“A little down there, Chinni”, I said as his nimble fingers were sliding down the nape of my neck in the slipperiness induced by the generous dabs of navaratna oil. Chinni’s signature head massage is the singular reason for my going to that salon for a haircut.
“Sir, have you travelled in this jumbo jet?” asked Chinni showing me the picture of the Boeing 777 of Malaysian Airlines that was on top of the newspaper. “Yes Chinni, many times…” I replied. “Isn’t that too scary, thinking about it?” he persisted in his Telugu laden, broken Tamil. Chinni is from a village somewhere near Kakinada. “It is, but I don’t generally think about it…” I answered while enjoying the slow gliding movements of his fingers that were busy kneading the back of my neck.
He knows that I don’t like to talk while he works on my neck and shoulders, the best part of his massage, when I prefer to close my eyes and enjoy it. So he waited until he finished there and was back on my scalp again to pop up the next one. “Sir is Singapore a better place or Dubai?” “What? Are you planning to go and settle abroad?” I asked back. “No no sir, just asking….” he said, a bit embarrassed. “There is nothing wrong if you wish to….” I encouraged him.
The strong scent of the oil and the sting of its menthol chillness were making a heady combo while his fingers continued to work magic on my scalp. “I was wondering if ever I would be able to go to foreign countries. I have never been in an aircraft” he was telling more to himself. “You will be able to Chinni, it isn’t a big deal these days by the way….” I told him without realising that the very statement itself was a big deal for him. “Really?” his eyes popped up while asking. “But I am not even Class X pass, sir”.
“Well it could have helped you to feel more confident about yourselves had you cleared it, but not clearing Class X should not be a disqualification for you to go abroad in my opinion” my teeth were rattling while I said this in tune with the tapping he was doing on my head. “But tell me why do you want to go abroad?” I asked him. “Because I want to be the best in what I do, sir” he replied.
The steady stream of the just-perfectly-hot water was giving a thermal shock to my menthol-cooled-numb head, while Chinni’s fingers were moonwalking on it to whip up the lather from the shampoo. “Before I started travelling abroad, I too used to think that the best is outside of India and hence used to feel less confident about myself. But not anymore, as whatever we see as the best around the world, we too can be, and in some cases we are” I told him lifting my upturned head from the well of the wash basin and plunging it straight into the womb of the fresh towel that he was holding.
As he was busy soaking up the wetness with that towel and then blow drying my hair, I continued. “One of our big problems as Indians is that we don’t back ourselves up enough. What we need first is the self-confidence and the belief that we can be the best in anything we do. Besides, in order for us to be world-class in what we do, we don’t have to go all over the globe, but can be that right here where we are.”
I didn’t bother to check if he understood that part – of being world-class and being global are two different things in the way I wanted him to, as I was struggling myself to get my bleary vision right, due to the burning in my eyes caused by the unavoidable seepage of oil, shampoo and water into them. By the time I was combing my hair to give it some finishing touches, Chinni had brought me the customary masala chai.
Sipping the steaming chai I told him, “You should know that, of all the places I have been to in this world, I choose to come here to have my haircut and head massage not because it is just convenient or cheaper for me, but because you give me the best ever head massage that is truly out of the world!”
“Thank you sir,” said Chinni trying to suppress a proud grin that let itself escape through his eyes as a sparkle….