Since I began growing facial hair the idea of a receiving a straight-razor shave had a strange appeal to me. The trust required to let someone drag a razor blade across your neck in an attempt to get an impeccably close shave is an apparently appealing cocktail of danger, precision, and indulgence. And, since almost all Indian men come faultlessly clean shaven to work, I figured the barbershops were probably pretty good at it.
With 10 solid days of preparation (no shaving) I was prepared for my straight razor shave, and haircut. A colleague at work had made a recommendation for a barbershop only a few blocks from my flat. With instructions to find the barbershop by the Café Coffee Day (an Indian coffee franchise) on the main street, I quickly located the CCD - as Café Coffee Day is commonly referred to – on the corner of the street. Next to the CCD I saw a small barbershop, and two store fronts from the first barbershop, there was another barbershop, and on the end of the block another CCD, and, of course, with a barbershop directly next door. So, following Yogi Berra’s advice - “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – I walked in. I was met by three barbers; all ready to cut my hair and shave my face.
In a chaotic chorus all three barbers tossed out some variation of the word sit and pointed to their respective chairs. The youngest, in his early twenties, spoke English proficiently, but I quickly slid into an older barber’s chair. I figured in matters of straight-razors, experience trumps energy. I told Dushar, my barber, that I wanted my haircut and face shaven, and not to do it the other way around. The humor, along with all of the other instructions, was lost in translation so I simply pointed to what I wanted on a menu they had hanging by the door. In a last minute, I decided to indulge and included a head massage to my list of treatments.
The shave started with Dushar rubbing his oiled hands across my face and pushing my cheeks up and down. Life would be good as a dog. Then, for the next half an hour, I let Dushar do his work. When it came time for the head massage, Dushar leaned the chair back and promptly applied enough coconut oil to my hair to fry samosas for an entire restaurant. Once again, life would be good as a dog. After 10 minutes of doing his best to ensure that every drop of coconut oil had been soaked up by my hair and scalp Dushar stepped away. I opened my eyes prepared to pay and leave but Dushar was already on his way back over to my chair with a new metal instrument attached to his hand. The device had a soft black rubber front that covered the palm of his hand and was attached to what appeared to be a small motor that rest on the back of his hand. If not for Dushar’s potbelly and pastel button up, he would have come across as an intimidating cross between Sweeney Todd and Robocop. When Dushar plugged in the new device his hand began to shake and he went back to massaging my head and shoulders.
I quickly relaxed back into the chair. BZZZZZZZ. However it was decided that wet willies were unpleasant in the US. The opposite had happened in India, and Dushar had dutifully stuck his vibrating finger in my ear. I’m still not sure if I should pay him for sticking his finger in my ear or if he should pay me.
I tipped well for the experience. I figure goras (white guys) are easy to remember and when I go back again I’ll have the peace of mind knowing a man dragging a razor blade across my necks isn’t in a hurry.