Like many others, I haven’t cut my hair since the lockdown, while it was very tempting to try cutting it at home, I resisted the urge, I told myself- what if they suddenly open the lockdown, you will have to step outside and you’ll have a disaster of a haircut, don’t risk it!
Fortunately, the state where I live allowed salons and barber shops to reopen, I wore a mask and armed myself with lots of sanitizer and bravely went for a haircut, I had read about various precautions I had to take and I went ahead. Anyone who has experienced an Indian summer will tell you how good it feels to cut your hair!
The next thirty minutes changed how I viewed life and the virus itself. My hair cut go to guy is Mark, he’s from the North East of India and moved to Bangalore many years ago, he and his wife pooled all their savings and started this salon a few years ago, ever since then I’ve only trusted him with my precious hair. His story is what I call the ‘Indian Dream’. He hails from a tiny hamlet, a beautiful place nestled in the Hills of the North- East but he wanted more, he wanted to get out his comfort zone and start an adventure, he then learnt the basics of haircutting and styling and soon moved to Bangalore, in the South of India. What makes this story more beautiful is that the language, culture and the conditions in a big city like Bangalore are very different than what it was like in his hometown, yet he worked hard, tried his best to learn a few words of the local language and he made friends- many friends and soon this became his home.
Like always he was happy to see me, he asked me how I was but then quickly told me not to enter the saloon, he then took out a temperature gun and quickly tested me, only then was I welcomed inside. He felt all too guilty about this, he told me “I wish I didn’t have to do that! Feels like I don’t trust you!” But I was okay with that, it made me feel safer. He was wearing a mask and so was I, lucky for me he couldn’t see my huge grin, how happy I was to be back, it felt good to behave normal again.
His wife takes care of the ladies’ section of the saloon, she too is very hardworking, she’s normally the one who has control over the music and she never lets me down in that department- Guns ‘n’ roses, Southern Gospel music, Green day, Bollywood, Bee Gees. Both of them have literally built this saloon, one brick at a time, they went from being the only employees to employing about 3 other people, their saloon is now a household name in my neighborhood, they are known to be honest and good people, the type of people who have made this country what it is.
I took my seat and the haircut started, normally I would have had to wait for a bit, their saloon would always have a wait time, I would normally pick up a random men’s magazine and browse through the pages and try to make sense of the articles. This time was different, I was the only one. As I sat down I remembered the day I once came for a haircut late in the evening, I was their last client that day, just as I was done, it started to rain outside, Mark offered me some tea and egg puffs from the bakery downstairs, he assured me that I could sit on the couch and wait till it became better, they anyway had to clean up the saloon. This time however the bakery was long closed, no tea, no rain, no egg puffs. Just me, my mask and a lot of sanitizer.
As he cut my hair, I asked him how he was doing, “I was okay for the first month of the lockdown sir, but things got hard after that, I don’t know how long we can survive with no customers coming in”. I was terrified at the prospect of his saloon closing down, but deep down I knew this could be reality sooner or later- things had to change.
At the point I had walked in, his saloon had been open for one day and six hours and I was his second client. The disparity was stark, he serviced nearly thirty clients a day normally, much more on the weekends, now it was a struggle to get just one.
I always took Mark’s haircuts for granted, never had it crossed my mind that a tiny virus could come in-between me and a haircut. His saloon was always full of laughter, he always made it a point to chat with his clients, he would ask me random questions in a quest to keep me engaged- What did you eat sir? Have you read the new Shashi Tharoor book? Sometimes he would invite me to his village- “You should come to my village one day sir, it’s beautiful! I will make sure you are served the best roast pork you have ever eaten!” And yet sometimes he would scold me-” Sir, you need to oil your hair more!” “Sir, don’t use so much shampoo!” But today there was a gloomy silence, he asked me just the basics- “What style do you want sir”.
He constantly sanitized his hands and made sure I was comfortable, he would normally offer some water but couldn’t due to the new protocol, It never occurred to me that a simple haircut would need so many extra fillings just to make sure it was safe! But I was happy to do everything he asked, I’m not going to deny that this virus is a dangerous one.
He was soon done and thanked me for coming, he then asked me if I could spread the word that his saloon was open again for business and they were taking all necessary measures. I waved to him and soon left.
I walked away from the saloon hoping that it would survive. This virus has done much more than just keeping people at home, it has destroyed millions of small scale neighborhood businesses across the world. I always feel happier when I spend my money at family run businesses because I know that my money is ensuring that a family stays happy, there’s always a more personal connection we have with small businesses than we will ever have with large ones.
As the world slowly reopens in the next few months, let us promise to visit and help out our neighborhood stores and businesses, they are the real community. People like Mark have never cheated or disrespected us, they’ve always given us honest and homely service. I know for a fact that I can go get a haircut at his place and tell him I forgot my wallet and I’ll be right back, I could never do this if it wasn’t for the personal connection we have. They’ve always been there for us, happy to help us whenever we have needed them and now it’s our turn to return this favor. Be kind to them, allow them to open up steadily, don’t get mad at them when they make small mistakes, recommend them to friends and family and together we can get out of this mess. Many of them have adapted- many offer home deliveries and contact-less delivery, they have tried to maintain the highest standards of safety and hygiene but don’t support them because of this, support them because they are our friends, they are people we wave to when we walk past, they are the very cornerstone of our country’s progress.