Sunday afternoon in Mumbai, fans are whirring at full speed to beat back the feverish air waves all around. It is so hot, even the stray dogs have lost their will and hide under cars for respite from the heat. Shutters are down, fruit vendors shield their produce with newspapers,taking one section to cover their own faces as they stretch out. Shade is coveted, breathing slows down, activity ceases. The whole neighborhood is taking a collective nap.
I feel like a deviant walking down the road, like the one kid in montessori who gets up and plays while her classmates obediently take the sleep break. It’s as if I’m breaking an unspoken, long-established, self-evident rule, that nobody should move at the peak of the afternoon. I stride forward, consciously, and dash into the beauty parlour that is my destination.
Inside, everything is different. There is a bustle of life, as stylists and masseurs scurry back and forth and in between to groom, revive and pamper women who have descended on the parlour. I have stumbled on an underground culture, a band of renegades breaking boundaries, engaging in life vibrantly, even while the outside world enforces a pause on life.
On one side, a 20-something is getting a hot oil head massage from the sole male member of the parlour’s staff. His strong fingers weave through her dense hair, stimulating the scalp, as if to get the blood flowing freely. She flops like a rag doll, surrendering, letting him pull and push her head as needed. By the end of it, she lifts herself up, as if woken up with a new surge of energy. In the corner, an older woman, maybe a mother of teenagers, chats with her pedicurist. They exchange gossip, as she is a regular at the salon, and the pedicurist seems to know different members of her family and their personal sagas.
I am greeted by them all, being a regular myself. Friendly hellos and offers of tea and coffee put me at home. They are glad to see me, and we pick up conversation threads from where they were left off. It is comforting, being here, like a cocoon. She starts infusing my hair with mahogany-toned cream, and I sit back, ready to transform while the world outside remains still.