Think of birds being led to their death, crammed into coops or hung upside down on bicycle handlebars, wings flapping incessantly, feathers drifting off to lie on the dust and be crushed under an assortment of wheels.
Leaving out the exaggeration, walking to the beauty parlour, for me, is an act that requires a great deal of courage. Most of my few trips to these unearthly places have been as a source of moral support (?) or in the role of a nonchalant yes-woman to friends. In my short career as a beauty-confidante (for lack of another term), I have offended girls by not knowing that they'd gone and got their hair cut even after they carefully unravelled it and pointed the new shape out to me. Finally suspicious of my judgement when I was stupid enough not to tell a straight eyebrow from a curved one, they decided to leave me alone to loiter through dusty lanes and malls while they pampered themselves in claustrophobic rooms that smelled of sulphur and shampoo, and where the air-conditioner was almost always turned off.
Beauty parlours lack variety and scope for imagination. The shelves are invariably lined with containers of various shapes and sizes and nailpolish bottles in bizarre colours. The tables are littered with fashion/women's magazines, pouting women with outlandish hair-dos and half-closed eyes revealing coloured contact lenses looking lazily out of the glossy pages. They wear clothes that you wonder how they managed to get themselves into- were they sewn into them?
An overdressed, highly made-up woman sits at the reception, points at a brochure and asks you to choose the style you want- even if you were convinced ten minutes ago that you never could be a Gisele Bundchen, some smooth talking would turn you around with the alacrity of a suave politician. You go in to get your hair trimmed, your pimples and blackheads will be scrutinised, your feet will be commented upon, and your self-esteem will be torn into nice little shreds. Dignity, mercifully, can be bought, and you will lay your wallet down on the counter- take all you want, and give me my pride in return. How can I go about with a face pitted and cratered like the moon, the curse of puberty? Guiding angel, I've been walking around for years without knowing how ugly I looked- but for you, I'd have lived in horrifying ignorance.
So, this afternoon, when I left my hair at the mercy of the lady at the beauty parlour, my heart was in my mouth.
"What shape do you want me to cut it in?"
"What will keep the length intact and still make my hair look good?"- because, at that point, my hair rather resembled an unkempt jungle.
"I'll give you a U-cut." And that was that- a quick decision. It wasn't going to be such a big ordeal, after all; certainly not as bad as going to the dentist. I wouldn't have any fringes and layers in my hair- it would still be fit to tie back in a ponytail. If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is hair flitting around in my eyes. For what joy do people have strands cut so short that they keep falling across the forehead and into the eye at inconvenient moments, only to keep pushing them back with a manicured forefinger? Oh. That must be it.
I eased myself into the large chair trusting her implicitly, my hands clasped under the big black apron, my hair never having looked as glossy, luxuriant, and make-Rapunzel-jealous-worthy as it did at that very moment, cascading down in thick waves ( a hyperactive imagination might have helped- even so). I barely stopped myself from jumping out of the chair and tearing off the apron- I thought of Jo March who had sold her hair to the wigmakers' so that her mother could have money for her father wounded in war. I didn't have any such noble intentions in mind, of course, as vanity stepped into the fray at the right moment. I began to enumerate the advantages of easy-to-manage, slightly shorter hair, even as the scissors began to snip in quiet, sinister swishes, hair dropping softly to the ground (which I imagined I heard). I dreaded having to get up and look at my only vanity strewn on the floor- I could have howled at the sight of it when I finally got off the chair. What kept the floodgates in control was my friend's encouraging smile; I had dragged her down to negotiate with the ladies at the beauty parlour who might, in a fit of perversity, have wanted to brutally chop my hair off and reduce it to a scarecrow's mop.
I still don't know clearly why I wanted my hair cut- it now looks frighteningly cared-for and orderly, has lost the unkempt attractiveness of wild growth (even if I'm the only person who thinks so), and doesn't touch the floor when I lie down on the couch. Considering that it grows reasonably fast and that wild horses will not drag me into a beauty parlour for another year at the least, I am reconciling myself to it.