Disclaimer: “This story is part of The Bombay Review Creative Writing Workshop. Changes and edits to the plot and theme of the story, suggested by The Bombay Review instructors were not accepted by the author.”
Bollywood Menz Salon
Gabriel and Peter were regulars at the Bollywood Menz Salon run by Jafar and Junaid. Gabriel and Peter were two competitive, business partners in the fast polarizing posters and billboards industry. So, while one was drawn to left leaning advertisers the other was meeting clients from the right. Jafar and Junaid were brothers, sons of a dead couple who had once fled Karachi over a murmur that Hindustan was going to be democratic and secular.
They inherited the shop from their father and called it Bollywood Menz Salon, maybe it was destiny. Both their parents were crazy about cinema. Classics, big-budget summer releases, animation, musicals, even merchandising: like posters, tapes and collectibles. They were fanatics when it came to movies and movie stars. They met Gabriel and Peter when they were looking for the top quality graphic decoration options for their barbershop. The collectibles they found and the posters they were able to put up in their shop really made the salon look every bit worthy of its name. From the walls to the windows their barbershop was a colorful montage of Bollywood. Love songs always played on the stereo whenever the shop was open for customers.
Jafar – the careful – was sweeping the floor. It was an early Saturday morning. Glued to the TV set, Junaid was skipping through channels.
Gabriel and Peter were not really ‘frequenters‘ at the shop because, well, Peter’s hair took longer to grow and frankly Gabriel had almost lost his hair. They entered the shop, deep in discussion, something about the growing intolerance in the neighborhood.
“Everyone is equal and some are more equal than others, huh?” Peter said.
Jafar looked at them like he would at any other first customer of the day. He was hoping that it would be a pleasant, non argumentative day. But what Gabriel and Peter were having was something which resonated with most people today, at least most with thinking minds and Jafar couldn’t help but get drawn in. He was a listener.
Gabriel’s voice was loud when he replied, “Let it be, what have you got to do with all of it? Put your flag on the staff?”
“Brother, if this isn’t the tone one takes with an enemy then what is it?” Peter asked Jafar.
“People need adversaries so that they can get a sense of belonging with those they consider their own kind,” Jafar said.
“Such unity of the people! Dear God, we might as well be living in the United States of America,” Gabriel taunted.
“No nation is ever perfect,” Jafar added.
Junaid got up after finally finding a decent movie to watch on the Sahara channel. “Come, sit,” he told Gabriel. They moved near the counter. Gabriel kept his mobile, glasses and wallet on the marble slab and sat down. Junaid began with his usual hair-cutting routine.
“We are witnessing ghettoization, I’m telling you,” said Peter. “This whole world will become a ghetto, divided into labels people themselves wouldn’t be able to tell apart. I feel existential myself. Wonder what category of people I fit in.”
“Poor, probably,” Gabriel laughed.
“What did you say?” Peter asked. “You called me poor? I’m doing okay for myself. I don’t need to hear anything from you about it.”
He reached for the newspaper, sat back on the sofa in the corner of the shop and began to read. As Gabriel was getting his haircut, Peter would marvel loudly at happenings around the country mentioned in the daily, critiquing them, criticizing them and worrying on behalf of the world.
“If the liquor ban was to ever get imposed here, I wonder how you’d survive a single day, Gabriel,” he said mockingly. Gabriel was fuming but he didn’t utter a word. He just sighed.
Jafar didn’t like this banter and intervened. “Why do you always pull poor Gabriel’s leg, Peter? Brother Gabriel, did you bring those posters I asked you to?” Gabriel nodded quietly. Junaid was almost done with him.
“Here.” Peter said and produced a roll of posters from his side. Jafar reached for them carefully.
He stood there with the unrolled posters, mesmerized. “I like this one the most,” he said smiling.
“Which one?” Junaid asked childishly, wrapping up with Gabriel. He came near Jafar and peeked at the poster in front of him. “It’s beautiful”, he exclaimed.
It was a burnt-out graphic print of the Bollywood megastar, Shahid Kapoor. In the poster, he was smiling, but there seemed to be some pain in his eyes. The duo considered the poster, it was pure art for them. Junaid washed his hands and went out to put up the poster on the window by the front door. In the meantime, Peter said to Gabriel, “You complain a lot. Did anything happen? Everybody knows things are bad, why can’t you cut it out once in a while. The world is fighting like it always does, but how are you fooled by the show, the show all these political parties put up. What is this? Is it wrestling? Is this a sport? Stop being an invested spectator.”
Gabriel was the kind of man who was always on the lookout for a fight. Gabriel knew who his enemies were. He was threatened and hurt and he never forgot about that.
“Who’s in the mood for some comedy? Let’s switch the channel to something light.” He rummaged through the channels till he found something worthwhile. Govinda was dancing in front of what looked like a multi-million dollar set. Surely, things don’t get better than that. Everybody loved to dance in Bollywood.
That was quite a weekend for Gabriel. Three of the clients he had been talking to had said no to him, until they agreed to sign a contract with Peter. That made him really sad. After a few months, he came to the barbershop, alone. It was almost closing time. Leaning against the outside wall, Junaid, wearing a Burman hat, smoking a cigarette, saw Gabriel come in. The weather was cold; Gabriel kept his golf jacket on the side table. His hair was a real mess, and he was as drunk as he could be, swinging-swaying. He sat down in front of the mirror and started rubbing his palms together for warmth.
“Peter,” he sniggered. “Thinks he is bigger than me. One day he will vanish. He’ll come calling after me then.”
“You’ll be in a grave by then if you keep drinking at this rate,” Jafar said. Suddenly, he noticed an injury on the side of Gabriel’s head. Blood was dripping down the right side of his face. All the way down to the floor.
“Junaid, bring the first aid box here,” he said.
“You must be wondering how it happened. Don’t worry I’ll tell you,” Gabriel struggled to put his words together. “I went to Peter to tell him he was stealing all my clients. He said that all the connections were his own. He took my cut away from me. How could I not fight for what’s mine? He messed my head up.”
Jafar and Junaid were shocked. “When I was leaving the office this afternoon, a group of men attacked me and shoved me to the ground. They kicked me, swore at me. I knew Peter sent them… Anyway, hey, Junaid! Get to my hair already! I’ve to be home. My wife is waiting for me.” Jafar bandaged the side of his head before the haircut.
Peter and Gabriel remained drinking friends though. Month after month, for almost a couple of years now, Jafar and Junaid had seen the two show each other down over money issues but the drinking continued. The barbers were sure that the root of their problems was money.
One Monday morning, Peter came to the salon without Gabriel. At first he didn’t say a word, or act strange. He kept his eyes shut till the cut was nearly done. Jafar – the careful – asked him “Came all by yourself today?”
“So? You think of me as Gabriel’s dog? I can’t go anywhere without him?”
Jafar eased, and explained to him that that was not what he meant. Peter calmed down immediately as well, and admitted that he had overreacted.
“He’s been wasting my time and my money,” Peter told them. A Kavita Seth song was playing in the background softly. “Mind if I use the tap real quick?” he asked Jafar. Wiping his own hands in the towel Jafar signaled him to go ahead.
“That day he said he was hungry, and asked me to buy him fruits, and sure! I paid for them, but you know, he is the kind of guy who is always looking to take advantage of one’s kindness. He bought more than he could eat, way more. And what do I see three days later? A cloth bag is hanging in the office, flies circling around it, and all the fruits had gone bad.”
“He had hardly even touched them. And you know…..ah…. Sorry, I’m bothering you.”
“No. This is your home. You are our brother too. These things happen,” Jafar said. “Don’t mind Gabriel, I know he is foolish. Don’t let him take control of the business. He will only fail you again.” He added.“What did you say that to him for, huh?” Junaid asked.
“What?” Jafar looked at him plainly. “It’s business.”
It confused Junaid that his brother could say that and overlook the theft from another man’s pocket. When he was a boy, like a rag picker, Junaid would bring home tiny pieces of metal waste from the road. For him, it was a meaningless act but the perseverance with which his younger brother collected scrap impressed Jafar. To make his job easier Jafar tied a magnet to a yardstick for Junaid to take with him on his little hunts. Once he had collected enough pieces, with a blowtorch, they would melt them all down one by one and watch them change shape. Nothing could ever be permanent, they were told by their father, everything was temporary. One day when Junaid brought home a bronze coin he had nicked off a blind woman’s antique store, for his crime Jafar gave him a severe beating. He wanted his brother to know that greed was a terrible thing and stealing was truly vile. Junaid reminded his brother of that once Peter was gone.
“You are right. I cannot say such things so casually. People’s lives are their own, private.” Jafar admitted. “You know, I look around, and I feel grateful for the life I have. Our parents left us all of this. How can I not feel grateful for it? I feel indebted. I know things are tough, that is why Peter and Gabriel quarrel, but when the time is right, we will all be at peace, and happy. There is no guarantee it will be beautiful, but it will be peaceful.”
“I understand that. Just don’t interfere in the lives of others like that, that was almost the seeds of poison that you probably slipped into him today. You never know when you might disturb someone so much they set out to hurt you,” Junaid said, concerned for his brother. Times were hard.
Then one day what Junaid feared took place. Peter had come in to get his usual haircut and shave. Halfway through, a gang of men bearing party flags came flocking the narrow road outside Bollywood Menz Salon chanting absurd communal slogans. Their roar drowned the tune from the radio. From that crowd appeared Gabriel with a knife in his hand. Barging into the shop he tried to pierce the shiny silver blade through the chest of Peter. Jafar caught his hand at the right moment and the knife fell to the side. His eyes seemed to be troubled with a thirst for Peter’s blood, his jaws clenched so hard he could have bitten off his own tongue and made a mess of his mouth. Words failed Gabriel, vigorously shaking with hate his gaze turned to the mirror and caught a glimpse of his reflection. How could he not feel remorse? Carefully observing the pace of time slow down Jafar shoved and threw Gabriel out of his shop at once and told him never to come back again.
“You coward!” Peter screamed from over Jafar’s shoulder. “You tried to kill me. Sin has gotten the better of you. I thought you were my brother. Coward, come at me again, I dare you!” “I will strike you down. You are my enemy.” screamed Gabriel like a madman in the street outside Bollywood Menz Salon.
“He is not your enemy, doesn’t he have a right to live?” Junaid innocently yelled back as he stood behind the half-shut door, shivering.
Vaibhav Srivastava was born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh in 1995. He now works and lives in New Delhi. He experiments with various forms of writing like plays, poetry, prose, essays and journal. Find him at https://inkcircle.blogspot.
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