Today I had my best haircut ever. I go to a saloon called 'Air-Cool' next to Churchgate railway station, south Bombay. In my life up till now, this is my third regular saloon. My last saloon was Precious Hairdressers at Kemp's Corner. But for the past two to three years I have been frequenting Air-Cool. Precious was good, not great. Barbers were inconsistent and they were not particularly clean and well-dressed. The place was, at many time and especially on Sundays, over-crowded. Sometimes, I had to wait till eternity for my chance to come. Barbers there used to take far too many tea breaks, they chat with one another even when cutting our hair as also keep sipping tea. The place is expensively done up, but gives you the feeling that it wants to look rich, but really isn't quite rich. I like to go to saloons that are well-maintained and the service should be nice, warm, friendly and the place should look clean and inviting, despite being a barber shop. Precious was expensive, but not classy.
Air-Cool, on the other hand, is a cut above the rest. The place resembles like a factory line; two long rows of customers seated in chairs and barbers clipping away their scissors like in a perfectly choreographed motion, without looking here or there and wasting much time. The place always has lots of customers so chairs are seldom empty. Time is of essence there, so jobs are done on time and even on a crowded day, your turn comes quickly, comparatively. All barbers wear neat and sparkling white uniforms and look and sound polished.
So what was special about today's haircut? One of things good at Air-Cool is the high standards they maintain. Unlike other saloons where you have favourites because some give you a nice haircut and some always give you a so-so to bad haircut, at Air-Cool, all barbers are well-trained. So there's very little to differentiate one barber from another; whoever cuts your hair on any day, you can be 99% sure you'll leave the place satisfied. There is just one barber there who has not satisfied me up till now.
Today's barber, though, turned out to be the best. I am a cleanliness freak, so I was quite impressed when, for the first tine, he dipped all the equipments, including combs and scissors in a glass of dettol and then wiped them nicely. Then, like few barbers, he wet my hair at the outset and started his job with scissors and combs, straightaway. This is a dying breed these days. if you have curly hair like I do, most of the times these days, barbers use an electric razor to chop the stubborn bunch of hair on the surface and then proceed with scissors when, frankly, they have already cut around 70 per cent of my hair. Not only do scissors do a better job than electrical equipments (provided of course the barber is skilled), but it also shows that the lazy lot go for the shortcut and resort to the razor.
So my barber went about his job, not once using the electric razor, clip clip clip to my right, then to my left, working on my side locks patiently like a potter carefully tending to his pottery, carefully combing my hair and then another round of clip, clip, clip all over. All this with good speed giving me the impression that he has been doing it for years. And he probably has been. Then, in the end, instead of just combing my hair, he held his razor (isstara) in the same hand as the comb, but slightly at the back, and then started to comb my hair. It was like a regular combing, but this technique, he told me, is to be used when you want to clip the unwanted and loose ends of each strand of hair, so that in the end all strands, if measured, should be of the same length. Those loose edges of your strands are done away with.
To top it all, he was not grumpy, unlike some others who have tended to my hair. I had read somewhere that you must always strike up a conversation with your barber because it adds to his morale and he feels more involved. I am not quite sure about this as i do not want to disturb him when he has scissors and razors in his hand, lest, GOD forbid they catch on to something else other than my hair! But I try and come up with something or other to talk about, like my most standards questions, "what are the timings of the saloon?" (despite going there for the past three years : ) ) "is your saloon open on Mondays?" (despite knowing that all saloons are closed on Mondays. Not for anything else, but to let them to know that I am awake and watching their moves and so they better do a good job with my hair. But then, this is Air-Cool. They always do a good job because they are professionals. By the way, I have not yet figured out why all saloons are closed on Mondays.
Anyways, all of the niceties at Air-Cool comes at a steep cost. A simple haircut costs Rs 70. When I first started to go there, the price was Rs 40. Plus, the tip. And since this is, you know, Air-Cool, Rs 2 to Rs 4 tip is not doable. There are standards. So its Rs 10 for me on an ordinary day and Rs 20 for an exceptionally job done. Today it was Rs 20, though i think Rs 30 was more like it. But I cannot imagine spending Rs 100 on my haircut, so I gave Rs 20. Though, at Air-Cool, a Rs 100 haircut does not seem to be far away.
By the way, the gentleman at the cashier never hands you the change. He always keeps the change in a small silver tray on his table and you have to collect your change from it. Talk about systems. And if you're wondering how to get hold of my favourite barber, ask for No 4 when at Air-Cool. All barbers there have a designated number. This way you can take appointments with them, in advance.
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