Dinesh Nettar , graudated with an MSc in Chemistry in 1972. He stayed for 2 years in Mandakini hostel. After his MSc, he stayed on to do his PhD from IIT Madras. He was the Literary Secretary of Krishna Hostel for a short period, but took over as General Secretary during the famous 1973 Mess Strike. Here he recounts some of his memories.

Every man has to endure the torture of getting a haircut once a month.  I know that you are itching to challenge me on every word in that sentence.  I know every one of your objections.  Let me go over them and tear them apart, here and right now.

You are thinking , ‘Not every man has to have a haircut, what about the baldies?’  I know that there are bald men, and you think they don’t need a haircut.  They still go through the ritual every month, and complain the loudest.  “How can you charge that gorilla there the same as you charge me?  You took all of three minutes for cutting the eight hairs I have, while that guy lost ten pounds of body weight?”  Doesn’t work.  It is the same charge for every man.  One man, one vote, one haircut, one price.

So, you are not a man?  And you want to let me know that women get haircuts too? And you want to scream at me because you have to pay that exorbitant $40 for just a trim, while the men get a crewcut for only $14?  Lady, first of all, ladies don’t get a haircut; they get their hair done, styled, permed, twisted, turned, trimmed, tangled, whatever.  But they never get a haircut.  That inelegant word is reserved for men.  You pay the price of the word you choose, not of the substance of what you receive.  Caviar: $50, fish eggs: 50cents.  Let us be fair, women go for their hair job to make them look attractive to men, and to make other women jealous.  Men get a haircut because they are forced to.

Which is why I call it a torture.  I didn’t say “tonsure”, even though that is an appropriate word sometimes.  That may look like a way of saving money, but when you add the price of a baseball cap to hide your shiny globe, you are worse off.   Perhaps it is a pleasure for you.  But you sit motionless in a chair for eternity, choked out of your breath with an apron, while a stranger twists your neck left and right, yanks it backward and forward, pulls your hair with a pair of blunt scissors, and makes deep cuts in your skin with an electric clipper. That fits perfectly in my definition of ‘torture’.  You have to listen to the political commentary, football advice, and town gossip without protesting no matter how much you disagree.  What happened to the constitutional rights of those who get haircuts?

Do we really need a haircut every month?  Try to grow the hair for two months. If you are not married, and have a girlfriend or fiancé, she starts asking you if you still love her.  If you are single, and are still going through the “Personal Connections” column every Sunday, your colleagues advise you that looking like a monk is not a way to win the heart of  SXF.  If you are married, you have a serious dilemma – let the hair grow, and give her something to grab, or cut it short, and there is less of a shock absorber above.  So, you have to play it safe both ways.  Once a month is right for every man.

Where do men go for a haircut?  The answer varies very widely.  In America, you have many choices.  You could go to a traditional barbershop with its spinning blue and white wheel, where you can shed your head growth to brute force.  Or you can go to one of those all women places and wait till you are called.  You try to read the magazines, but they are all so morally correct, they seem to have needed approval by the Pope.  You get your hair shampooed, ego pampered with praise about your nut, and return poorer by twice as much as it says on the big sign outside.

Where I grew up, our choices were different.  Since no woman, decent or otherwise, would stoop to the ungodly, unearthly task of cutting a man’s hair, you had to go to an all-male place.  It was generally on a Sunday morning, and you wait for at least an hour.  You try to ignore all the gossip, and read the magazines around for the umpteenth time.  When your turn comes, you are nervous.  How many cuts above the ear, how many nicks on your neck, you fear.  Sitting on the big chair with your arms caught under the faded white sheet, and neck squeezed by the tight knot, you are a helpless target.  You can’t sneeze when his sharp razor is sliding down your cheek; you can’t even scratch your nose.  You try to keep your eyes closed to prevent hair falling in, and try to fall asleep.  Just then, he yanks your head up for another pull with the ‘machine.’  All this in full view of your classmates, neighbors, teachers, and relatives, who may happen to be walking by!

If you could afford it, you could go to an (h)air-conditioned place to escape the heat.  It was cool, but the air smelled of the same sprays and chemicals, and the air-conditioner made a terrible noise that gave you headache.  When you realized that you had to contribute towards the air-conditioning, the barber’s uniform, the glitzy magazines, the lighting, and all those chemicals, you knew that you had to skip the idea of watching those three movies you so desperately wanted to see.

In my uncle’s place in the village, it was a primitive affair.  The barber came once a month.  Every boy and man in the house stripped to the bare minimum of clothes, sat on a wooden stool on the far side of the yard.  It was about the only time you bent your head before a person of lower caste.  When he was done, you were an untouchable.  You took the outermost path to the bathroom, let your mother or aunt pour hot water on you, and scrubbed yourself with the soap nut powder until you shed your outer skin.  No whining about the razor wounds.  But at least, it wasn’t only men.  The unfortunate widows got their monthly tonsure too, since they weren’t allowed to keep their hair.

At Sri Venkateswara Temple in Tirumala, devotees offer their hair to God for religious reasons.  For the barber though, it is a livelihood, not religion.  Legions of barbers sit in rows and shave the heads of humble devotees (bribe him if you want a sharp razor).  It is heartbreaking to see women with long, shiny, black hair going in, and coming out clean-shaven, not even covering their heads.

In the first place I lived in America, there was a lady who gave haircuts in her house.  It was very strange to me that a lady would cut hair, that too in her house.  She charged very little, just about two dollars or so, but took a full hour to find every single hair and cut it to the right length.  She loved to chat and smoke incessantly.  I didn’t go to her place a second time.  The downtown barber charged five dollars, but he didn’t smoke and didn’t have any gossip to enlighten me.

In recent years, the barbers have all disappeared.  Their profession has been overrun by hordes of females working for some franchise or other with catchy names like Snippers ‘R Us,  Hair Smart, and Cutey Cuts.  At some places, you have to have an appointment, and register yourself to become a victim of junk mail.  Half the women speak Spanish, fortunately to the other women, instead of you.

From Left to right: K V Reddy, Dinesh Nettar, Shobha Sharma

“How do you want your hair cut?” asks Maria (they are all called Maria or Ana, no other name) very coyly.

This question makes no sense to me.  Does the auto mechanic ask me, “How would you like your car repaired?”

I try to ignore the complexity implied.  “Just a regular cut,” I answer.   To me it is like regular gas, or the Sunday newspaper.  Nothing to choose from.

“Do you want it short, or long?”

What do I want short or long?  If I say “short” is she going to make the cut short, and leave the hair long, or do I get a long cut leaving me with short hair?  There is no time to be Hamlet, and I have to answer; so I answer a different question.

“Make it short,” I reply, emphasizing the ‘Make’.

“One inch, one and a half inch?” she drags the question, giving me other numbers to pick from.

My science background screams inside me, “Can we talk MKS units?  Do you mean 0.02 m, 0.04 m?”  I don’t know how much what one-inch means.  I am not used to holding a ruler dipping into my head like I measure the depth of snow after a snowfall.

She notices my silence.  She picks up some hair between her fingers and shows me in the mirror, “Like this?”

I still don’t get it, because I don’t know if she is going to cut above or below her middle finger.  I don’t want to look like a new army recruit, but I also don’t want to look like a hippie.  More than anything else, I don’t want this interrogation to go on.

“Yes, yes, like that.”

“Trim above the ears, here, little bit around?”  Arrgghh, if only I didn’t have so many choices!  I nod.

That does it.  She even proves at the end that she did what I asked for, by showing me in the mirror.  But I have forgotten what I said, so I approve.

When I was in college, to avoid the battle with the barber, some of us bought a ‘trimmer’.  It was basically a handle into which you inserted a used razor blade and plucked at your hair.  If girls did it, they would probably ask each other, like they plait their long hair.  But boys have to have independence and individuality in being imbeciles.  We all did it in the privacy of our rooms.  When it looked like some rodent had chewed on our hair at night, even the most stoic amongst us couldn’t take it, and went to the barbershop.  The barber had already seen other patients like us; so he rebuked us for buying that useless device (and threatening his income), and charged double for straightening the mess and leaving us bald.  Punishment for our misadventure!

This probably explains why great men like Albert Einstein, Galileo, Jesus Christ, and Moses have long hair and beards.  Indian sages too had long hair.  Even God Krishna had long hair (one of his names is Keshava, the one with the hair).  All those orthodox Muslims, Jews, and people of the entire Sikh religion stay away from the barber.  The only notable exceptions are the wise ones like Buddha, and the Jina.