Bengali haircut

August 31, 2003 - Bengali haircut

I badly needed a haircut. My usual guy at the Eastern Hotel wasn't on the job so I fell back to the recommendation of a Bangladeshi-Canadian fellow who has befriended me. The place is on a rutted side street of the Gulshan-1 roundabout, about 10x12' with four chairs and basins. A cricket game was on the TV. Two barbers snipped busily about the heads of a couple of rich young men and another flourished a towel at me as he gestured with his chin to an empty chair.

From previous experience with escalation of barber services (haircut, oil scalp massage, hair wash, facial, and a chair-bound full body massage) that result in commensurate charges inflated appropriately for a foreigner, I insisted on just a haircut. The full treatment is still absurdly cheap compared to similar but improbable ministrations in Vancouver, about $12, but it takes literally hours and I don't have the patience for it.

As he cut my hair he tried to up-sell me: "hair wash?" I said no, I'll do that at home. "Body massage?" No thanks. "Oil scalp massage?" I thought about this and recalled that my itchy scalp had responded well previously, so I said, okay, do it. He fashioned a straight razor by inserting half of a new double-edged safety-razor blade into a handle designed for the purpose, swabbed my hairline about the ears with antiseptic and scraped a crisp pair of sideburns. By agreeing to the oil scalp treatment I'd implicitly signed up for the hair wash and an arm massage while the wash water warmed in a pot with an immersion heater. He squeezed a generous quantity of oil onto my head and vigorously worked it into the scalp for a long time using several techniques including finger-tip massage at a speed that caused my vision to blur, light two-palmed blows that made curious popping noises, a general all-over bongo-drum head-cuffing, more powerful kneading with his finger-tips, and an inadvertent slash or two with his obscenely long pinkie finger-nail, so that at the end I had a faint headache from the buffeting. He submerged a small towel in the steaming pot and then, more chiropractor than masseuse, went to work on the massage, giving me indian-burns up and down each arm, digging his fingers into my armpits and popping my finger joints. By now the towel was boiled. With a practised manoeuvre he flipped it over the water faucet so that it hung from its middle, twisted it semi-dry, flopped the steaming mass on my head and covered it with a shower-cap. As my oiled scalp stewed, he thrust a pair of scissors into my nostrils and snipped around in there, less carefully than I'd have liked. He trimmed my moustache and eyebrows as well. Then the shower-cap, etc., came off and I got the hair wash. Finally I got out of the chair, reeling slightly from mild concussion probably and followed him to the cash register.