I was hoping to read some 2005 news. Where do I go now? Maybe I should try the dentist, I thought).

As usual, the TV was set at its loudest possible volume. And as usual, it was playing a Telugu movie. The hero was reasonably rotund with a round face, big moustache and curly hair. The heroine was reasonably rotund with a round face. No big moustache or curly hair but she had more make-up on, than Lakme can produce in a day. I thought their faces looked familiar, but in the South Indian film industry you could spend your lifetime using these descriptions to try to identify the specific hero or heroine.

I gave up trying to do so. Instead, since I was waiting anyway, I thought I'd try to follow the story. (I had lost interest in the available issue of the Filmfare magazine as soon as I discovered it was a July 2007 edition. I'd have much rather read the 2005 issue, if only to derive pleasure from seeing how wrong predictions turned out in the two years since. How this movie, which was supposed to be “different”, bombed so badly that nobody recalls the name anymore. How relationships of 2005, projected as lifetime relationships, have come a cropper in 2007. I know it sounds mean but when one is waiting, at the hairdresser’s or at the dentist’s, one can be excused such perverse pleasures).

Back to the point. Or rather the movie. So this rr and r-faced hero and the rr and r-faced heroine (with massive m-u) go around trees singing a song, and making all sorts of lovey-dovey sounds at each other. The song wasn't a particularly bad one - I quite liked the tune though I did not understand the lyrics. Then the hero comes to the heroine’s home to request the heroine’s father for his daughter’s hand. The father is wearing a long, silken, flowing gown (?) – the type that Rahman has worn in countless Hindi movies of the 60s and 70s. I could make out that the hero came from a poor background. Without understanding a word of the dialogue, I could make out that the father insults the hero, the hero pledges his love for the heroine, the father isn't convinced he offers the hero some money, the hero refuses it and walks away. He then sings a sad song as he kicks the earth under his feet. Back in her plush bungalow, the heroine weeps inconsolably. The father is unmoved.

Memories of a 1960s/70s Hindi film that I'd seen not so long ago came to mind. The father offering the hero a suitcase full of cash, and the hero walking away. This formula has been played out in so many Indian movies, whether with cash or with a "blank" cheque, probably in every Indian language, that I cannot imagine this storyline being of any help to anybody here to try to now identify the movie. Especially since the descriptions of the hero and heroine were not particularly zoom-worthy either.

Anyway, my turn came and I sat in the hot seat. The hero now burst into another Telugu song. This seemed to be a happy song – which seemed a bit odd. That the hero should be singing happy songs so soon when film-making protocol demands that that the suffering/pining phase should last at least one hour , was unusual. Maybe, in this day and age, even film-making has gone T20, I thought. Nobody can sit through one hour of pining anymore.

These thoughts were rudely disturbed by the realization that my man had decided to animatedly join in. I must admit that it was a pretty catchy song. It must have been a big hit amongst knowledgeable audiences (which obviously included one Telugu hairdresser in Bangalore).

That his voice would not exactly win him any Sa Re Ga Ma awards was immediately obvious to me, even if it wasn't to him. But I could live with that. After all I have to live with the likes of Himesh Reshammiya too in today’s world. No, this realization was not panic-worthy enough as much as the realization that I had a razor, almost grazing my ear, being waved around like an orchestra composer’s wand to the tune of some admittedly catchy music.

Ears are not the most respected of organs and with Reshammiya and his ilk dominating the music scene in India at the moment, the respect for ears must have fallen in recent times. Having said that, I had expected to be one year more on my birthday, not one ear less.

After what seemed like eternity, the song ended – and the razor thankfully returned to a more static position. My man had been completely oblivious to my condition. He now continued to work on the rest of my hair, clicking his scissors with an uneasy exuberance - uneasy for me, I mean. I prayed that another animated song would not break out any moment – and thankfully for the rest of my hot seat experience, except for some angry dialogues between father and prospective son-in-law, some more sobbing from the heroine (I wonder whether the m-u got wiped out in all that sobbing) and some fight scenes where the hero took on twenty men at one time, there was no reason for my man to wave that razor around. After fifteen-odd minutes, it was done. I offered him his twenty-five. He said thirty, I gave him thirty-five. He nodded warmly, I nodded (I hope as warmly). I wondered - did he notice the sweat on my forehead? I should thank him for that!

I made my way back home, holding on to my lungi, avoiding gazes from all and sundry and went straight for a hot bath. With the tune of that Telugu song still ringing in my ears. Boy, was it catchy!

So friends, that is how I spent my birthday morning.

And yes, one more thing. Before my next trip to the guy, I have to brush up on my Telugu. This is just getting too dangerous to be funny anymore.