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The best a man can get

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011
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As an autonome of sorts, I sometimes miss being pampered. Or, at the risk of sounding like a Britisher who defends the miserly quota of sunshine allocated to him in the Isles with a righteous “it’s no fun if the sun’s always on”, I’d concur that familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration. I know I love my dalbhat when I’m home.

The joys of shaving make for a double-edged sword; it can be a real drag, all puns intended. Whatever Gillette tells you, being obliged to daily wield a sharp implement to scrape my face off is, in my book, not the best a man can get. Not being so obliged, my solution has been to not bother, at least not with the full monty, and certainly not every day. Besides, whatever metrosexology says, women still like a bit of rough, right?

The long and short of it is that I rarely shave. A visit to the barber’s is rarer still. But until you’ve been down the local, I don’t care how many blades your battery-operated vibrating, polychromatic Gillette has, you don’t know what a smooth shave really is.

Shyam Sundar Thakur of the eponymous Kupondole saloon welcomes me with a smile, and offers me a newspaper and a stool. How can I possibly abscond to the next shearer? I wait. After my standard hairdo – Bhuwan KC? Nima Rumba? More “machine le char number” – the barber eases my head back onto a padded rest, then spends a good five minutes lathering me until I look like I’ve been transported a million years into the future. But I’m more focused on the present, including the broken-hearted wailing emanating from the radio in front of me, and the certificate on the wall that announces this Thakur collective’s membership in a union of barbers with vaguely threatening logos (I’d rather have Barbers with Blades on my side, thanks).

An obligatory change of blade (remember those dodgy days you were never quite sure?), and off he goes, clearing the undergrowth for my chin to take shape once more, an inch at a time. It’s soothing; as much as I enjoy being beardy and writerly, it’s nice to imagine one could be working in a bank right now, smooth-faced and calculating (it’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m at the barber’s, but it’s the thought that counts). Inch by inch, a new face, a new down (sic). Like getting your shoes polished, getting shaved by someone else – by a professional – is a simple pleasure, and somehow one that one can’t wax too lyrical about without seeming ridiculous.

Once done, Shyam Sundar wipes my face carefully, and here comes the first of the stingers – he runs a translucent, perfumed Potash Alum rock over my face, moistening my pores and rounding off the razor’s edges (even as I wonder how safe this particular pass-the-parcel actually is). Then a bit of pinkish cream, and since I wave off the second round of shaving – I’m already balder than I have been for months, and I like to begin sprouting again within a day or two – he sprinkles me liberally with a powerful turquoise conconction. Wunderbar! The complete man.

“Hm, I look different, eh?”

“Five years younger!”

Naturally, then, though he asks for less than the going rate, I give him more. I know it’ll be months before I return, but such are the joys of life, I reflect, as I return to my flat. Less is sometimes more.

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