If you can get past your initial instinct of squirming because there’s a stranger squatting at your feet to submerge your soles in scalding water before proceeding to scrub the dead skin off, a pedicure can be quite stimulating — besides being hygienic, of course. An exfoliating massage is just as refreshing, only you wish masseurs wouldn’t bow before your knobby knees before ridding them of their extinct cells, leaving the skin more than a little raw. And though the environment aims to soothe, one can’t help wonder why a spa chooses to be namby-pamby instead of, well, invigorating.
Unfortunately, with even the neighbourhood salons aspiring for spa status, the familiar barber shop has become a minefield of choices that the management foists on you when you call ahead to make a booking for your monthly trim. What would Sir like? “A haircut, please.” With a head massage? “Mishraji gives me that anyway.” Short pause: “There’s a charge for it, Sir.” “Oh,” I say, considering whether I want to pay for something that had been gratis all along, then acquiescing not to appear miserly. A back rub too? “Er, no.” Shampoo, rinse, blow-dry, dye, tints, highlights? “Oh my gosh no.” Facial, eyebrows, blackhead removal? “Just a haircut…” Toning, tattoo, body polish? “When is Mishraji free?” I ask desperately. The operator, scans the appointment diary, “Two, no; three, hmm, no; three-thirty — did you say you wanted a manicure?” “A haircut,” I remind her, “and a head massage.” “I can book you for three-thirty today provided you take a manicure,” she suggests helpfully, “or a pedicure, otherwise,” she pauses, “there’s a slot, um, next week.” I tell her three-thirty with the pedicure is fine.
No one else at three-thirty is having a haircut — in fact, I haven’t seen anyone having a haircut the last few times I’ve been to the salon. On the chair on one side, a pot-bellied gentleman is having his chest shaved, the foam falling to the floor like an avalanche of snow. Beside him, a customer is having his face massaged with oils and unguents. To my left, a row of men in face masks are dozing off as they wait for the paste to dry before having it washed off, others have honey running down their chins, one has a fruit-salad arranged carefully around his eyes.
Elsewhere – and it’s embarrassing to look around – there are young men having their hair styled under electrical helmets while assistants attend to their hands and feet. I edge into my seat feeling woefully old-fashioned in this unfamiliar milieu as Mishraji brings out his comb and scissors. Over the past 20 years, he’s tended to my thinning locks, knowing exactly the length I like. Now he asks whether I’d like to wear my hair long, medium or short in the back? “I don’t know,” I say, having never considered the options. Short or razored in the front? “Uh,” I say. Clean cut or shaggy? Off the ears or on?
Some 15 minutes later he’s done, not having too much hair to play with anyway, but, really, I tell him, I’d rather not have a pedicure. Mishraji looks around at his colleagues raking in tips as they go about shaping hirsute eyebrows and manly cuticles, and sighs. For his sake, therefore, I say fine, I’ll have the pedicure after all. If I’m limping, and have band-aids on my toes and ankles, blame it on vanity. And next month, maybe I’ll opt for the chocolate body wrap — whatever that is.