By: GANESH SAILI
‘G-r-a-s-s does not grow on concrete!’ Bald as a billiard ball, Mr. Margo, announced in the school morning assembly. His punchline brought the house down. It has all these years, echoed in my head and came home to roost in this lockdown as I look around for a haircut. The other day walking past the mirror, I thought I saw someone I knew – a nodding acquaintance perhaps – but certainly not I. How could that out-of-season turnip top be me?
Fifty-six days into the stay-at-home, news trickles in to raise hope: ‘stand-alone shops will reopen; self-employed folks which includes electricians and plumbers would be allowed home visits only.’ But always after the lightning comes the thunder: ‘a minor revision: barbers and beauticians cannot reopen for they provide services, not goods!’
Oh! How I miss my barber: the old tried-and-tested – Fattuh – the uncrowned Emperor of Gossipland. He knows every single turn of your hair, and regulates his strokes accordingly, with as little pain as possible, while he entertains you with idle tittle-tattle of our hill station.
Except for Tuesdays, any one of the other six, would find us congregating for our turn while perched on a wobbly bench outside his shack, teetering on the road’s edge to Tehri. Call us Believers, or Keepers of the Faith, we turned up not for a haircut, or to impress anybody. We hung around with other fellows to talk about cricket or our neighbours, or the neighbour’s house-hold affairs.
Oh! Please don’t tell me – I already know there are others better than him in the hill station’s flashy saloons. But they do not know the latest tales. Every time I am hard up for a story, I visit him. And believe you me, he’s a busy man, what with the the whole mohalla hanging around listening to him prattle.
Seven weeks now, going on eight, I am having withdrawal symptoms. Have I have stayed away too long? Without him, I may have missed out on what was going on in my own backyard.
‘Every time he quarrels with his wife, he turns up with such a long face,’ Fattuh, once muttered to me: ‘Do you think Saab I should start charging him twice for a shave?’
That I am not sure about. But what I do know is that there are no records of the barbers who trimmed the hair of those Redcoats. Our municipal records reveal the first businessman was a certain Lawrence, who came in 1828 with a stock of miscellaneous goods for sale to build a shack for himself and his goods on Camel’s Back. I find over the past almost two hundred years, the ancestors of our present day entrepreneurs came to town following the Tommie’s footsteps.
In 1827, the Landour Convalescent Depot received its first batch of soldiers to recuperate in the hills. At the western end, Colonel Whish worked on the Park along with Captain Kirke, and one or two others. But a veil of secrecy falls over on the period before A. N. John, hairdressers shop that operated below Himalaya Hotel on Kulri Hill.
And now that Fattuh has gone to his village, sheltering from the scourge, a wicked thought settles upon me. Who, I wonder, does the talking when another barber gives Fattuh his haircut? There are no answers. Or is the jury still out on that one?
Walking home in Orange Zone country, I admit to a twinkle in my eye as I remind myself: ‘Don’t lose it old boy. Be Bold. Go bald.’ As if in answer to my prayers, Abha – the Lady of the House – welcomes me home with a blunt cut-throat razor in one hand and a rusty clipper in the other. Like a man condemned, choosing his last supper: the clipper wins. The latter might be tempting fate too far. Soon after, the deed is done and my last few, sad grey hair litter the floor. I am now eligible to become a member of Mr. Mago’s Baldies Club so long as I remember to chant:
‘G-r-a-s-s does not grow on concrete!’