Thursday, July 24, 2008

Biscuits and Bangs

Monday is pretty routine. Mango, tea, toast, crazy ride to work, editing chapter one, lunch with Amar, editing chapter one, crazy ride home.

When I get home, I decide to walk to the market to see if I can find some tape to hang up the letter and homemade crossword puzzle my husband sent me. I also figure I might get a little snack while I’m there; maybe get some change for my 500 and 1000 rupee notes.

On the way to the market I meet the little brown dogs I talked to yesterday. They wag their tails again and let me pet them. I decide if they’re there on the way home, I’ll share my snack with them. The things I’m doing to make friends in India. It’s so unsightly.

When I get to the market, I happen upon an illuminated sign that says, “Verma’s Beauty Parlor * Ladies and Gents * Beautiful Hair Needs an Expert.”

Buoyed by my good experience with the pedicure the day before, I decide I’ll check out Verma’s. My bangs are so long they’ve been driving me crazy. I’d run out of time before leaving town to get them taken care of. I walk up a staircase and see a row full of men standing behind chairs. This is the gent’s floor. They point me up another set of narrow stairs to the ladies’ floor. I wonder why gender matters so much in this salon—it didn’t in the other salon I visited. Here it’s like women’s and men’s bathrooms. Totally separate. “Hair cut?” I ask the man in the red polo shirt behind the counter on the second floor, holding my long bangs out in front of me.

“Yes,” he says. “80 rupees” (about two dollars). He points me back toward the narrow winding staircase. The ladies’ floor is one more flight up.

I didn’t think there were this many stories in the building I’m in. I finally find the ladies’ haircut section. All the “experts” on this floor are female.

“Just front or whole?” the woman in the red polo shirt asks me. I think I’d better just go with the bangs at the off chance that some real butchery is about to ensue. Bangs can grow out pretty quickly when they have to.

“Just front,” I say, holding out my long, long bangs for a second time.

She sits me down in her chair, spritzes my hair with water, combs it, picks up a pair of scissors and performs one giant chop straight across the top. Three inches of finely tapered hair falls away. It feels more like an amputation than a hair cut. My remaining hair falls back across my forehead like a straight curtain over a proscenium stage. I think I gave myself a look like this when I decided to cut my own hair in second grade. I wish I had just bought a pair of scissors for the two dollars I will spend here.

“Good?” she asks. She wants to know if she should cut them shorter.

“Yes. I mean no! Good. Acha,” I hold out my hand making a stop-in-the-name-of-love kind of motion.

She has to stick the handle of her comb into the outlet to get her hair dryer to work. Even then, the plug keeps falling out of the wall causing her to repeat the comb-in-the-socket process. I’m getting the idea that Verma’s is not the fine, fine salon I was hoping for. Still, it’s nice to have a functioning blow dryer pointed at my head, even if it’s only for short bursts. The hair dryer I brought from home is too powerful for the adapter, so I have to use it on low. Even then, it doesn’t work right. It feels and sounds like I’m pointing a house fly at my head, the current is so weak.

A shorn lamb stares back at me from the mirror. “Baaaad haircut,” it mockingly bleats at me. Oh well, I think. At least my hair won’t be hanging in my eyes. At least I just went for the bangs. Imagine what might have happened had I turned this woman loose on my whole head. Looking at my desecrated bangs I realize what a masterpiece the rest of my haircut really is. I have really fine hair that is hard to work with, and the angles at which it’s cut and tapered are impressive and pretty. And then there are my BANGS. I smile, give the woman a 20 rupee tip and walk out into the humid night air. I realize Verma is right: beautiful hair does need an expert. Sadly, my expert is 7,000 miles away.

I decide to try to cross the busy street at the opposite end of the Defence Colony Market and check out a shop on the other side. This is another big step for me, much like taking my first solo auto-rickshaw ride. The shop across the way looks like a grocery store, and I wonder if they have a wider selection than “The Big Apple” on my side of the road. The grass is always greener, I suppose. I haven’t yet learned my lesson from Jaws.

I wade through traffic in the shadow of a local, letting him do the legwork for me. It’s not so bad getting across. The shop across the road is a little larger than The Big Apple, but they still don’t have water in anything larger than a litre bottle, which is what I was hoping to find. Oh well. I select a Diet Pepsi and a pack of British McVittie’s digestive biscuits. Still dealing with Delhi belly, I figure:

1. British food is the blandest in the world, and
2. If they’re called “digestive biscuits” they can’t be that hard to digest.

There is an actual cash register at this store, which is something of a rarity. My bill comes to a little over 150 rupees. I hand over a 500 rupee bill. “No. Change, madam.” The clerk shakes his head at me.

I have two hundred rupees in my wallet, but I need to save it for giving tips to Sonu during the week. I can’t ask for change from Sonu.

This guy has a whole cash register drawer full of change and he won’t break my freaking 500 rupee bill?

I could probably argue with him, but I just shake my head, exasperated, and hand over my hundred rupee notes. Jerk.

Outside I follow another local across the street, then open up the package of biscuits while I’m walking. I take a bite—or try to take a bite. They’re hard—something you could crack a tooth on. I think, maybe you have to dip these in tea to make them edible.

Back at the corner with the cracked pottery (that’s how I find the street back to my house), I find my doggie friends and offer them each a biscuit. They take the biscuits tentatively into their mouths then let them drop onto the ground. Starving, mongrel, wild, Indian dogs won’t eat these biscuits—and I really can’t blame them. They’re just that awful.

I think maybe these dogs are strict carnivores—you know, they’re sort of there to balance out all the vegetarian karma going on around them. Still, I thought they’d be hungry and wouldn’t care what it was they were offered. I guess even stray dogs have to have some standards—and McVittie’s digestive biscuits must be where even they draw the line.

Back at home, I check out my hair a little more closely and make some faces at myself in the mirror—faces I would have liked to made at Verma’s expert tonight. It’s just too bad I couldn’t meet the Prime Minister with my former, more skillfully cut bangs. Now he’ll never know the true glory of my haircut. He’ll only know me as Bad Haircut Vicki. “Ooo, who was that girl with those straight, bad bangs?” he’ll ask his trusted advisor. “That was Bad Haircut Vicki,” his advisor will tell him after consulting the list of invitees.

I flip on the BBC World News and gnaw on a few biscuits before getting ready for bed. I run my fingers through my newest souvenir: my messed up bangs.


Kathryn Jane d/b/a Kit Kat said...

I LOVE McVitties biscuits!! The ones you got must have been stale because they aren't supposed to be hard. I can't believe even the dogs wouldn't eat them!

I am SO sorry about your bangs! What a nightmare. Maybe the markets have some hats :)

Me said...

Is there any way to taper the ends with some fingernail scissors? I do that sometimes, just hold them straight down between my fingers sorta like the hairstylist does then snip at them with the scissors pointed straight up. If they're that short, it probably won't matter, but I had to try to suggest something.

I'm off to run a gagillion errands. . . . I'd rather be riding an elephant.