Being a kid of the eighties, the boy too had had his share of being pushed and shoved into the mainstream of academia. The elders tried to convince him into believing that he was destined to be a great engineer or maths professor. His biggest mistake was defeating a drunken uncle in a game of chess when he was five. He was from a lineage that was symmetrically divided by the ‘chess leads to IIT’ and ‘you can be popular among your friends by being an expert in Robindro Shongeet’ schools of thought. A big city away from home was the only escape. And he escaped. Although deep down inside, he hoped for greatness – so what if chess was the only indication?
It had been almost a year now that the boy had started to think for some reason he was “creative”. Not that he had ‘created’ anything so far, but he felt it was more like something that was always at the brink, sort of like global warming (?). A lot of time in the last four years was spent in the ‘big city’ just hanging around not-so-happening places, alone, where he just stood and stared at people, cigarette shops, dogs chasing cars that were chasing women, walls with no graffiti, etc. His stares were blank – his head created stories instead of observing the actual ones unfolding right there. You can’t say he missed a lot of trains; he was just one of those who were fascinated by the station. He’d rather walk.
Having walked a lot, now he knew what he wanted in life. And at the top of that ‘want’ list, was a break from all of this. Mind you, besides getting a useless degree, he hadn’t done anything in the big city. As I write about the boy, even I’m wondering – from what exactly does he want a break? He just wanted to go home. Just for a little while. Now that he thought he knew how to create stories from a spoon or a table fan, he tried to connect with everyone and looked for beauty in everything. And home was beautiful, I’ll at least agree with him on that. At times I feel he was too romantic, not in a Romeo, but Jesus way. So his luggage home consisted of a guitar, a notebook and some pens.
Home was just as he expected. The weather was good, but the city was changing. Inside his head, he felt like a homecoming king. Or like the changed and reformed cyborg in the second Terminator movie. He actually had a shrink to patient conversation with the auto-rickshaw driver on his way home. His folks had shifted to a new flat, and our boy missed his old place a lot. So much so that during the first few days of his ‘break’, he used to take a bus to the old place and smoke a gold flake cigarette every other evening right outside his erstwhile kingdom. One such evening, after having one of the best idle conversations he had had in many months with ... someone, he decided to get a taste of his old life. He walked into Ganesh Saloon* – the place where he used to get a haircut every other month since the mid-nineties. He was high on life and decided that he needed a haircut. Go figure.
Still maintaining his prom king like walk, he walked in and produced an extended director’s cut ivory smile to the barbers. They smiled back. This was his cue to announce to everyone in the town that he was back.
Boy – Don’t you recognize me after all these years? It must be the beard, right?
Barber - Arrey Saahab, aap? After all these years? I’m so happy to see you. Please take a seat. Will be with you in a minute.
Our boy smiles that whole entire minute. A mixture of pride and nostalgia mixed with a pinch of hope that the world is still a happy place. He adjusts himself on the hot seat when his turn comes and the good ‘ol barber asks him how short he wants his hair to be cut. The boy, still as romantic as that French skunk from the Bugs Bunny Show, opens up to the barber and tells him he doesn’t care how short the barber chops it, he showed up because he missed Ganesh Saloon and the people that worked here. So the trimming and the snipping commences along with our boy telling the barber stories about big city barbers and how they do not ‘connect’ with their customers, while charging them around eighty bucks for a cut that’s probably worth twenty. And other anecdotes continue, till our boy dozes off like a baby in its mother’s arms.
Ten minutes later he wakes up to find that his month long effort of growing a pseudo-intellectual beard goes down the drain. His new style resembles some Italian magician sporting a French beard. He could have hoped to carry off the look or hide in his room for a week, but with the military length hair even that plan seemed futile. Without saying a word he gets up and places a hundred rupee note in the ever-so-smiling barber’s hand, expecting at least seventy-five back as change. The barber asks our tragic hero – “Ekdum looking like foreign, no?” and returns a twenty rupee note.
Our boy comes home and doesn’t really know how to deal with getting ripped off and looking like a European paedophile. So he books a ticket back to the big city.
*most of the other saloons have turned into “Salons”.