After the start of festival of Ganesha, the elephant god when we arrived, now it was the end. A real special day, especially here in Mumbai. All the gods in the different communities are gathered, by truck, cart, lorry or any form of transport and transported to the river or the sea. There, they are released into the water. From where we are staying, the manmade god is put onto a cart and then the people walk behind the cart all the way to the sea.
Sounds good. I am quite interested in joining in such a celebration. I enquiry and find out that the procession leaves at 1.00am and takes 2 hours to reach the sea. At this point, I thought that maybe this was not a good idea. I will give this some thought and see how I feel later.
Michelle is working all day on the computer, so I decide to take the boys to Ghandi Maiden for a run, where they join the locals for a game of football. We get back and decide it time to have our hair cut.
I have located the shop, it’s a ten minute walk from the hotel. I know where it is. First you have to pass the umbrella man, where we bought umbrellas, then pass the banana man, where we buy bananas. You get the idea, then the apple man, and right next to the beer shop and carry on, well after the guy selling samosas on the street corner.
Since finding the barbers I have seen lots of people just having their hair cut or being shaved in the street, usually under a tree to provide the shade.
But my barbers is a tiny room, right on the road, enough room for 3 chairs squashed together. On the road there is a bench, where the two boys and I sit waiting our turn. Today there are only two barbers; I am guessing the other chair is sometimes occupied if a third barber makes it to work.
We all watch, to see if this experience is going to be a good one. Both the barbers finish at the same time, so there is no argument between the boys who will be the guinea pig. They both climb up into the chairs at the same time, looking a bit nervous. I am thinking if their haircuts are so bad, I will just chuck in the ‘I am not well card’, and scarper.
Hindi music is coming from a phone, where the barber as one eye on a movie, the other eye on Theo’s head. The scalping begins. The clippers are used with no adjustment, just very short. Andrew’s barber is following the same process. Andrew tries to explain the style he wants and adds ‘not too short’. After about 4 minutes, they are both finished, the scalped sheep get down from the chair, neither of them looking too confident. In fact they both look pretty terrible! I am thinking that Theo looks the worse, the character Blackadder comes to mind. However after they both descend from the chairs, they are smiling, I am thinking I wouldn’t be smiling with a haircut that bad. But then I realise what they are smiling about.
‘Dad, your turn!’
As luck would have it, I was hoping I would get Andrew’s barber, as he was the better of the two options. But he walks out of the shop and I am left with Theo’s chopper.
No words are passed baring any smile. No instruction as to what sort of haircut I require. There is only one style – short. Blackadder II is coming up. I try to rescue the situation before it begins and gesture the action of scissors. This works and the clippers are placed next to the mobile phone, still playing the Hindi film. The barber is still watching the film, this time more intensely, more loud music coming from the device resting on its side. The romance in the film is hitting its climate, I am pooing myself.
He starts to cut, hair flying in all directions, maybe not Blackadder, maybe ‘Edward Scissorhands’. The boys are trying not to laugh, as they look at my worried face. A rest bit in this 4 minutes of madness, the chai wallah enters the room.
‘Chai’ he says.
The barber just nods and I am given a cup also. He stops to drink and indicates I should drink also; so I do.
He relaxes with this tea in one hand, and for a few minutes, he can give his whole concentration to the film. I drink the tea, pull back the cloth that is covering my clothes and drink joining him, both looking at the film. The only difference is I have only one side of my haircut complete, the boys laugh. I taste the tea, well I wish I could taste the tea. All I can taste is condensed milk and sugar. Really, I want to spit it out, but I smile, nodding, suggesting it is good, further suggesting a thanks. I have no choice – I am in this barber’s domain, and whatever he says goes, or I leave with half a haircut.
Break over, back on the shears. I am looking in the mirror at myself thinking ‘please stop now’, but he continues. Clippers or not, there is no way I am leaving this chair with any hair remaining on my head.
Then he stops. I think that wasn’t too bad, the cloth is removed. I am just about to make my get away when he pins me down, with his palms of his hands on top my head. He presses down on the top of my head, as if to say, ‘you are going nowhere, I am not finished with you yet’.
I am thinking ‘what’s happening? then he starts. It seems I am not only going to get scalped, but I am going to get beaten up too! This is an Indian head massage, I think. My head is moved in all sorts of directions and slapped then he moves on to the side of my face. The boys can’t restrain themselves any longer and both burst out laughing. This, in fact, gives the mad barber more fuel and more energy to continue. Whacking my head in all directions, then lastly the shoulders. I feel that at any moment, I could pass out.
I get up out of the chair a beaten man, my legs fail me and Andrew saves me from the embarrassment of falling over into the street. I don’t know if I have had a good haircut or not; it has been so messed up by the massage. Anyway, I am not sure I care what I look like, it’s what I have just been through that is the only thing of concern.
‘Are you alright Dad?’
‘Never felt better,’ I reply.
The barber smiles, ‘see you again’, he is thinking. I am thinking ‘have I really got to walk back to the hotel from here? It’s a 10 minute walk’.
I pay him, he smiles again, all that for 50 pence – I am not sure if it was worth it or not.
We return to the hotel, my head is still spinning. Also my eyebrows are stinging. I think no more about it.
I rest for a bit, not feeling 100%, Michelle comes back from work.
‘How was the barbers? What the hell’s happened to you?’ she says.
I get up from the bed.
‘Have you been burnt?’
‘What are you talking about,’ I reply.
‘Your eyebrows are bright red, both of them. What has happened?’
I quickly go to the mirror, I have been scared; massive red marks are throbbing above both of my eyebrows.
The boys are falling about laughing, I am not finding the funny side of this, and still feeling a bit dazed.
‘It must have been the head massage,’ the boys say.
‘What head massage?’ Michelle says.
They all laugh.
Later on I could see the funny side to this situation. But not now. Since this minor incident I have been in a lot more stressful situations. But now after this the heat, the hotel living and having been not on my own for weeks, I feel this sudden eager to get away.
‘Where you going? Come on we were only joking’ Michelle says.
I reply ‘I need some time on my own, and to rest my burnt eyebrows’
I leave the room, I am thinking great I have a chance the first time in a month to spend some time by myself, in a bar.
I walk down to the bar of the hotel. I am thinking this is a sad show. I have been in this hotel for a month and I have not once made it to the bar, and not once on my own, or with company. I have, however, been drinking most night, but that’s in the restaurant with dinner.
So at last, in the bar, alone, burnt eyebrows or not. To break the duck; my mates would be disgusted to think it has taken me this long to have a beer in the bar.
I have walked passed the bar at least twice a day for a month, I know where it is. Michelle has been playing it down since I arrived, saying she has only been in there once and it wasn’t very good, the service was poor and the music was too loud.
But this was my moment, the bar was my mission.
I get the lift down the stairs and walk to the bar, I push the door. It’s locked. I look inside, it’s dark. I try again, no luck the bar is closed, and it’s 6.00PM. ‘That’s funny’, I think, ‘oh well it must be maintenance’; it’s always maintenance when something is not working over here.
I think no bar, well I will make the most of the situation, and if the bar isn’t open, at least I can get a beer in the restaurant, and for the first time, alone.
I enter the restaurant, the staff say ‘hello’ and are a bit surprised to see me alone and with no family on toe.
‘Yes it’s good’ I reply.
I sit down at our usual table, the menu is placed in front of me.
‘I only want a drink; a Kingfisher.’
‘It’s a special day today sir, it is the day that all the man-made Ganeshas are transported to the sea’
‘Yes I know,’ I reply
‘Sir, today is a special day, and it’s a dry day.’
‘Today, no alcohol is served anywhere in any shop, bar or restaurant, in Mumbai, as a sign of respect to the festival’
Maybe I will join the precession to transport the Ganeshas to the sea at 1.00am after all!