For fifteen long years, my friend, of rich and healthy mane, was loyal to the services of a particular barber at a particular barber-shop. Not a weekend went past without my friend surrendering himself completely to the snips and shaves of this gifted barber.

To my friend, this barber had assumed a greater importance, becoming a medium to something higher – serenenity and a gentle, lazy spirituality. My friend did some of his best thinking under the expert attention of this barber. And what added cream to this sweet milk of life was the fact that all this was available, whenever he wanted it, for a measly, petty, tiny, insignificant fifty rupees. Fifty bucks and his soul would be realigned to the mighty ways of the cosmos. Fifty bucks and all would indeed be right in my friend’s world.

Then came that fateful afternoon. After a pleasant little shave, my friend, so unprepared, heard his beloved barber say, Sir, I am leaving this shop to go work in another shop. Fifty rupees, Sir!

My friend was stunned. Not only had the ritual of a thousand weekends come to a sudden end but a thousand weekends now lay ahead, barren and barber-less. He smiled weakly as he slipped a fifty-note for the last time into his barber’s deft and artful fingers. He felt his lower lip do a tiny wobble but the barber was already wrapping the next customer in the white, hair-catching wrap-around cloth. Feeling betrayed, done in by fate and an urgent need for alcoholic relief, he walked away, swearing he would never, ever enter this barber-shop again.

A month passed by and his life went on, bereft of barbering. Two months, three months, four months and then his boss took him aside one Friday evening and quietly said, Son, if you don’t get your hair cut by Monday morning, then I, o child of the heavens above, will cut your balls by Monday lunch-time. Have a good weekend.

Early the next day, my friend set out to get a hair-cut and over and above, to bury the still-raw memory of that barber. My friend had resolved that a hair-cut from here on and till death would be a mere chore for him. An empty, functional, meaningless task that he will put off until the damn thing can’t be put off anymore.

Driving around his neighbourhood, he saw a posh-looking hair salon and he thought, Hmmm, not too bad. And he walked in, detached and aloof. The next moment, the music of a thousand angels burst into his ears and a divine, golden light flooded his eyes. For sitting in a corner, smiling at him, was his favourite barber.

Oh, the joy of refound bliss as my friend fell once again under the life-giving spell of that barber. How he did feel that magic again, working its way through his head and seeping to and illuminating his every wee atom. That same pleasure, that same lusciousness, that same sensory overload.

Satisfied, he stood up as his barber picked off straying hairs from his shoulder. With as much gratitude as he could pump into a word of the English language, he said, Thanks. And he pulled out his wallet and said, Fifty bucks, right?

No, Sir, three thousand rupees.

As we say here in Bombay, such only is life.

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