Wednesday, August 27, 2008

this is N16

The barber spoke no English, but fortunately one of the other three did and translated for me. Scissors, no clippers, short on the sides and back, longer on top. The same instructions I have given barbers since I was old enough to get my hair cut without adult supervision. There was one little boy in the salon who was clearly too young to be there on his own, but his shy smile suggested either that he knew the barbers or found the whole exercise of having his hair cut extremely amusing. He got to sit on a plank of wood that raised him to a manageable height for the translating barber and was also covered with a special yellow kiddy bib with cartoon characters. I've never been good at instructions for barbers. Some want clipper numbers and I can never remember whether the lower numbers mean shorter hair or the other way around. Others seem satisfied with less exact descriptions of length, but some demand a bewildering array of specifications - shape, depth, texture, straightness or lack thereof. With my Turkish dude, I was having trouble getting across the bare minimum. Once he took my glasses off, I couldn't even keep track of what he was doing visually. Everyone else in the salon was Turkish, except for a one-armed black guy - but he was getting his head shaved completely, so his linguistic abilities didn't seem particularly relevant. My head is dunked forward into a basin and warm water run through my hair, shampooed, massaged, toweled dry. There is something very sensuous about having your hair washed in the middle of a working day. I think it's the feeling of droplets of water trickling down your earlobes and neck when the rest of you is fully clothed. It doesn't seem right somehow, deliciously transgressive, out of place. My dude begins working furiously on my hair and goes on for quite a while. No conversation (obviously), just his hands gently and firmly pushing my head this way and that. Shave? No. I think he's finished and get up to go, but he smacks me back into the chair. Out comes a razor and he takes the hair off the nape of my neck and from behind my ears. Then he fishes out a little agarbati-like wick, lights it and SINGES THE HAIR OFF MY EARS. At first I smile because of the novelty of this method of hair removal, but then it gets fucking scary. This has got to be in violation of some EU health and safety directive, I think. Doesn't Turkey want to join the EU? But he's done before I can contemplate my petition to the ECJ. Next he fishes out a pair of scissors and clips away at stray nasal hair. What next? Trim my pubes? Back into the basin for another shampoo and towelling. Upright again. Blow dry and comb. The razor is fished out again and slapped against the comb so that every eager little hair poking out of my head in the wrong places gets the chop. So much has been done, that I'm not sure what I have left (the glasses are still off). Next, before I can refuse, wax. Just a little to mess things up a bit. He squeezes a few drops of aftershave onto his hands, rubs them together and slaps my face. OUCH! {tingle} A few jets of manly perfume in all the right places, towels removed and I am ready to go. £13. Whew, relief. Almost exactly the same as the non-concessionary rate in Oxford. I put on my glasses. He's got it exactly right. Something has been gained in translation. I walk out of the salon smelling like India (specifically like the Hamaam/Lifebuoy demographic).

[To judge the results, come to my party on Friday. And if you want the same, you'll find this place on Stoke Newington Road, on the right if you're heading north, just after Arcola St. I'll go back and find out the name of the place tomorrow.]

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

The departure of one Pakistani dictator seemed as good a time as any to read a novel about the end of another. Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes is a rollicking good read, a blackly comic political thriller about the plot to assassinate General Zia. Or rather the multiple, intersecting, but essentially quite distinct plots. Even though I was only 10 when Zia died, I remember him as a BAD MAN who was often in the news. It wasn't just that he was the dictator of a country on the wrong side of our border, it was his slicked back hair with its sinister centre parting, his droopy snake-like eyes, the thin wiry mustache and the gleaming white teeth, all of which morphed into something half feline and half reptilean. He would have made an ideal Hindi movie villain with no make up at all. In the novel, Zia isn't the cruel sadistic character of my childhood imagination, but a fanatical, deranged and slightly ridiculous man. There are some unforgettable scenes that capture some of the high farce of the Cold War - fundraising balls in Texas for the Afghan jihad; Osama bin Laden attending a fancy dress party at the US Ambassador's residence in Islamabad dressed in a suit; Zia bending over for a rectal examination from the Saudi royal physician, his face on his desk between the flags of Pakistan and the Pakistani army (Pakistan getting fucked by Saudi money?). And throughout, the narrative superbly conjures up that mixture of intrigue, sycophancy and instability that has been the stuff of Pakistani politics for too long. Move over Shame, this is the new best novel about Pakistan.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

the sheer fucking gorgeousness of the olympics.

Friday, August 08, 2008

signing out from oxford. i am sad.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

the single best thing I have blogged ever

Pranitha, an 18 year old girl from my ancestral village is going to the Olympics to represent India in the archery event. RDF is run by my family. And the story was written by my sister.

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