Saturday afternoon. Hari came back from office and announced that he would go for a haircut in the evening.
Bhawani said, ‘You too can accompany him and get your hair cut.’
‘No,’ I said, ‘It’s not due yet.’
She tried to reason out, 'Your last haircut was in India. You mean you’ll wait till end-October for the next?'
‘Bhawani, you know that once I am happy with a tailor or a brand of toiletry, I don’t like to try out a new one. Ditto with hairdressers. My haircut will be done by none other than our friendly neighborhood barber Babu in Trivandrum.’
‘You can’t speak Viet Namese. If you feel you need a haircut a month later, you’ll have to seek Hari’s help to take you to the saloon. Better go now,’ Bhawani again tried to persuade me.
I did a quick mental math: my last haircut was about a month before we left India. We had been in Vietnam for a fortnight and would not be back in India until after two months. Three months and a half would be too long a gap between two haircuts, I reckoned. I was not too sure I’d be able to last that long. Yet, I stuck to my guns and said, ‘No haircut for me in Viet Nam.’
Bhawani left it at that.
When Hari got ready in the evening for the visit to the hairdressers, I too jumped into the car. Let me see how the place looks like, I thought.
The car took us through broad streets, past the sports complex to Ngoc (pronounced ngop), a saloon. Hari parked the car and in we went.
There were over a dozen reclining chairs, all with soft upholstery. A third of them were unoccupied. Hari sat on one of them.
I surveyed the premises. One of the attendants was a young man, all the others being pretty young things (PYTs). They were all smartly attired in black trousers and lemon-yellow shirts with ruffles and frills instead of collars. The white aprons the PYTs sported while on the job bore the legend ‘Ngoc – The Professional Hairdressing Artists’. That surprised me because though the Viet Namese use the Roman script, hardly any of them speak, forget reading and writing, English.
Some of the clients were in near-horizontal position. Two of them were lying with their eyes closed, being subjected to facial. Three were being attended to by PYTs with tiny headlights beaming from their forehead. Curious, I looked closer, to find the 'artists' peering into the ears of their clients, long slender stainless steel instruments in their hand. They were cleaning the ears of the clients. (Later Hari told me that pedicure, manicure, shampooing, dyeing and massage are all provided in such outfits.)
I looked for a visitor’s chair or the area where clients would wait, but found none. Hari said, ‘You can sit on one of the vacant chairs. You need get up only if a customer comes and finds he has no free slot.’ I complied.
A little while later, one of the PYTs came to me and asked me something. Realising that what I said in reply would not matter (for, she would not understand me), I nodded. She switched on the trimmer and went about her job. In less than ten minutes, I was done. I looked at Hari's chair. Though he had started early, it was still in the work-in-progress stage.
My attendant returned, with the headlight and other gears and motioned me to another chair. I had no intentions of yielding to further ministrations by her and conveyed the idea to her by putting on my footwear and stepping out.
When we returned home, Bhawani was surprised that despite all my protestations, I really had had a haircut, after all. Before I could say anything in defence, Hari said, ‘When the PYT at the saloon proposed, Daja could not say ‘No’ to her!’
‘That is an old technique even the gods used to employ. Remember Devendra assigning the celestial dancer Menaka the duty of disrupting the penance of Vishwamitra?’
I am not sure if it was Radhika or Bhawani who said that. All I know is that the joke was at my expense.