First day, first cut: When salons opened in Chennai after the lockdown

The girl who understands my unruly hair came in dressed for the hair op. She was in coveralls, mask, face shield and gloves. Pic: Geeta Padmanabhan

After three months of freedom to grow, my hair needed to be contained. It now formed a curtain over my eyes and glasses. When the government allowed the opening of beauty parlours, I booked myself for a first day, first trim. This was a calculated move. I would be in a place cleaned thoroughly after months of lockdown.  The shop wasn’t quite ready, so I made it “second day, first cut.”

The Aadhaar card was mandatory, I heard. Parlours had to check the ID of people they had “beautified” routinely for years? But it made sense. I did look unrecognisable. 

When the parlour opened for the day, I was at the door. I pushed it to find a guy standing with a gun pointed at my temple. “Stay still, Madam,” he said pleasantly. This was thermal screening, and I was impressed. Temperature approved, Aadhaar checked, I was asked to sit at the far end of the couch. That was about 13 inches away from anyone in the room. Small reception areas don’t allow for regulation social-distancing norms.

The parlour smelled of a mild disinfectant and was sparkling clean. Thank you, COVID-19. 

Sunita (name changed), the girl who understands my unruly hair came in dressed for the hair op. She was in coveralls, mask, face shield and gloves. 

I had a side-room to myself. Early bird catches the worm! Sunita laid out her trimming tools. Everything looked new – the scissors, table, the push-cart. Sunita had changed too. She chats non-stop generally, her topics including my travels, diet, family, work – guess she was taught to be “nice” to customers. Today she gestured, holding strands of my hair aloft. “The usual step cut? One inch trim?” For the first time I noticed how expressive her eyes were.

Following my nod, she went into an elaborate ritual – of washing, cleaning and wiping her hands and all the tools she was likely to touch. She then set to work quietly. COVID relief! I was given a non-reusable, bio-degradable, transparent coverall – yes, an oxymoron – to wrap myself in. A change from the black plastic one.  

Sunita had also been taught professional distancing. “Keep away from customers,” she must have been told. So she did my hair from about a foot away. As I watched in amazement, she began to roll up my short hair with a long-handled comb and snip at it with scissors. I had had to take off my mask and glasses, so there was no way I could hide my horror-mixed amusement. 

Sunita smiled, but kept her distance, went about pulling my hair in different directions. With eyes closed, I prepped myself to the reality of walking with a crow’s nest. A corona trim!

At the counter, a new guy with his hair in a ponytail – you know why – took one look at me and said, “We are offering concessional rates, madam.”

Thank you coronavirus!

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About Geeta Padmanabhan 1 Article
Geeta Padmanabhan is a freelance writer based in Chennai. She is also a committed civic activist, interested in improving living conditions in the area she lives in.