On the brink of a black hole

By Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 25 Mar 2021, 6:44 PM

Every morning, a little past eight, I see this Filipina, diminutive, calm and diligent. Our eyes never meet. There’s absolutely no reason they should, with the cautionary sign board — MEN NOT ALLOWED — placed on the shopfront which she cleans up. As I walk past her several times during my constitutional walk, I never bother to crane my neck for a glimpse inside, but I am in awe of what she does outside.

Much before she opens for business and starts grooming all the discerning damsels, she grooms a tiny yet delectable garden she maintains on the verandah. She waters, prunes and plucks — like she does on the inside. She sticks clusters of balloons — mostly classy hues such as white or pale blue — above the entrance.

She is like the lady shopkeepers of Nepal’s Pokhara town, who sweep every speck of dust and dirt off the street before tourists descend on the lakeside retreat. Such scenes validate my belief that there’s something consummately honest about whatever women do. They aren’t half-hearted at anything.

A couple of days ago, on our way back after breakfast, I invited Wifey’s attention to the lady’s salon, with an obiter dictum, “Great place.”

“How do you know? Been there?” she looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “A good outfit doesn’t necessarily cover a good heart. It’s hygiene that matters.”

And then she stepped into the parlour and disappeared behind dark drapes at a lightning speed. As if she was sucked into a black hole. I felt orphaned. As if the October Fest had slammed its door in my face at the last hour.

I stood outside the door like Stephen W Hawking who explored the cosmos and black holes from a wheelchair and became a symbol of curiosity. Standing precariously at the restricted ingress, I recalled Hawking’s epochal statement: “My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe (read: ladies parlour), why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

I also recalled my years in Singapore where a tonsorium is as transparent as the Milky Way. Most of them were unisex where the entire family could walk in and get pampered in warm, familial surrounds. The husband, along with the kids, could stand beside his wife and throw in his two cents’ worth. Visiting a salon was like a family outing. Those were the days when I used to have my hair done by Chinese and Malay girls.

In a couple of minutes, Wifey bounced back from the parlour like a boomerang, holding a set of leaflets announcing Ramadan packages. Vehicles slowed as she crawled across the zebra crossing like a millipede, pouring over the leaflets.

“Cool place. Quite hygienic. Rates are a bit on the higher side, though.”

“It’s my discovery.”

“Your discovery is the girl, not the shop.”

Back home, I watched the world pass my window. Streets teemed with people sporting different hair styles and hues. I wondered how much their hair was worth. When I had a crown full of hair, I never bothered to indulge myself with a beauty and styling experience. I never had a facial done. An ayurvedic massage wasn’t affordable. My pre-wedding grooming was nothing more than dabbing some Cuticura talcum powder on parts of my visage not covered by the beard.

“Vava, did you get the styling package I just forwarded?” After they exhausted half of their free local calls, it was decided Vava would come down in the evening for a beauty treatment.

Across my home, a Kashmiri restaurant, awash in neon lights, has replaced the gent’s salon I used to frequent. Another victim of the pandemic. A kid’s salon next door seems to have endured the torrid times.

“Guys, I am going for a haircut. Have to look for a cheaper place,” I said as the queen and princess got ready for their salon appointment.

“How much do you pay for it? It’s a one-minute job anyway.” It’s the mother.

“Dh15 darling. It’s peanuts, really.”

“Are you mad? Didn’t you see the little salon that replaced the bakers outside the Metro? They do it for just Dh5. Be frugal, darling, in times of crisis.”

It took a while to locate the pigeon-hole that offered the cheapest hair consultation. The procedures were the same: wrapping your torso in a polythene sheet, pumping water onto your hair and face, the snip-snip from the scissors, chit chats that touch upon your job and salary and his interest in cosmology etc.

“Sir, you got a message,” the stylist picked up the phone and held it in front of my face.

“Dear customer, you spent Dh500 at XXX spa on your card.” Tears mixed with the water the guy sprayed onto my face.

“What happened, sir?” I couldn’t help telling the truth.

“It’s OK, sir. You know what the guy Hawking said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love’.”


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