Never on a Tuesday

One of my favourite film songs has Melina Mercouri singing: You can kiss me on a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday, and Saturday is best/But, never, never on a Sunday, a Sunday, a Sunday, ’cause it’s my day of rest.

It’s like a barber in India singing to his customer: You can have your hair cut on a Thursday, a Friday, a Saturday, and Sunday is best/But, never, never on a Tuesday, a Tuesday, a Tuesday, ’cause it’s my day of rest.

Tuesday is the day barbers traditionally down their scissors in India.

I still remember the Tuesday in Chennai some 30 years ago, when I had to go for an interview and went to a hair-cutting saloon for a shave, since I had sprained my right wrist.

However, every barber shop in the vicinity was closed, and I decided to shave with my left hand.

Not being ambidextrous, I didn’t do too good a job of it.

I have always wondered since then whether my not getting the job had anything to do with it.

All the barbers I regularly went to never cut my hair on a Tuesday; from Bansi (who supervised the monthly operations on the top of my head when I was one of the railway children in the colony of 1970s Chakradharpur, then in Bihar, now in Jharkhand) and John (whose Plaza Saloon I frequented in Connaught Place at the start of my journalistic career in Delhi) to Raju (who scissors my hair in Bangalore, where I ended my career).

Tuesday was taboo for haircuts, something I quietly accepted like the cavalry of the Light Brigade, whom the English poet laureate Tennyson immortalised in verse: Theirs not to make reply / Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to do and die.

I never had to ‘do and dye’, since all my barbers believed in the natural look, though John would wonder during my Delhi days, how there could be so much of hair loss for a journalist who worked irregular hours?

“Over the years, I have seen the hair on your head disappear in front of my eyes,” John would mournfully say, sounding like the singer who laments: Gone are the green fields kissed by the sun / Gone are the valleys where rivers used to flow.

Bansi, who cut my hair in Chakradharpur four decades ago, would always have a tale to narrate.

He once recounted how he had refused to shave a cantankerous customer, who then filed a case against him.

The district judge ordered that the customer be shaved.

Whereupon, Bansi stated that being taken to court had made him so nervous that he would not be responsible if his hand shook and the razor cut the customer’s face.

And the latter decided to go to another barber.

John was not as loquacious as Bansi and talked not about customers, but the movies running in the Connaught Place theatre, next to Plaza Saloon.

Sometimes, when the theatre carried a ‘Housefull’ sign, John would arrange tickets for me.

Raju, who cut my hair in the post-retirement phase, is the quietest barber I have ever met.

While attending to his customers in his Paris Salon on Bangalore’s Residency Road, he prefers to play audio-cassettes of his favourite vocalist, Yesudas, singing Carnatic songs.

After a visit to Kerala, I told Raju how Yesudas was once asked to sing at the famous Guruvayoor temple during Janmashtami, how the student wing of a political party had objected to a Christian singing at a Hindu festival, how the singer had stated that he would not like to be part of a controversy, and how a famous Malayalam writer had subsequently written a poem saying, “One day, I will sing in Guruvayoor,” on behalf of Yesudas.

Raju’s only response was one of “How could they treat Yesudas like this?

Saraswati is playing in his voice.

You just have to listen to Yesudas singing Thaye Yashoda, where the gopikas of Gokul complain to Krishna’s mother about his pranks.

Hearing Yesudas sing Thaye Yashoda is a sublime experience!”

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