It may have just been in a corrugated sheet metal container somewhat off the beaten path in India, but the service was unbelievably good, with a haircut, head and neck massage thrown in, and a close-as-it-gets wet shave — with no razor burn! Never in my life had I experienced anything this good (but the opposite definitely…).
On a three-week tour of India’s Rajasthan province, logic will have it that an occasional shave is called for. A smooth shave seemed even more de rigueur, considering that we lodged in some grand maharaja palaces. It was either shave or grow a full beard. But the latter would take more time than we disposed of, so a tidy wet shave was the default move.
The coiffeur “salon”
While we were stalking the tiger in the rough terrain of Sawai Madhopur in southeast Rajasthan, we would see hair styling salons set in small corrugated metal boxes on stilts lined up randomly, not along the high street, but perched along the roadsides.
Hiking up my courage, I settle into the raised chair in the first box waiting for a customer, ready to let myself be cossetted.
So I thought at any rate; as it turns out, my barber does not command the King’s English. But he has a buddy who does and has no other duties apparently; in any event, he doesn’t touch a hair on my head. Only later does it dawn on me why he so accommodatingly just sits there doing his interpreter thing…
Be that as it may, I proceed to express with lots of gesticulating and in my broken Indian English that I would like my hair cut. And that a wet shave would also be cool. The interpreter catches my drift and lets the youthful barber in on what I’m after. Instantly he sets to work, snipping away at me in silent concentration.
Soon half the village has converged on our container. I suppose they have never before seen a grey-haired white guy get his stubble cropped.
Not your ordinary wet shave
And so, once my hair had been meticulously trimmed, I am lathered up. For quite a while. And one more time. And after a little bit of waving the razor in front of my nose, we get down to the nitty-gritty. To my surprise — not the least razor burn! Much different from what I had experienced with barbers at other times and in other places…
Having come through it all without a scratch — another surprise — a head and neck massage is administered! The barber’s hands are everywhere, simultaneously it seems: he’s too fast even for the camera…
The “price negotiation”
Stepping down from my high seat, satisfied with the insanely luxurious treatment, I ask how much for the sartorial wonder. Suddenly, everyone seems super embarrassed and there is quite a bit of hemming and hawing. I don’t understand and, a bit nonplussed now, ask for the price again.
Come on, there must be a charge for the service?
The interpreter suddenly clams up and just smiles sheepishly. And Figaro himself doesn’t even seem to get it when I wave my bankroll at him. There simply is no getting a price out of them…
Ok, so to put an end to it, I peel off about 2 dollars worth of the local currency and ask if that’s enough. I give the interpreter another two bits for his services. All heads now are nodding emphatically as the dough disappears instantly into their pockets. Since everybody seems to be happy, I saunter away satisfied, freshly shaved and with a new haircut.
Just to clarify…
Thinking about the scene later, it is still puzzling enough for me to ask our driver what’s the price of a haircut and shave hereabouts? He says, I would have to be prepared to pay around 20 cents or so for the works!
The light goes on: I know now why all those people suddenly converged on our coiffeur box! That’s why the interpreter had so much time to spend! And that’s why, after the haircut and shave, a massage topped it off! And now I know why they don’t want to name a price: it would embarrass them to demand an outrageously high sum…but if a tourist volunteers it and is happy to hand it over, then of course they’ll take it ;-)
As it turned out, that afternoon the box was shuttered. What with a week’s income already “in the till”?…
For guys who happen to be in the neighborhood:
“My” coiffeur salon is located on Ranthambore Road, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, India.
Highly recommended – unforgettable!