Asia | India | Indian Himalayas – It’s Just Not the Same
Inspired by my friend Shormistha in Bombay who introduced me to this lovely ritual, when I passed the beauty parlor yesterday in Mcleod Ganj, I decided on an impulse to have my head oiled.
There are only a handful of beauty parlors here, and none down where I’m living now near the Library. This could be because so many people are monastics with shaved heads, and they have no provision for luxuries like having a good head massage in any of their rule books.
But anyway, I went to the Dreamland Beauty Parlor, where I’ve had strange experiences before, but each time I go in I have new hopes. I’ve had a pedicure (sort of), a facial (ouch!), and a manicure (disaster), and spent way too much money. But I figured, ‘Oiling hair and having my head massaged is an Indian tradition. How could they mess this up?’
I sat down in the barber-style chair, looking at myself in the flattering lighted mirror which makes me look almost 40 again (and if I squint, 35). The silver at my temples and in the part of my hair gleamed and almost looked pretty. There was a soap on TV in Hindi.
The girl who does the hair wrapped a small towel around my neck, only slightly bigger than a facecloth. I noticed that the large plastic cape was already around a Tibetan girl’s shoulders who had a shower cap on her head, so I guess I didn’t rate. The Indian girl smiled with reassurance as she tucked the towel ineffectually into my collar.
I said, ‘This is my best shirt. Do you have a hair clip?’ She produced one of those silver clips and I fastened the washrag more securely.
She asked if I wanted coconut oil or alena? I think that was the name – I found out it was an herbal mixture, so I chose that one. It resembled the bottle of Neem oil (see the photo above) that I swear by for everything from shining shoes to oiling the squeaky handles of my door, but it’s a bit too heavy to put on my hair. Still, it smells good.
To be fair, the massage was great. She really has strong hands (as I had discovered during the painful facial I’d gotten a few months before), and this felt really good on my scalp. By the time she was finished, my hair was so greasy, I looked at my reflection and decided I could be mistaken for a spaniel that had fallen into a tub of lard.
‘How do you feel?’ she said. I said, ‘Great.’ She removed the towel and asked me for 75 rupees.
Nope. I didn’t get a shampoo, and I demurely and with great dignity produced my gray plastic hair clip from my jacket pocket, smoothed back my hair (what there was of it) and did my best to fluff it around my face before clipping it back at my neck.
Well, at least I didn’t end up with ruined nails, a blotchy complexion or clean feet with unclipped toenails.
I must try to do this again.