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Escape From Reality: India's Barbershops


And India has just held its general election, a month long event. It was long and ruckus and the votes were finally counted over the weekend. Our correspondent Philip Reeves has been covering it for us. Every now and then he sends us a letter about what life is like in that country. This is his latest. It's all about a much needed respite.

PHILIP REEVES: The worst thing about covering an Indian election is not the bewildering coalition politics, nor is it the campaign rhetoric - the promises made only to be broken - it's the yelling.

Unidentified Man: The UPA returns to power for another five years. Manmohan Singh will be the prime minister. In Bengal, the Trinamool-Congress alliance…

REEVES: India's TV anchors yell at the best of times. In election season, they really let it rip.

Unidentified Man: In U.P., the Congress gains but it's the BSP that emerges the single largest.

REEVES: This isn't the time of year for extra decibels. New Delhi is engulfed by brain-numbing heat. The monsoon, with its cooling rains, is still weeks away. The holidays seemed far off. The most trifling incident can make you snarl with rage. I've been wondering for a long time where men in India go to get away from all this heat and noise. Now I know. They come here to the barbers. This is my local barbershop. It's an old-fashioned ramshackle little place on the edge of a market. A haircut costs the equivalent of a dollar. Hindu gods gaze down laconically from pictures on the walls. Wooden fans stir slowly overhead. The door swings open. A client walks in. He already has freshly cropped hair, not a whisker is out of place. The man sits down. The barber gives him a perfunctory trim and then the real business begins.

First, the head rub, then the neck rub, finally the face rub. I've never been to an Indian barber who's been remotely interested in cutting my hair. These barbers here are the same. Half a dozen clients lounge back in the chairs. One's having oil rubbed into his eyebrows, another's being given a chin massage. Like cats in need of stroking, these men have come here to be soothed and pampered for an hour or two. There's no yelling, no one even speaks. But were it not for the noise of the fans, I'm sure we'd hear the sound of purring.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.