Impressions from Chennai (Recent)

HiTech Ladies!

This shot of a Ladies Hostel was taken at a great personal risk!

**

Mind Your Steps

Walking on those uneven footpaths, the strap on the chappal (footwear) had snapped. Try as I did, could not find a shoe-smith to mend the break.  Back in the house, in an ‘Ah’ moment, it occurred me to ask the domestic maid who comes to clean the house where I could find one.

She laughed: ‘Thookki pottottu vera vanguweengala…adhai vittuttu…’

Translated: ‘Instead of throwing it away and buying a new one…you go around in search of…’

‘But it is only a strap that needs fixing.’

Appadithhan, Sir.’

Translated: ‘That’s what it is, Sir.’

Later I learnt if even I found one from the rarefied breed, he would charge in the least Rs 25/ even to look at it.

**

Letting My Hair Down

Even the sparse growth on the top was becoming bothersome in the summer heat. Had to have a much-delayed haircut that day.

There was a saloon near the house where we stayed with a fancy signboard announcing Rs 100/ for a haircut and Rs 80/ for a shave. Come on, a hundred bucks for a haircut? Must be one of those plush places that cloak you in use-and-throw sheets, spray imported perfume…didn’t need them.

Footed it up and down on the main street looking for a fair-price place. Could see a few, but they were not open for business – it was only 4-00 pm, or they were closed for repairs or had shifted to new premises a few miles away as the sign-boards helpfully informed. At the end of some twenty minutes, was on the verge of giving up when someone pointed me to a place I had crossed more than once during my search without noticing it.

Yes, there it was. No wonder I had missed it – it was tucked behind a canvas sun-shade curtain seemingly not gone for a wash in recent months.  

The place had two chairs and two men, one pair already serving a customer who, it was reassuring to see, appeared not unhappy in his predicament.

I was waved in to the other.  Inside, felt good to have finally found a place that would not be a rip-off. Though it meant a little more effort under the hot sun.

The chair was comfortable, the cushion letting out a sigh under my weight as I parked my posterior; and the cloth thrown over me appearing clean and fresh from a wash. No AC, so what? I was not sweating yet. Only had to keep my eyes away from the small wash-basin on the side that made one in an unreserved compartment of a passenger train at the end its journey look spit-and-polish clean. What was it to me as long as I didn’t have to use it, eh? One of those things to be taken in stride when one meant business.

Instructed my man to cut it real short for the summer. If one ever noticed, one’s hair is wont to play the devil. Mine – thin at the top, flowed like a mane on the sides, almost covering the ears and prick-y at places around the back of the neck. The man quietly set about going with a machine first, followed by the scissors and finally finished with a razor.

The job was done in a short time not entailing any great effort. No spray, no holding up a mirror to inspect the job done. No big deal. Felt immediate relief like a few oppressive kilos taken off my head – purely psychological, looking at it rationally, with so little removed.

I got up, shook myself clean, forked out a hundred rupee note from my pocket and offered it to my man asking him how much.

The note was wordlessly passed to the other man – younger of the two, also the proprietor, I guessed – who was free by now, continuing its journey to a collection box on the counter.

The young man, I could see, made no attempt to return the change. Heck, I am a reasonable guy appreciative of the service I get, but not so as to tip like a man with an aunt dying inestate.

Wanting to take the matter to its end, both logical and pecuniary, I pressed ahead with the query again.

‘It’s hundred rupees, Sir,’ said the young man calmly.

‘A hundred rupees?’ I cried incredulously.

‘Yes, Sir,’ he further assured me it was a tariff standardized by their Association of Barbers, Chennai. I could check up if I so wished.

I registered dissent: ‘But even the great-looking place near the street corner (the one near the house alluded to at the outset) claims to charge only hundred rupees, all inclusive. No hidden charges or options priced extra like cutting the hair, nettlesome taxes, etc…’

My feeble attempt at humour in face of adversity went unrewarded without a chuckle or even a hint of a smile.

‘Sir, they all do that,’ he explained. ‘Unlike us they employ kids totally untrained for the job. You for sure wouldn’t go there next time. Why…for next couple of weeks, you would emerge out of your house on the streets only after dark not wanting to be seen in daylight. And, with us, nobody would give you a second look as you go out from here right now.’

Ah, familiar words spoken here – the karma theory. The very words from customers, many years ago, on our project pricing vis-a-vis competition and our unassailable defense!

And, no second look, eh? Those self-congratulatory words were, I saw clearly as, double-edged.

Am digressing. Back to the nub of it:

Looked around in vain for a tariff board somewhere on the walls – there was none. May be the A-of-B-at-C did not think it was expedient to early-warn their poor unsuspecting customers, only to spring it on them later like their buses do on the road honking furiously when they are within inches of your behind.  

In no mood to start a scene, realized the case was hopeless. If our CBI’s against Raja comes to your fair mind, don’t fault your good self – the comparison by no means inappropriate though one was in high places and mine was in a barber shop.

Well (?), cursed myself for not checking it out before putting my hair between the scissors. Left the place holding back all those rather uncivil words crowding on my tongue threatening to roll out any moment, but not before handing a ten rupee note to the man who had served me – after all it didn’t seem fair to take it out on the poor man who had exerted though without a bead of sweat to show.   

Much later a disturbing thought occurred: What if my man was indeed the father of the young man? All in the family, you see? Dismissed it not wanting to feel miserable any more than it was already.

Am at an age where talking about one’s miseries with equanimity and mirth came easily. When I narrated the incident, my cousin for a moment stared at my pate and laughed: ‘Don’t tell me, dear fellow, you got it done squatting on the pavement…’ He enlarged on the theme to remove any misgivings I might have had on what he meant. If ever salt was rubbed in with vim and vigour on one’s wounds, this was it.

Seeing the look on my face, he quickly did the cousin-ly thing bringing on the balm: ‘My fellow, you know, I pay nothing less than Rs 250/ for my haircut?’

Thereupon I sneaked a glance at his crown and saw things showed up no better for such lavish self-indulgence. No topiary practiced there either.

Well (!), anyway, the information he shared did soothe the ruffled whatever remained of the hair a little bit. So, that was it. At hundred bucks a nip, mine didn’t seem to be too bad a deal by local norms, if one did not allow the mental picture wash-basin to unduly cloud the scene.  It was like the riddle where you’re required to make an already drawn straight line shorter without touching it in any manner and you do it by drawing a longer line alongside. Same with fails.  

Enough said. Are you non-Chennai folks out there listening? Rs 250/ for a haircut! In Chembur it is Rs 50 plus a ten rupee tip in a decent looking saloon, though small, with non-English tongued barbers in their civvies and a wash-basin that would pass muster – certainly not the khabootar-khana type.

**

How Selling is Done In Chennai?

Natural Chat!!

Here are two commonly played out scenarios, so different:  

At an eats shop:

If you ordered idli’s, idli’s are what you get, not vada’s

Any flaw in the logic? Read on:

‘Give me Parle’s Marie biscuits, make it the bigger pack.’

‘Parle? Sorry, Sir, we don’t have.’

Made a show of walking away gesturing disappointment.

No attempt to sell me Brittania or Sunfest Marie.  

Actually, this little game I play at shops just to see what they do with it – I know there is little chance or choice as Parle’s products are not widely stocked for reasons known only to Parle.  

Finally I asked for and got Brittania.

At a cloths shop:

‘You have banians for my size, larger than 110 cms?’

Never a pleasant experience. I get eyed like I’m a freak escapee from a nearby circus. So much so I wear my current stock to the point where the banians now have more holes than one hole to put my head through.

No surprises here: ‘No, Sir, we don’t have large sizes like that.’

Oh, so where do those mammoths one sees on and off the screen buy from?

By now I know enough of Chennai to ask: ‘You know where I can get it?’

‘Yes, there’s a place here, passing about half-a-dozen shops down towards Luz on the same side of the road. Wait let me show you.’

He ignores our repeated ‘never mind, we’ll find it’, leaves his counter, comes out with us halfway until the shop is in sight and then goes back even before I could thank him.

**

(there could be more!)

End

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