Sunday, July 1, 2012

My French (Hair) Affair


“Need an appointment for a haircut,” said I. “With whom? M’am,” bounced back the alluring voice. “Well, Who do you have available?” “You are in luck today, M’am. Our French Hairstyle Director, Laurent is available, if you can make it at noon.”

Hmm...a French Stylist! 

Just like a French kiss, the thought of a French hairstyle conjured up images of passion, style, romance and…Eiffel tower (There goes my Indian stereotyping self. Anything French = Eiffel tower!). But then came the fear of the unknown. No doubt, the risk (of going with a new hairstylist) was significant.  I’m past that age where a hair style could be treated as a fleeting crush. Well, it is a serious affair! A hair style is a matter of personal identity or crisis (if it goes wrong. i.e.).  Now it may be hard for men to understand this mental turmoil. So let me put it this way: For a woman, her hair style is as grave a matter as a man deciding what company to work for. 

 Also, it would mean breaking the loyalty with my old hair stylist, the chummy, effervescent, and always reliable, Ansar.  What had he done to deserve this?  Finally, an epiphany to break out of the nested loop (You knew I was a software engineer, right?!). A timely recollection of the lecture I had received on risk-taking from my husband the other day. And I thought, What is life without a little risk? For what its worth, my husband would be proud that I started somewhere. And with a name like Laurent, chances are that he could be related to the YSL fashion family.  

So mustering up all the courage, I retorted back with a meek okay to the receptionist.

An hour later, I’m in the salon trying to look for a gora face in the huddle of the posh but popular salon. What is it about the fair skin, and the extra credibility it gets entitled to! But instead, I got escorted by an oriental-looking female. Could it be that she’s Laurent? You never know in France. She could be an immigrant with an adopted unisex name.  Luckily she was just the hair-washer! 

Finally, my eyes lay sight on him, as I get seated in my hair-cutting chair.  A meticulous dressing style with a matching demeanor! Every bit like the French man I had imagined him to be. Enough to get me all excited about the possibilities of a French transformation. But my heart skipped a beat when I saw his client. A model-like woman to whom he was giving an uber-cropped-cut…a la Madhu Sapre style. What if he proved to be too haute couturish for me?!

With hope in my heart and Hanuman Chalisa on my lips, I waited for him to turn to me. He just looked at me. Felt my hair. “I don’t need a very short cut. You see, my hair is very limp. A short cut won’t look good. All I need is layers, just to add volume. You see!” I burst out like an accused defending herself in court. But I got no indication or acknowledgement out of him. All he did was, take out his scissors, pulled my hair and started chopping them at a 45-degree angle. Could it be the mark of a true craftsman? Maybe. Or maybe he does not understand English! I didn’t know whether to feel lucky or doomed.  Then for the next 20 minutes, he looked very much like a man on a mission; cutting my hair at every possible angle.  He was at it with same dexterity and commitment, as a French composer orchestrating his first ballet performance.  For a while, it was just the snipping of his scissors and the uncomfortable silence between us. 

I decided to break the ice. “So where are you from?” “From Paris,” he said. Hmm, that Eiffel Tower association was not too far off.  “So what brings you to India?” me trying hard to engage him. “My wife. She’s from India. She’s studied here and wants to live here." Oh good, feeling happy that I hit his talking button. “What does she do?” “Oh, she’s an engineer but has her own company now.”  Ah an Engineer, you say? Pouncing on the chance I’ve been waiting for. “I’m an engineer too,” I said, with the hope that he’ll take the cue. He should know that as an engineer I’d have a certain geeky reputation to protect. That a hanky-panky hairstyle just won’t work. And that his conventional wisdom should be overruling any creative liberties he’s been taking. But to my surprise, he retorted with, “Blow dry, please!”. What? Are we done here? I thought bemusedly, but dare not say it. Even after a good shuffle and a puff, I was not seeing it. What kind of a hairstyle was this? It felt like an un-hairstyle to me. I was about to get up, when he said, “I want to see how your hair looks before I cut.”  Are you kidding me?! What was the last 20 minutes all about?  But what option did I really have? Go underground with my current hairdo or succumb to this man’s wishes.  

And for the next 20 minutes, his scissors seemed more daunting than a surgeon’s knife. My heart sank with every snip, rose back up at each swizzle. I got the impression that my hair was posing a challenge that was bringing out the fighting spirit in him.

And finally, the golden words, “There you are, pretty lady!”

I grudgingly turned up to see my own reflection. Hmm, my hair was certainly shorter than what I wanted it to be, but it did look cute in a non-conventional yet conventional sort of a way.  I could learn to live with it. In fact, even flaunt it without being flamboyant.

All and all, a surprise happy ending to an emotionally-charged roller-coaster of an affair!

For the next time though, I’d go for a French manicure before I think of a French coiffure. Nothing against Laurent, but I don’t think I have the stomach for so many butterflies!

ps. A smart risk is a dumb risk with a lot of thinking!
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