We noticed the barber shop, the size of a postage stamp, squeezed in between the internet cafe and our guesthouse. “Shave sir”, asked the barber appearing out of nowhere, nodding at Jim.
“Can I have a haircut”, I asked hopefully. Normally the only customers in these shops are men. “Yes, yes, five minutes waiting”. All three chairs were occupied so I sat on a bench already shoved halfway out the shop – even so, there wasn’t enough room for the barbers to move around the chairs freely. To my right, a man enjoyed a vigorous head massage. Lots of slapping, clapping and rubbing. The man swayed back and forth, and the ancient chair creaked and groaned. The young masseur gave his customer a hearty slap on the shoulder to indicate the massage was finished, but the man smiled and asked him to carry on. Another man was undergoing a face massage, and the third was simply having a hair cut.
Time passed. No hurry. I watched a juice seller setting up his stall in the square outside. A dog scratched and stretched lazily. A young woman leaned casually against the doorway, hand outstretched, waiting for alms. A barber gave her a few coins and she moved off. I looked around the shop. Untidy, grubby – the shelves filled with lotions and potions. A TV gathered dust in the corner. Indian music blared from a tinny radio. Brash, bright posters lined the limited available wall space. Bengali tigers, deer, and a loved up couple sitting by a lake – all scenes far removed from the hassle and dust of Delhi. The young masseur glanced at me every now and again out of the corner of his eye and smiled.
And then it was my turn. I was ushered into a chair and a grey cloth was given an energetic shake and draped over me. The barber said nothing and began wetting my hair. I tried to surrender myself to the experience and waited to see what would happen. He clipped and cut. Very short.
“I give you face massage”, he said, when he’d finished, showing me a bottle of something and pushing his index finger gently against my chest, he pushed me back into the chair. “You sleeping”. I expected it to last a couple of minutes, but it was an hour later when I sat upright again. A gel like cream was smoothed gently over my face, he traced my bone structure with one finger, stroked gently over my eyebrows, and turned my face this way and that. Then he left me and I waited – and waited. Eyes closed, I had no idea what was going on, and all sorts of thoughts passed through my mind. (He could cut my throat – but he didn’t seem the type!). Eventually he returned, prodded me a bit, and again went off.
Reassured, I knew he hadn’t forgotten me and I relaxed. The gel on my face was setting, contracting, getting tighter and tighter. A man in the iron mask experience! He came back, seemed satisfied I was done, and began scraping and peeling the mask from my face. Then more cream and a good dousing with rose water and he began with the face massage. Plenty of rubbing – sometimes I could hardly breathe! Hard pressure around the edge of the nostrils and on the tip of the nose that bought tears to my eyes. Ouch! More cream, another liberal sprinkling with rose water and then a rotating brush was swirled over my face. This had the intensity of a pneumatic drill. I felt like he was massaging down to the bone.
The whole thing was great – Never mind the grime of Delhi, I just felt like I’d had a layer of skin removed!