Dr Prabdh Karnik attended the Leiden Cochlear Implant course in Sept 2015.Dr Prabodh Karnik delivered the prestigious Dr T O Shah Oration at the KEMHospital,Mumbai on April 19th 2017.


An o is the difference

Like all small boys and puppies,  I too, detested haircuts. A monthly visit to the ‘saloon’- that’s what barber shops are called in Mumbai- was a crying match between my parents and me. As I grew older I learnt the basics of negotiation- chocolate or a coke in exchange for sitting quietely. Fortunately, when I was in college and medical school, long hair was cool; so, what haircut! After that it was a once in two month visit to the local saloon and a quick half hour job. Instructions were rudimentary- in summer, cut it short, otherwise medium-cut and don’t cover my eyes and ear. The bonus was after the cut; head massage (my well healed friends insist that it’s a maalish) with cooling mint oil and a little ‘press’ of the arms and back. All this, even today at the neighbourhood saloon costs a princely ₹250, tip included. Just for comparison I began by paying ₹1 for the cut in the early sixties!

So, recently when a friend gave me coupons for a complimentary haircut from a top stylist with a top ‘salon’ chain I was keen to know what difference an ‘o‘ makes to the cut and the overall experience.

Firstly, I couldn’t just show up and read dog eared copies of Filmfare and Stardust- not permitted at home-while waiting for my turn in the chair; one has to call (or even download an app and book online) and make an appointment. Then, I could actually go with my wife to this salon unlike the men’s only place that I go to!  I asked for a simultaneous appointment for both of us and a European sounding voice at the other end graciously obliged.

On last Thursday then, determined to be punctual, we pruned our patient list for the morning and made our way to this salon in an upmarket south Mumbai mall. At the reception was a difficult-to-determine-gender person who greeted and welcomed us in his sing-song nasal twang that told me he was raised between Vadodada and Versailles. He gravely pronounced that ‘Gautam and Keerti ‘ would attend to us. We were led into this large soft furnished space with large mirrors on the wall with swivel chairs facing them. Beige was the predominant colour. Fu-mu played softly through concealed speakers.

Keerti was a twenty-something Manipuri blonde-BLONDE!- and politely she led me to my swivel chair. “How do you want your cut?” and I blurted out the usual “Medium, don’t let my hair on my eyes and ear”; I didn’t know what else one could ask for. So she ruffled her fingers through my hair picked up few strands at strategic areas and pronounced that she will keep it “long on the top and short on the sides”. I told her to do her best but keep in mind that I am an ENT Surgeon and patients shouldn’t think that they are getting operated upon by a tattoo artist.  From a drawer next to her she pulled out a giant trimmer adjusted the dial and began running it through my hair. Having been used to snip-snip of the manual scissor-comb cut the gentle purr of the trimmer was nice and comforting. I was also surprised that Keerti finished very quickly. She then pulled out her scissors and comb and finished off the cut. At the end I suggested that the front hair be further shortened so that I don’t get them into my eye in two weeks time; she did so reluctantly, muttering that the symmetry of the cut was being ruined.

I profusely thanked her and was beginning to get up and leave when she told me that I still needed to get my hair washed, shampooed and blow dried. The chair for that, in a different room, was extremely comfortable and the head could be lowered into a wash basin. Using a high speed jet of seriously warm water and with ample shampoo, Keerti washed my hair and gently massaged the scalp- nothing near the rubdown that the nameless worker does in my regular saloon. After that she brought out a giant- almost industrial in size and design-hairdryer and quickly dried my hair. I tried to make polite conversation re: the wattage of this dryer but either she didn’t know or wasn’t telling me.

I saw that my wife had also finished and had got herself that quirky straightish short hair that women always long for. Being prudent and having been married for thirty years, I told her that it’s lovely though I thought it was so so. Needles to say, she didn’t even notice that I had got a haircut or at least pretended not to. I gave a tip to Gautam and Keerti which was more than twice the price of the haircut plus oil massage that I get in my neighbourhood saloon. A quick coffee at the CCD and back to work for both us.

So, does an extra o make a difference to the haircut?  Well, different strokes for different folks. Like a rose that smells as sweet by any other name, my hair will be as unkempt by the end of the workday- salon or saloon. Keerti was quick, efficient and clinical and would have made a gifted surgeon if she had chosen to pursue medical school. The salon was certainly more spacious, much cleaner and the gentle soothing music was far better than the Hindi songs off FM on the small transistor with aging batteries. The vigorous head massage with cooling mint oil in the saloon after the haircut – you are walking two feet off the ground when you leave, it’s so good- would have been welcome in the salon. The LOL difference of course was the cost- the tip at a salon was much more than the entire saloon experience. The absent o eventually shows up in your credit card statement! Modi ji will be happy too.

12 Responses to “An o is the difference”

  • Milind:

    Prabodh. Ram Ram Saheb
    I can completely relate to your hair cutting experience.
    For me it was a weekly experience when I grew up in Police quarters. My father always was deco plumes and every Sunday morning we would be paraded to this AC saloon in Opera House where the barber would promptly put double seat covers to raise us up on the heavy salon chairs. O cut hand held machine would do quick job ! I now remember those 0 cuts ( nothing shorter than that can be cut that is why called 0 cut) when I adjust my lawn mowers-way down literally cut to ground !
    As we grew up as described we wanted long hairs. So one time my dad says go you need to your hair next Sunday I trypsin to ignore him again and I was sternly orderd to go to ” Vakil” my barber of last 49 years at New Star Hair Saloon next to my house adjoining Saroj Hotel. I come home and my dad said I can’t see you have had a hair cut. So back I go and after 2 times I come back without much to show my dad says ” Milind if you don’t get the hair cut with 0 machine I will ask my lockup barber to come
    home and give you a “proper” cut !

  • Pranav Kulkarni:

    Don’t stop here!

  • Gautam:

    Great read Prabodh. Give me more!

  • Maya:

    Too good Pubby!
    Publishing worthy!!

  • Anil:

    Too good! Completely relate to this “hoity toity but rip off “experience!



    Gentle humor in the writing
    You truly are a gifted writer

  • Avinash:

    Great read Prabodh. Brought back similar memories of crying and being held down for a haircut with ” Ballu” across the street. As I grew older, Dad would not let us keep long hair , so my hair stood up on the back of my head, leading to my childhood name” Porky” . Can relate to Pranav. I would try and bargain with Ballu to keep my hair a little longer and avoid a heavy dose of the zero trimmer. He would look me in the eye and say that Baba would send me back and he did, so I quit .
    Well , as I went off to college and then Med school, my only request would be to keep the ears open and not to have porcupine hair.
    When I moved to North America, I tried a few “salons”. To justify their price, they would cut 1 strand at a time, to justify the cost.. Being used to quick haircuts, I had to look around till I found a good old barber who gave appointments and was quick and cheap. Alas, he has retired, so now I use a in between place, not quite a salon or a saloon. To this day, I always get a haircut and good maalish from Ballu’s grandkids every year when I visit home. Since I leave a ” generous” tip, they are happy to see me and I am happy to get 1 good haircut every year, where I leave the saloon feeling good
    What goes around comes around. I have had the unpleasant job of holding our son down when he detested haircuts. He would scream so much that the barber shop would cut his hair at the end of the day after all customers had left!

  • Amrish Vaidya:

    Ha ha ! Brought back memories- of the old style barber cuts, and a one-off experience of those stylist cuts!
    I sponsored the saloon experience to a swiss friend and his two young sons – it’s become a standard request at every visit to India now!

  • Dr Nitin M:

    Nice piece, you took us on a drive on memory lanes.

  • viswanathan muthukrishnan:

    The difference between OO and O is the difference between Matunga- Dadar guy and the guys from Colaba who donot know any place beyond Worli and who would require a visa to travel beyond Worli Naka.

  • Hair Cut of Avinash was big noisy big cry holding two peraons. Nandalal was favourite of my landlord Keshubhai and Dr. Arvindbhai. They would take Nandalal would have nasta with Keshubhai and with Dr Arvindbhai pan And with that a momth of fun and frolick

  • swati:


    I laughed so much reading your experience….do I see a publication just around the corner?

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