I had my first haircut when I was fifteen days old. After that, my mom was my hairdresser until I was about ten years old. Man, did I need those cuts regularly! Thick, unruly hair needed maintenance - hair that had a penchant of getting food in them [And chewing gum once - a lot of hair had to be cut to get the gum out]. And Amma did the necessary work.
Somewhere down the line, my hair seemed to have become a toy. There is a popular family story of how two of my aunts started cutting my hair, one from each end. When their scissors met, they saw that the right side was longer. So they set out to make amends, and they found that now the left side was longer. It went on, and by the time they were finished with me, I had an army cut.
Then I reached the stage where I was no longer satisfied with just hair trimmings and I started demanding hairstyles. Amma had to give up - she sent me to a nearby beauty parlour. It wasn't really that clean, and Amma despaired - and as if in answer to her prayers, a new parlour opened closer home - and it was perfect. Clean, professional, friendly. There was no looking back. That friendly neighbourhood parlour (FNP) cut my hair for the next decade.
There was never any question of growing my hair. I tried once, and gave up, declaring that either I pass exams or I maintain long hair - I couldn't do both.
When I moved out of Bangalore for my post-grad, I came home often enough to get my haircut at the FNP. Even when we moved to a different area, FNP was close enough to visit whenever the need arose.
The problem started when I moved to Mumbai on work. Not that there was a dearth of parlours - they were a dime a dozen. I counted 15 of them within a 500 m radius of where I lived. All I had to do was find one to my liking.
That's when I would do my Reconnaisance. I would go to a parlour, and look around while I pretended to ask some questions. "What are your timings?" "Are you open on Sundays?" or just something like "How much do you charge for a pedicure?" While I asked questions, I would look around carefully - Are the hairdressers well-groomed? Do the brushes look clean? Are the mirrors scrubbed? Is the floor clean? Does the place smell fresh? Are the people friendly? How do the customers look?
And then I would make my decision - "I just stopped to enquire , I will come by this weekend" and escape, or stay on and get my haircut.
Of course, friendly hairdressers and a clean place do not ensure quality work. But it is just a start. I zeroed in upon a suitable parlour and one haircut went beautifully. For the second one, I told the hairdresser that I wanted it cut shorter than usual this time, because the summer was too hot. I don't know what she understood - she left me looking like Priyanka Gandhi. I like her hairstyle, but not on me! I didn't dare go back.
I started my Reconnaisance again and went to another parlour - further off, but very professional. The no-nonsense assistants were in uniforms, and were very good at their work. I liked the proprietress too, except that she asked me every time, "Are you a Catholic? No? I was quite certain you were." She also loved to thrust a colour catalog in my hand each time, and advise me, "You should really get your hair streaked, you know - it will suit you very well."
It was then time to come back to Bangalore, and then I got married and moved to S~'s home. It is in a locality with many good parlours, so I had no problem deciding on one. The problem arose again when Puttachi was born and I was in my mom's house. I couldn't leave home for too long, FNP was too far off, and there were no good parlours close by. I had a visiting beautician come home once, but she was horrendous at keeping time, and so I didn't call her again.
And then I saw a flyer in the postbox about a new "state-of-the-art" herbal parlour in the next road. I gave the parlour a month's time and then went for my Reconnaisance. A not-very-clean-looking girl was standing outside the not-very-clean garage-parlour. She saw me and said, "Please come in, I will call madam." "Not now", I said hurriedly, "I just came to ask you what time you are usually free, I have to leave my baby and come, you see..can't wait too long for my turn...."
"Oh come annnnytime madam, we are alwayyyys free!" she said chirpily. Poor, innocent, inexperienced girl. Wonder what her Madam would have had to say to that!
I convinced myself that a Mowgli look was cool, until Puttachi was slightly older and I could run to the comfort of FNP.
And now? Now I see Puttachi with the same kind of hair as I have, and I look at her and sigh - history is going to repeat itself...... but much sooner. I bet kids of these days are not the kind that will quietly accept an inexperienced mom's hair trimming for long. How long? That remains to be seen.