Succumbing to Temptation by Roger
The first rays of the sun are just breaking through the early morning mist but already the narrow streets leading down to the (Ganga) Ganges in Varanasi, India are thronged with people.
Food stalls are doing a roaring trade but the busiest people are the barbers both inside their tiny shops, squatting down by the roadside or on the flight of steps (called a ghat) leading down to the river. It is the last day of one of the major festivals of the Hindu calendar and for the male devotees, many of whom have come long distances to be part of the celebrations, having ones head completely shaved or at the very least a nice clean face shave is part of the ritual.
The barbers look very skilful with their cutthroat razors and in no time at all a once full head of hair is replaced with a shiny bald dome.
I speak to a group of men who have just had their heads shaved and ask rather self-consciously whether I can touch the newly clean domes. They think this is a funny request but don't seem fazed by it and the sensation of rubbing my hand over the skin feels good.
I have usually kept my hair short but never 'gone all the way'. My hair has been getting thin on the crown and receding at the front but with a full beard I had always thought that a shaved head would look rather odd. However in my mind there has long been the desire to one day shave my head completely bald.
Watching the men have their heads shaved has given me a bit of a hard-on and I am suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that I should join in his ritual and have my head shaved. What better time and place to succumb to temptation when I would be only one among hundreds!
Sitting on the steps I point to my own head and make a cleaning motion and within seconds a couple of the waiting barbers are lining up for my business.
Before I can weaken and change my mind a cloth is draped over my shoulders as I squat down on the steps alongside the other men already being shaved. A small crowd gathers to watch. I indicate that I only want my head shaved and that my beard should not be touched.
With a swift motion the razor begins to clear my scalp, chunks of greying hair falling to the ground. The barber is very efficient with the cut-throat razor and unlike what would happen in a 'western' barber's shop there is no reducing the hair to a stubble first and then going ahead with the razor. First one side, then the other and the hair on the crown is also rapidly removed; in no time I can feel the cool morning air on the newly exposed skin. The feeling is fantastic and I don't want the experience to end. Perhaps because it is the barber's first western customer he is meticulous in removing every last bit of stubble as he works both with and against the grain.
To complete his work the barber rubs some oil into my scalp which, when I rub my hand over it, feels quite smooth and soft.
The barber produces a small broken bit of mirror and I take my first look at the end result. It is a real shock to see myself bald for the first time but fortunately my head is a reasonable shape without too many bumps. It looks a bit odd with the beard still there but I am not prepared at this stage to also lose that - it has been part of me for over thirty years.
The watchers seem bemused at the action of this 'stranger' in their midst. I pay the barber his ridiculously small fee which he accepts with a gracious bow.
I feel very self-conscious at first imagining everyone is looking at me so I place a cap on my head but to most of the other devotees and visitors I am just another person in the vast crowd on the river bank.
Then I realise that I will have to face my wife when I get home. Fortunately she is pretty supportive, commenting that I do have a good shaped head. Six months later I have continued to shave my head on a regular basis, it is accepted as my look.