By Ashwina Garg Dec. 15, 2017
The moment I stepped into the branded salon, a Hrithik lookalike escorted me to a butter-soft reclining chair. He then lifted up strands of my hair, whipped out a camera, and took close-ups of my scalp with the seriousness of a doctor studying an MRI. I quickly scanned the area for his MBBS in Trichology.
Istill remember my first visit to the beauty parlour. I must have been 15, conscious of my appearance like any teenager, and unsure of how I could turn my scraggly braid into Rapunzel’s mane. I tentatively stepped into my neighbourhood aunty’s one-room establishment, where I spied on my neighbour getting her hair dyed and my friend getting her legs waxed. Before I could even unbraid my hair, I was surrounded by a gaggle of ladies instructing aunty on what would suit me best. In half an hour, I stared at a ravishing version of myself, all for the princely sum of 50 rupees.
Now, several years later, I crave for that place so hard. For so many of us women, the beauty parlour has always been a place of refuge. Remember Lipstick Under My Burkha and its depiction of a parlour that doubled up as a confessional as well as a therapist’s couch? A neighbourhood parlour made us feel and look beautiful and provided us with a spirit of kinship with other women. They are to women what bars are to men: a place to run to when the boss has been mean and the spouse is miffed. It was a place I could step into, get transformed, and step out feeling good about myself.
But what we have now, is a formal, branded salon, where I step in and feel as if even the interiors are negging me. I realised this recently, when I decided to cheat on my regular hair stylist to visit another hair specialist who was highly recommended by a friend.
The moment I stepped in, a Hrithik lookalike, with the same soft hazel eyes and bulging muscles barely confined within a tight-black T-shirt, escorted me to a butter-soft reclining chair. He handed me a warm towel to wipe away all the worries of the day. When I told him I had just come for a haircut, he nodded seriously and put on a pair of gloves. He then lifted up strands of my hair.
Nobody had cared about my hair follicles before.
“I need to examine your hair,” he said, whipping out a camera and taking close-ups of my scalp with the seriousness of a doctor studying an MRI.
I quickly scanned the area for his MBBS in Trichology. I couldn’t find it. After a few moments, he nodded decisively and told me that my hair follicles were weak and that he would have to perform a special treatment to strengthen them.
I felt weak at the knees: Nobody had cared about my hair follicles before. As I stared into his eyes, I felt myself agreeing to this ridiculously expensive treatment that was going to save my hair follicles from destruction. I deserve this, I told myself repeatedly. I felt weaker still in the knees, this time because I was picturing my empty wallet.
My acquiescence made the hair specialist happy and he finally cracked a little smile. My heart burst for getting Hrithik lookalike’s approval.
“Can I get you something… coffee, tea, lime juice, or a sandwich, maybe,” he asked. “It’s complimentary,” he added, when I hesitated.
As he wrapped a towel around my shoulders, his smile vanished and my heart sank.
My pretty little cucumber sandwiches and Indonesian coffee, came with a pristine, fluffy white robe made of the finest Egyptian cotton and matching slippers. As he wrapped a towel around my shoulders, his smile vanished and my heart sank. My hair had somehow displeased him again. He whipped out his trusty hair camera. I was beginning to hate that stupid contraption. He examined the ends of my hair and shook his head gravely. I wondered what kind of fatal hair disease I’d developed. I was about to ask him if I had enough time to make my will and get my affairs in order, when he told me that my hair was extremely dry and brittle and I would need to get another life-saving treatment.
He stared at me with those hypnotising, Kaa-the-snake-like eyes again and I found myself agreeing to this treatment too. Having longer, stronger, thicker hair is every woman’s birthright. Television says so, even if you have to part with your kid’s school fees to get it.
“It’s an investment,” I told myself. Treating my dry, damaged hair will boost my self-esteem and let me toss my hair about in confidence. It would save my marriage and get me a job; maybe, I could even jump over walls in tight white jeans. Sorry. Wrong ad.
Once my hair was washed, he brought out many vials of colourful potions and put them all into a thin tube. He sprayed this concoction all over my scalp and massaged it gently. I was informed that there was a particularly sensitive spot at the back of my neck that was holding in all my stress and causing all sorts of havoc with my health. Believe me guys; you need to know about this spot at the base of a woman’s neck. If you find this spot, you never need to worry about finding the G-spot. I promise.
This was followed by a serum made from a combination of berries collected from a plant deep inside the Amazon and the pee of wildebeests from the Serengeti. He finished by zapping my scalp with some kind of lightning rod that was going to tighten my awful, loose follicles. As he handed me the mirror, I remembered that I had come for a haircut and not to get my brittle hair and loose follicles treated.
I left the parlour feeling light in my head and very, very light in my purse because even after this treatment, I still needed to buy a bagful of more treatments to rid my hair of all evils. I had a vague uneasy feeling that I had somehow cheated on my husband. It wasn’t right that an unknown man had discovered the sensitive spot on the base of my neck and my husband hadn’t. Since then, I have also been infected with a chronic anxiety about my hair follicles and a very itchy scalp. If this is the future of beauty, I have to admit, I can’t really afford to be beautiful.
A visit to the parlour has always been a woman’s guilty indulgence for which she allots a small amount from her budget each month. These places used to be small businesses run by other women who understood us and knew what we needed: a place that made us beautiful from inside and out.
If I have to go to a Hrithik lookalike again, I am just going to end up feeling like a patient with a terminal disease. All I ask for Christmas is that our guilty little pleasure remain our guilty little pleasure. Pretty please?
Ashwina Garg is a freelance writer and entrepreneur. She is the author of the best-selling book 'Spicy Bites of Biryani' and writes regularly for Women’s Era, Bonobology and other sites. She has a keen interest in social causes and writes for the Hyderabad-based NGO, SAHE and TEDxHyderabad.