Thursday, January 20, 2011

Short Back and Sides

One of the truly memorable moments of Dad's and my trip to India occurred on our second-last day, when Dad decided to go down to Johnson Market and visit his old barber.

Johnson Market was where we would shop for the majority of our groceries in Bangalore. Everything was almost as I had last seen it ten years ago ... almost as I had left it 30 years ago.

When the barber saw my Dad standing in the doorway of the tiny, two-partitioned room that was his shop, he left his customer in the chair and came out to shake hands vigourously. He was beaming and told Dad to wait for a few minutes and he would take him next. There was no one else on the waiting bench; but I had the feeling that even if there had been, it would not have mattered at all ...

The other man was whisked out in record time, a puff of talc on his face and neck, a touch of strongly scented pomade spritzed over the top of his already glossy black hair.

And the little man came out after his client, bowing and shaking Dad's hand all over again.

Old friends, these two; but first the serious business of what to do with Dad's head, which clearly had not benefitted from a straight razor in far too long. There was a little tut-tutting, some commentary on Dad's diminishing follicular capacity; an almost-clean towel was thrown around his shoulders; and the barber got to work.

Scissors darted around Dad's head like fireflies looking for somewhere to land. Every now and then one of the men would make a comment or ask a question of the other, but they were clearly both focused on The Job At Hand.

Then came the all-important lathering of the face - no warm towels and moisturizing shaving cream here! - and the straight razor appeared, a weapon of death when wielded in the wrong hands.

No talking at all during this procedure ... just the barber's gentle hands, in stark contrast to the blade's sinister mien, moving over my Dad's face.

Dad's eyes were closed. The barber's face was sombre. The sound of blade scraping skin was ominous. I could hardly bear the tension.

The reassuring din of the market place pulsed just outside the door. Crazy music was blaring from the tea shop opposite. Lorry and mo-ped engines duelled for supremacy of the road. Horns tapped out a staccato rhythm. Men called to each other. Dogs barked and chickens in their steel cages crowed, waiting for the ultimate betrayal.
And finally he scraped away on Dad's neck and it was all over. Both men relaxed. The barber asked Dad if he wanted his eyebrows trimmed; Dad said no.

It was all over but the spritzing, that is. The barber raised his bottle and Dad said no. They both laughed. The barber got him right in the face.

Dad asked him how much for the cut and the barber shyly said, "No, Sir ... don't know, Sir." Dad paid him what he would have paid for a cut in Canada.

The barber looked at the bills in disbelief and then shook his hand fervently; he told us the rent of his place was so high that sometimes it was very hard to afford to stay at Johnson market. "God will provide," Dad said.

Dad started to rise out of the chair and as he did the barber said to me, "Your Mummy is coming also?"

He caught me off guard. "My Mummy ..." I faltered. "My Mummy is dying in 2007."

His face registered shock. He looked to Dad for confirmation. "Aiiiiiieeeyoh," he breathed in sorrow when he saw what was written on Dad's face. "Very sorry, Sir," he said, taking Dad's hand.

"She is in Heaven with God," Dad replied. "The most important thing is that you know God and trust in Him to save you and remove the punishment of sin from you."

"Yes, sir," the barber said earnestly. They chatted for a few more minutes and then once again shook hands.

I said goodbye to him and shook his hand. Then Dad said goodbye to him.

And then the most extraordinary thing happened: without warning the little man burst into tears and threw his arms around Dad. Shaking, he wept - because of Mum, because of his plight, because of Dad's caring for him ... only he and God knew for sure why he was so suddenly overcome.

Dad wrapped his arms around him and gently spoke to him until he was able to compose himself. He dried his eyes and whispered, "Thank you, Sir. Goodbye, Sir."

I've thought often about the little barber this past year. Who knows what burdens he has to bear, what deep sadness he carries?

God knows.

And so as we left that day - and in this year that has followed - I committed our friend to the lovingkindness of the One who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. I prayed that he would find peace.


  1. I started to cry while reading this post. I'm really not surprised by the man's sadness at your mother having passed away or at the kindness of your father. So many people are just looking out for themselves these days. When someone takes the time to show God's love and kindness it's often overwhelming. I pray this man comes to know the Lord, if he hasn't already. Maybe you'll have the chance to see him again when you go back this year.

  2. All other haircuts seem pointless and shallow in the light of this -- no wonder I avoided so many of them!

  3. On so many levels, I appreciate this post.

    I do hope the Lord grants you another visit with this man on your next trip. If He does, please share that visit with us. I would like to hear how the Lord has worked in this man's life over the year.

    Blessings to you.


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