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

A citizen journalist narrates her experience of getting a hair cut by following the norms of social distancing.

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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