Goodbye, Ramzan Ali

“The usual,” I said, as a slid comfortably into the second seat

“It’s been a while, right – almost six weeks.”

“Six weeks? No, it has been the usual – three weeks at the most.”

“Nope. At least five weeks. I know better,” he said with an air of finality.

He must be about fifteen years younger than I am, but that kind of authority amused me into silence. I thought I’d argue a bit more; try to at least insert a doubt in his calculations, if not convince him.

“I’ve been doing this long enough and I’ve known your hair for more than six years now,” he said, almost reading my mind and putting to death any devilish desire I had of furthering the argument. It struck me after a while that he expressed his good acquaintance not with me but my hair. He didn’t say, ‘I’ve known you for six years’.

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Barbers probably know your hair more than they know you. The typical barber probably knows you equally better – with his constant chatter, but Ramzan Ali is not your typical barber. He doesn’t talk a lot as he goes about shedding the load off your head, but he seems to notice and remember his customer’s preferences. Once, during the IPL matches, the salon was empty, he asked his colleague to switch the channel and put on some music instead of the match. He changes razor blades in plain sight where I can see them; reminds me of scenes from Ocean’s Thirteen, when the dealer is changing that white ball at roulette.

Ramzan is from a village called Durgwalia, which doesn’t exist on Google maps. It is close to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. There, in Durgwalia he has a large family – he is the youngest of a few brothers, married with a kid.

“Don’t you miss your wife?” I asked, regretting instantly my choice of words – maybe I should have used family, instead of wife.

“Life’s like that – I can provide better, working here.”

I didn’t want to ask any more questions, but he went on about the porous Nepal border and how he and his friends often cross into and out of Nepal in a single day. He spoke about his uncles and the varied professions that his family was involved in. Every time, with every haircut, there was a story or another.

I called the shop the other day to confirm that he was available for a haircut.

Saudia ka plan bana liya usne,” came a stranger’s voice. (He has made plans to go to Saudi Arabia)

I didn’t go for a haircut for another week, wondering what I will do. Missing Ramzan, but wishing him well. I am now in the process of training another person at another place, but I often remember his sweet smile and his animated stories.

Goodbye, Ramzan Ali, you will be missed. Fare well.

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