The Art of Hair

Haircuts, when we were children, were a treat in themselves. As a girl, I watched my father’s hair being snipped and pipped many times. Over time, his bald pate emerged more and more, but our barber never seem to think any less of his job just because he had a balding pate to work with. We lived in a small schooling community, and sometimes the school barber, Velusamy, a sweet, gentle mannered man, stopped by when he was free.

Velusamy set himself up in the garden, fussing over his instruments which he lovingly stowed away in his steel case. He set the chair facing away from the direct rays of the sun, so his subjects need not squint into the sun as he worked his magic on them. He filled a bucket of water, and set his mug near it. He wiped his scissors and blew on his clippers. The wind rustled the trees around us, the bees buzzed, birds chirped, and the good barber trimmed. There was a ritualistic feel to the whole thing: clearly, Velusamy was a man who enjoyed his work. 

Once the setup was done to his satisfaction, he wrapped a cloth around his subjects and set about the task of shearing the sheep clean. The sheep sometimes snoozed in their chairs, and it was imperative to tell the man before hand how much to cut. For the gentle mannered man acquired a gleam when he picked up his tools. He ran his lawn mower over the heads at his mercy without any mercy. 


When he was happy with his task, he held up a rickety mirror, polished clean, at various angles for the subjects to inspect. Rarely were there any adjustments to be made. Sometimes, an involuntary yelp would be emitted seeing the amount of hair gone, but Velusamy would give one of his flattering smiles, and assure them that the hair would grow back. What was there to worry about? There wasn’t much to be said against such sterling good sense. He then cleaned up behind him. His rituals complete, he would accept the flowing gratitude from all in the family for coming all the way for a personalized haircut experience, and after a gentle chit-chat over a cup of tea, he left with a good-ish tip. The men of the house looked spruce and trimmed for days afterward. 

But there were times, when Velusamy’s services were scarce – especially during the school holidays. People attempt all sort of things after watching you-tube videos these days – we did the same after watching Velusamy a few times. You see over the years, my sister and I have rather prided ourselves on the haircuts we have given the little brother when Velusamy could not make it. We were happy for days afterward whenever we saw the little fellow, even though in some places, it looked like a rat had gnawed at his hair. 

Covid-19 has certainly given a lot of people renewed respect for a lot of professions. When barbers open up shop again, I am sure their clientele will flock back to them with gratitude in their eyes. Over video conference calls, there has been a steady rise in the length and density of hair. Seeing people over the past few weeks over Video cam, there came a time when most folks on the video calls seemed to encounter  an obstacle like poor Earl Emsworth did in Blandings Castle:

“Lord Emsworth passed a hand over his chin, to assist thought, and was vaguely annoyed by some obstacle that intruded itself in the path of his fingers. Concentrating his faculties, such as they were, on this obstacle, he discovered it to be his beard. It irritated him. Hitherto, in moments of stress, he had always derived comfort  from the feel of a clean shaven chin. He felt now, as if he were rubbing his hand over seaweed.”

When I read this a few days ago after a day spent trying to discern faces from the ‘seaweed’, I burst out laughing, and could not stop. The men in the family looked at me like I needed to have my head examined. I brushed the mane of my flowing hair, and said while my tresses never looked better, theirs needed some work. The husband leapt backwards clutching his mane, and I gave him a pitying look. Really! One would have thought we were unskilled at hair styling the way they shied away. 

So, I decided to play the trump card. “Oh please! We used to cut my brother’s hair sometimes when he was a kid, and he looked marvelous!” There was some mumbling at this, but I let it slide. 

On a video call with the brother a few  days later, I peered through the foliage and said to my son, “See this guy? Your maama – he was given a perfectly good haircut by me when he was your age. Look at him now.”  The brother mumbled that some scars ran deep, and hence his reluctance to have his haircut even now. I ignored this and said, “Some modest successes under my belt you know?” 

The brother beamed as he said, “I knew she would try to flaunt her success”. I  did not care much for how he unflatteringly put the word success in quotes thrown up in the air,  “But don’t let that sway you. You are better off having your head shaved off little fellow. She is lousy at it!”

I what-what-ed at this treachery. Really  – this brother of mine has a most inconvenient sense of  integrity. “Those haircuts were pure of heart and generous!” I cried stung.

The brother said “Oh! No one doubts your heart or your intentions  – both were as you so rightly say, pure. We are only  discussing results here.” he said and gave into a full throated chuckle that his nephew joined in with heartily. I huffed and I puffed, but the call seemed to have an impact  on the son. He seemed to think that his maama was a nice enough man even though he had endured haircuts from his mother in his youth, so how lasting could the damage be? Maybe it was okay to attempt after all. 

Quiet courage shows up in multiple ways – The men, to our pride, acquiesced to having their hair cut by the daughter and myself.

That is how you saw the men of the nourish-n-cherish household looking slightly uncomfortable as we spread garbage bags on the floor, and clucked away with our scissors. 


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