The setting is always the same. He walks into Pushpa Saloon and the owner welcomes him with a smile, teeth gleaming, multiple gold chains flashing across his ever white, starched shirt, old 60s-70s hits Tamil playing through the radio while scissors flash furiously across the saloon.
It has been the same tableau right from when he was 8. Every 1st Sunday of every 2nd month, he would be marched into the saloon to await his turn along with all other kids. The owner would warmly greet him with a smile, put him at ease and ensure that he had to wait his turn ignoring all the impatience that an 8 year old who would rather be anywhere else, would display. When his turn would come, it would a simple hair cut, hair cut just enough that he would be brought back again in 2 months.
It was a simple saloon save for one factor. It was among the first saloons in Madras (then) to have air-conditioning and that justified the 2 rupee premium that the owner charged. A/C in those days of the early 90s was indeed a novelty and a luxury and spoke of the business mentality that the owner possessed. Apart from the saloon, he also scouted as a real estate broker, holding court in his saloon with other older men discussing the same or fielding calls on his telephone about the real estate. He was, in short, a small king of a small kingdom.
Time rolled by quickly. Madras became Chennai, India had opened up to new fashion and new way of living as the new millennium crept up closer, he grew up rapidly, entering into the rebellious teen phase, but some things still remained constant. He used to go the same place for his haircut, the owner welcoming him with a smile, teeth gleaming, the change being that now a haircut cost 25 and the owner had now upgraded his welcome to a “Vaaanga Thambi” (Welcome, younger brother) from the earlier “Vaa Paa” (Come, Boy). 3 chairs in the saloon had become 4, new barbers (they were still called barbers then) had replaced the old ones but the owner took it all in his stride, often lending a hand when needed. Neither knew each others name, to the owner, he was just another customer and for him, he was the saloon owner.
Soon, he moved to a different city for his college education and stayed in a hostel, making periodic visits back home. Being in a hostel, away from home, his rebellious tendencies increased and that extended to letting his hair grow wildly. However, whenever he used to visit home, in order to gain entry, he had to get his hair cut and he used to go to Pushpa saloon, be welcomed by the owner flashing the same smile. It became a ritual, though the rate steadily went up
Now, at the point in his life, when he can afford to go to swanky hair dressers, there is still this reluctance to shift away from Pushpa Saloon. He remembers the last time he was there at the saloon, where he was explaining to the owner he did not fancy paying anything more than Rs. 50 for a haircut and was promptly charged Rs. 60 for the haircut, which the owner attributed to inflation.
He walks into the saloon, the owner looks at him with the same smile, white teeth gleaming, gold chains flashing across the white shirt, this time though from a photograph