Once upon a time there lived an emperor, who like all true royal figures that we encounter in history books, had pretty much nothing to do, except perhaps patronise arts, which he culturally managed by having a huge harem comprising fully of nubile dancers and probably some singers chosen for their talent to look good.
But one day, the King was in a mood for deep philosophy as he was perhaps enduring a bad-hair moment. Anyway, he summoned all the erudite Ministers, and scholars and philosophers of the land and posed the most important question that any bored person is bound to ask: ‘Gotta some porn?’
No, seriously, he wanted the learned group to find out what is the one real truth, that one underlying fact, which is at the core of all humanity. Most likely the King wanted to enjoy rompy moments of passion in his harem without the pesky presence of the so-called scholars. History is silent on this aspect.
Anyway, the motley mix of men travelled far and wide, straddled across continents and seas, and did not mind any expense, not because they were searching for the deepest truth, but because the royalty was footing their bill. They were the first team that created the expense account budget, a tradition that forms the bedrock of today’s corporate travel culture.
And after years and years of fully-paid junket, the wizened whizs were ready with what any group of researchers always come up with: Wads and wads of verbose prose, not unlike what you encounter in this column.
The mighty emperor was mighty angry as the dense foliage of words was difficult to penetrate into. The scholars too couldn’t escape the situation through the biggest presentation trick that is so hugely popular now: Powerpoint display.
The researchers, still not to miss an opportunity for making more money, sought more time and budget from the king who, needless to say, was keen on for that one line of true wisdom which he can remember when having fun at the harem.
Off went the intellectuals, and it was cue for more expense accounts and travel bills. Eventually, after more years on the road on public funds, they returned to the king’s court, ready with that distilled bit of collected profundity.
As the king sat on his throne, his head and hair gloriously hidden under a resplendent crown, the researchers cleared their collective throats and began laying out the quintessence of their search.
‘Oh king, the mightiest of the mighty,’ they said. Of course, this was not the truth they had come up with.
‘We roamed the riches of the land, we scoured the depths of the oceans, we scrambled through the forests, we winnowed the deserts, we….’
‘Stop it,’ the King growled, because Kings can’t speak normally. ‘Don’t beat around the bush’. He would have liked to say ‘cut to the chase, fellows,’ but that would have been too street slangish and hence unbecoming of a King.
Chastened, the researchers collected their wits and said what they thought they had figured out.
There was a deafening silence. All eyes zoomed in on the king, who for a moment might have thought that the researchers were taking the mickey out of him, for what they had revealed seemed to make fun of him.
But the emperor was not angered, probably because, well, we don’t know. It is unrealistic of you to expect us to remember every little historical detail, especially since we have been painstakingly making them up as we are going along.
Why am I recollecting this old fable today? Good question. But remember, you didn’t ask it; I posed it rhetorically to myself.
Anyway, I always try to remember this story whenever I go to a ‘saloon’ to have my regular haircut. The ‘saloons’ may have become ‘salons’, but one ‘o’ less hasn’t exactly altered the predicament that I have been carrying since my school days.
A flashback to my childhood: Clad in a smelly white shirt, whose whiteness would be highlighted by the shreds of black hair bits that had fallen off from different heads sticking on it, the chief barber (rather the owner) would have one look at me and my head and then summarily nominate the junior most man in the shop to take care of me. For, young heads are where apprentices and neo barbers practise their tentative lessons on.
The apprentice would disinterestedly look at me and then place a wooden plank across the handles of the revolving chair and then ask me to sit on it. Draping a patchy, musty hair-specked cloth over, he would pivot his fingers on my hand and turn it back and forth as if it was some convenient revolving globe. He would survey the head like a master spin bowler would a pitch.
Having had a close look and decided on his approach, he would then pull out a bottle fitted with a pump and proceed to spray the water in it on my head with the ferocity of a fireman trying to extinguish an inferno.
But in my case, the fire was to follow.
He would then violently proceed on my head using a steely combination of scissors, knives, clippers, and sometimes even hand. In his novice enthusiasm, he would take out my skin and scalp many times. But I would sit uncomplainingly lest one wrong, jerky move would leave me ear-less for life.
He brought to his craft the finesse of a sheep-rearer. At the end of it all, it was no coincidence that I used to emerge looking no better than a shorn sheep.
I would not dare look at the mirror; I knew my head would resemble a patchy grassland in summer hardly any growth left and with hardly any hope for growth.
But my father, who would make me proceed straight to the bathroom through the entrance at the back of the house, would survey my head from his height, and smirk his disapproval. ‘Could have cut more,’ would be his succinct response even though it would look like an Australian forest after a terrible bushfire. But I couldn’t summon the courage tell him that if the barber had used the knife any further I would have had an unintended cranial operation.
Now I have grown old, my encounters in the ‘saloon’ have by and large struck to the same script with minor differences here and there: The final outcome is me emerging out with my hairs standing unbending like the Quitab Minar, arousing the same fancy and discussion that the Quitab Minar does.
Whenever my hair seems to induce ridicule, I always remember what scholars and sages thought to be the eternal fact of life. That day those philosophers told the King: ‘As far as we have realised, the one truth involving all men in this world is: Well, no man is truly happy with his hairstyle. He can never be’.
So there, I know your hairstyle too is not giving you any pleasure.