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The Barber Shop Chair - A True Life Story

I  remember it was sometime in the year was 1987 and it was a Sunday, because when I got down from the train in Goa in India, there were not many people on the railway platform and it was difficult to get a bus. Not many people were there on the roads and the shops were mostly shut that day. I was selected to join the Indian Navy and I somehow took a taxi and reached the Naval Academy. The guard room sailor gave me a paper sheet with instructions on it and told me to follow him, as he walked me into a barrack.

I had a trunk full of clothing, shoes, tie, belt etc which the academy joining instruction wanted me to carry. Those days steel trunks were in fashion when you travel. My trunk was fairly heavy, but the sailor didn't help me carry it. The handle of the box almost severed my fingers as I dragged it for over a few hundred meters till the barracks. I kept changing hands every few seconds cursing this sailor silently all through, for the next 300 meters. On reaching the barracks, the sailor told me to choose a cot for myself and left. I kept my trunk down on a bed below a ceiling fan.

After keeping my trunk down inside the barracks, I looked at my palms. They were red and blue where the thin handle of my 50 kg trunk. Then I looked at the bottom edge of my trunk which I was dragging on the road all this while. It hurt my hand as I touched it. It was super-hot due to the friction I generated dragging it on the road. Although, it had become think at the edge, it was not completely damaged.

Those days, suite cases were certainly available, although they were very costly. But my call letter had stated a trunk to be brought along with a lock and key. I saw two dozen beds in the old barrack, with just one occupied by a cool Sikh cadet wearing a turban and who seem to have been living there for a long time. He was reading a novel and didn't even bother to look at me, a new arrival. A Sikh is someone belonging to a Sikh religion.

They wear a turban on their head as well as keep moustache and beard. There was a notice placed on the door I had entered. I went and looked at it. It was a list of instructions for those who are arriving for the course. The first order in the list was, to take a haircut. I had good hair, beard and a thick moustache which I used to consider my identity as a 21 year old civilian. I am not a Sikh.

But yet loved sporting that look. I went up to the Sikh cadet, with the instruction leaflet in my hand and introduced myself. The cadet said his name is Arora. I asked him if no one else, other than the two of us have joined. He said that he had joined the previous day and many who came today have just gone for taking haircut. So, I asked him the location of barbershop.

He did not just tell me the general direction of the Barber shop. In fact, he told me the route in so much detail as to where all I should turn and how many steps I should take before each turn, till I reach the barber shop, which is just 60 yards away in the same building, making me feel as if I am blind man.

I left my trunk there telling Cadet Arora to look after it even though it was locked and went to the barbershop, counting my steps as instructed by him. There was a long queue there waiting for the barber to turn up. I found out from some new hippies that the barber had gone for tea at 1030 hrs and will be back at 1100 hrs, pointing at the working hours written on the door of the barbershop.

Even the barber here is so disciplined, I thought and patiently waited for my turn after some 50 odd guys in the queue, waiting for a haircut. My turn came in just about 45 minutes. The Barber was too fast and took just about a minute or two with each newly joined cadet. I sat on the Barber shop throne when my turn came. This Barber’s chair was made of leather which was torn every inch, with foam sticking out of each tear and even had both its broken rear legs, replaced by a stack of bricks.

The Barber Shop HairCut Chair

The barbershop mirror was so old that it could show only parts of one's face as the mercury coating on its rear side had worn out badly. So I asked the bald barber chewing paan, "Why don’t you change this chair". Paan is beetle leaf with some tobacco and aricanut in it which is chewed by a lot of Indian people especially the old ones. He replied smiling displaying his paan rusted teeth,"Aapko, Kya dekhne ka hai, Sahab?" in HIndi Language, which means, "What do you want to see in it, Sir?" "Sahab" in Hindi Language, means "Sir". I didn't really understand what he said. But I felt elated being addressed as Sir, even though it was only by a barber.

Despite all my resistance, he cut all my hair, rather shaved off my hair and beard in a few seconds to a length of just about 4 or 5 millimetres length each hair. On the sides not hair was visible now. Even after putting up a short physical fight with him, the old man managed to completely shave off my moustache which stood as a reflection of my manhood. It was all over in two minutes. After haircut I came back and started opening my trunk.

That is when Cadet Arora shouted at me reflecting some anger in Hindi Language, "Abey, voh hair cut lene gaya hai. Aane wala hoga. Chhodhde uska trunk." The meaning of what he said was, “Hey, that guy has just gone for his harcut and should be coming back anytime. Don’t touch his trunk”. I turned and looked at him not knowing why he was shouting at me, when I am opening my own trunk, which I had trusted him to guard, when I went to get a haircut which told me how to go to the barber shop. After he said that, as I looked at him, he stared at me in surprise for about 5 seconds silently and said, "Sorry” and continued with his novel.

A few seconds later, I saw him staring at me again, in some sort of disbelief this time. I ignored him and went to take bath. As I looked at the mirror, it was my turn to be surprised. That is when I remembered the barber’s remark,  on his mirror. In the bathroom mirror I saw a man, I have never met before.
  

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