[Added back some of the original conversation in Telugu for that local touch.]
Vasudha, The Betrayed.
“Kalyanakatta! Please get down here for Kalyanakatta!”
The driver’s announcement broke Vasudha out of her distracted thoughts. She looked around. People were getting up from their seats to leave the bus. She got up and joined them, moving slowly to the door of the small, slightly cramped bus. Taking care not to trip over her saree, she alighted and moved with the throng. She made her way across the large shopping complex and up the side street that led to the Kalyanakatta building. A rather large structure housing facilities for the pilgrims to offer their hair. She entered the serpentine queue guide rails. Along the way she passed a counter where she deposited her shoes.
Barefoot, she walked into the building. She passed a few more (thankfully empty) crowd management rooms on her way inside. Chatter from the other families coming in to offer their hair. She was aware of the attention her braid would draw. Thick and heavy it fell to her mid-thigh. As she walked, she felt her thick fat braid bounce off her butt. She wondered if she would miss it.
A woman walking alone a few feet ahead of her caught her attention. A thick long braid that feel down to her knees. She seemed to be moving a little slower than most of the crowd. “Scared of the barber, I suppose. Probably just getting the ends trimmed,” she thought to herself. Nevertheless, she couldn’t help admiring the woman as she walked. Petite, curvy, wearing a light coloured saree that nicely offset the length and weight of her braid. Up ahead was a counter issuing tokens and blades. The token carried the number of the barber, and a fresh blade for sanitary reasons. She joined the small crowd of people that were bottlenecked at the window. Wish some determined maneuvering, she moved to the head of the crowd, and collected her token and blade. She may have heard a couple of gasps from the crowd.
As she walked away toward the large halls, she looked at the small piece of sharp metal in her hand. So small; insignificant even. But it would be the instrument of removing almost four feet of hair from her head. Following the crowd, she entered one of the large rooms. Barbers and barberettes sat on a raised platform that ran around around the periphery of the room. There was another platform, slightly lower, for the devotees. They would sit facing the barbers, with a small gutter between the two, to collect the water and hair. Numbers on the wall were behind each barber. She looked at her token and glanced around trying to find her barber. She hoped it would be a barber and not a woman shaving her.
Luckily for her, it was. She walked over to the barber, pulling her braid over her shoulder. It would give him a good look at the braid he would be collecting. Her barber, about the same age as her, if not a couple of years younger, was half way through shaving a woman. A woman barber was sitting, idle, on his left. She beckoned to Vasudha, but she declined. Instead, she stood waiting for the barber to finish. Moments later, another woman showed up at the barberette, with a couple of kids. She turned her attention back to her barber. The barber had shaved the back of the woman’s head clean. She watched mesmerized as the sharp blade peeled back the wet hair from the woman’s head. The barber glanced at her. His strokes slowed down just a little.
“Jada vippi juttu tadupukoni ravamma.”
“Undo your braid and wet your hair please.”
She smiled at the barber and made a cutting motion with her fingers on her braid, indicating a trim of about three inches. The barber might have looked just a little disappointed. She hid an impish smile with her hand. A yellowish movement caught her attention and she glanced to her left. Her Rapunzel friend was waiting for the woman barber. Vasudha smiled at her and turned her attention back to her barber. One half of the woman’s hair now lay in the gutter at her feet while the barber was scraping off the other half. Her heart racing as she eagerly waited to sit at the barber’s feet.
She glanced over to the waiting Rapunzel: looking nervous, and borderline scared. Like a deer ready to bolt. She turned back to her barber just in time to see him shave off the last few strands of hair. The remaining half of the woman’s hair fell at her feet. The barber ran his hands over her head, removing some stray strands of hair that were stuck around her ears and nape. A few quick scrapes to remove some stray strands. The woman got up wiping her face and head with the pallu of her saree. The seat at the barber was now vacant.
He poured some water over the tiled platform and pushed it off with a squeegee, and invited her to be sit. Pulling her pallu around her waist, she sat down at his feet, facing him. She placed her feet in the gutter, feeling the soft wet hair underfoot. A shiver running up her spine as she sat on the wet platform, the damp seeping into her saree, and her butt feeling the cold. She carelessly tossed her braid behind her back.
“Tirigi kurchovamma. Katterle kada? Alage jada vippuko.”
“Ledandi, jada mottam kattrincheyyandi.”
“Ila kattiriste clean ga undadu kadamma.”
“Parledu. Mottam, meda varaku kattirinchandi.”
“Turn around and sit with your back to me. You are getting a trim right? Also, open your braid.”
“No, please cut off the full braid.”
“It wont look clean if the braid is cut off.”
“It’s okay. Please cut it flush with the neck.”
The barber reached forward and took her chin in his hand. Fingers pressing in her cheek, he drew her face forward, bending her head down. His fingers curled around her braid and she felt a firm pull. Another shiver ran down her spine and she felt her cheeks flush as he placed his fingers and made a cutting motion at her nape.
“Shall I cut here?”
She nodded her head. He let go of her braid and looked around in his bag for a pair of scissors. Vasudha had a sudden flash of inspiration. She got her phone out of her hand bag and called the woman in the yellow saree. It took her a couple of attempts to get her attention. She opened up the camera, set it to record, and gave it to her.
“Can you please record?”
The woman hesitated for a moment before taking the phone. She held it up to record and nodded. Smiling Vasudha turned to her barber and bent her head slightly. The barber held her chin again and drew her face forward. The other hand, scissors at the ready, was on her head, positioning her head properly for the cut. She scooted forward a bit more, placing her hand on the barber’s knee. He released her chin and picked up her braid. Fingertips brushing against her neck. She felt the braid lifted off her back, ever so slightly. The firm pull before the cut. Closing her eyes, she leaned forward against the pull, bending her head a little more.
Her thoughts flew back to the intimate times she had with her husband. She stopped getting haircuts at his request as he liked her hair long. Hair that never crossed her shoulders grew out it until it fell past her butt. He even grudged her the occasional trim to keep it looking neat. Six years of dating and a month of marriage. Her hair was the one part of her that he loved. Most of his foreplay, was just hair play. To make things worse, he had been cheating on her for more than three years.
The way she was seated reminded her of all the times she had gone down on him. Even the barber’s grip on her braid felt the same. The difference was that she was getting rid of her ex-husband’s main attraction to her. The recording, was to show him that she was cutting him out of her life. Symbolically. A final fuck-you to him, as it were. She hoped the barber would have fun shaving her. The scissors bit into the thick braid. She felt the pull ease from the side as the sharp blades slowly cut their way through. Was it just her, or was the barber cutting slowly? She remembered the sparkle in his eye as she asked him to cut off her braid completely. Well, someone was having fun with something that only had bad memories for her.
She took a deep breath, biting the corner of her lower lip. She kept her head bent, leaning against the pull. The slow release of the firm pull felt liberating. She felt the cut ends of her hair slide down her face, hanging in the periphery of her vision. The barber adjusted his grip. His fingers brushing against her neck, and the cold steel of the scissors made her squirm a little. Nevertheless she held as still as she could. Moments later, she felt the last bit of her braid getting cut off and her head jerked forward. The braid was dropped into the gutter at her feet, on top of the pile of hair from the women earlier. She straightened herself, looking at her barber, smiling.
“Cheppanu kada, ila kattiriste clean ga undadani.”
“Idigondi, Deenito clean cheseyyandi.”
“I told you it won’t look neat.”
“Here you go. Please clean up with this”.
She handed him the small sharp shard of metal: half the razor blade, surprising the barber.
“Gundaithe jada enduku kattirinchamannaru?”
“Kaaranamundandi. Please, ika gundu cheseyyandi.”
“If you’re shaving your head, why did you ask me to cut your braid?”
“I had my reasons. Now, please shave me.”
Once again she bent her head slightly, signaling him to proceed. Hand still on his knee, she squeezed it lightly. He put the scissors down. His fingers ran into her hair on her right, sliding into the soft chin length hair. Fingers brushing her cheek. His hand moved to the back of her head, and he pulled her head down yet again. Fingers curling into her short hair, he pulled on it gently. Sighing softly she bent her head obediently.
He poured warm water on her head, his fingers working her short hair and massaging her scalp. Blissfully she closed her eyes as the water ran down her face, dripping into her lap. She used the pallu of her saree to wipe her face. More water followed till her chin length hair was dripping wet. She could see water droplets fall off the ends of her hair: drip-drip-drip. He smoothed her wet hair down.
The barber flipped open the straight razor, removing the spent blade and tossing it aside. Taking the blade from her proffered hands, he slid the tiny shard of metal into the blade. He tested the edge to make sure the blade was secure. Once again, taking her chin in his hand, he positioned her head. This time, her head was closer to his lap. She adjusted herself a little and kept her head still. A moment later she felt the touch of the razor on the crown of her head. A long smooth stroke ran down the back of her head, from crown to nape. Shaving off a clean one inch strip of hair. His fingers pushing aside the shaved hair. She could see the shaved strands cling desperately to her wet hair.
The barber turned her head slightly and she obeyed. The shaving continued toward her right side. Long deft strokes scraping off her wet hair. The short wet lengths of hair raining into her lap. Some of it rolled down her back, getting stuck in her blouse. She felt the cool air play over her exposed scalp. The barber’s hands were warm on her scalp as continued to turn and adjust her head. His gentle touch as he folded her ear to shave around it.
His fingers held her chin to adjust her face to shave the right side. She enjoyed his firm grip on her chin as he adjusted her head. As she turned her head, she caught his eye, giving him a quick wink. He smiled as he shaved the side of her head. Hair clung to her cheek and was brushed off by the barber as he ran the razor down her sideburns, all the way to her jaw. His warm hand on her head as he repositioned her to shave the left side. His firm grip stretching her scalp as he shaved, she enjoyed every moment of it.
She promised herself she would never let her hair grow past her shoulder. ‘Maybe get it shaved in a barber shop the next time?’ she thought to herself. The barber worked around her head and was now shaving the last chunks of hair on the top of her head. She snuck another glance at her barber who was smiling at her. It was the smile of a barber who expected to trim a few inches, but instead found himself cutting off a 40 inch braid… and shaving the woman as well.
His strong fingers massaged her shaved scalp, removing the stuck strands of hair. He even went so far as to wipe her face with his hand. She didn’t mind that, not in the least. Discreetly she pressed a 200 rupee note into his hand as she got up. Barely ten minutes. Six years of growth lay at her feet. Her heart soaring, she took the phone from the woman who was recording her shave. She stopped the recording and put the phone in her purse.
The woman turned back to the barberette. A small queue had formed in the time that it took to for Vasudha’s shave. It looked like a family and they were jostling for position, trying to figure out who would be next. She looked nervous, unable to assert her position in the queue. Vasudha tapped her on the shoulder and pointed out her barber who was now free. The barber was also watching both of them.
“Ikkda kurchomma, nenu chestanu.”
“Token aavidakiccharu kada…?”
“Paravaledu, anta okkate. Ra…”
“Please sit here, I will take care of you.”
“But I’ve been given a token for her…?”
“It’s okay. It’s all the same. Come…”
Vasudha nudged her forward. The barber swept off the shaved strands of Vasudha’s hair that were lying on the platform. The woman stepped forward, hesitantly. Pulling her pallu around her waist she sat down facing the barber, offering him her token and blade. The barber reached forward and pulled her head down, gesturing Vasudha to open her braid. Grinning, she picked up the Rapunzel’s braid.
She pulled off the elastic band at the end of the braid, deftly slipping it on her wrist. Quick flicks of her hands as she ran her fingers through the thick heavy braid, unravelling it. The woman’s hair was really soft and silky. Well cared for. Her heart was beating a mile a minute as she finger combed the woman’s hair. Looping it around her wrist, she tied it into a single, rather huge knot that hung a few inches below her shoulders. The barber, meanwhile, had replaced the blade in his razor. As soon as the hair was tied, he pulled the woman’s head forward. He bent her head down. She squirmed visibly and bent her head reluctantly.
The barber ran his fingers into her half loose hair, fluffing it out lightly. He poured half a mug of warm water on the woman’s head. Then, he started to massage her hair, working the water into her hair. He moved slowly, taking care not to shake the knot loose. He continued to trickle water on her head, massaging it into her scalp. Rubbing her nape and sideburns. Water ran down the woman’s face and into a wet lap. As the woman was prepped for her shave, Vasudha was reminded of the barber’s firm fingers.
The barber held her chin and adjusted her head, turning it to the right. Stretching her scalp at the crown, he made a series of short strokes widening her hair parting. Turning her head further to the right, he shaved away from the hair part, working his way toward her forehead and side burns. Short strokes removing wet hair and pushing it off with his thumb. Shaved hair slowly rolled off her head and hung over her shoulders, held in place by the tight knot. The barber worked his way around her ear carefully, her face turned all the way to the right.
Turning her head to the left, he poured some more water on the woman’s head. Once again with the razor. Mirroring the same actions, slowly and carefully shaving the other side. Two heavy tufts of thick wet hair hung over the woman’s shoulders. Holding her chin, he pulled her head further forward, bending it down. She reluctantly obeyed. The razor started from the crown of her head. Vasudha watched with fascination as the barber steadily pushed back the wet hair with the razor.
Working from crown to nape, quick short strokes along her receding hairline removed her damp hair. She squirmed as the barber bent her head down to clean her nape properly. As the last stroke of the razor removed her hair, the thick heavy knot of hair rolled down her back and fell to the floor. Vasudha picked it up. It felt quite heavy as the barber gestured to her to toss the knot with the rest of the hair. He cleaned up the last few strands of hair on her nape as the heavy knot fell on the thick braid that was cut a few minutes earlier.
The woman got up, wiping her face with her pallu. She gave Vasudha a nervous smile and walked off.