Sitting in class, I decided I was going to get my haircut after lunch. My self-cut and styled faux-hawk/mohawk was at a Eurotrashy point that needed to go. On top it was hanging on to cool, standing up, sorta stylin’, but the back had grown to look like a wet rodent, and, because the top didn’t exist without the back and the back didn’t exist at all, it was time.

Walking down the mountain, zig-zagging on the roads to the town of Landour, tunnel vision engulfed my eyes: people’s hair was all I noticed and this new country provided a lot of variate fodder for consideration. My last teacher of the day wears a bob, a Golden-Girls-middle-aged ‘do with little style, lots of natural curl, and the humid air. Voluminous always.

Approaching me was a nice-looking older man in a button-up shirt, grey slacks that looked to be about the same age as me, sandals, and a sharp part swooping his hair from left to right. It smelled nothing of a balding accountant or first communion participant in a white suit and doting mother. Clean shaven. Smart.

Zooming by on his motorbike, a young stud strut his stuff, his brown locks on full display, perhaps the only reason he bought the bike in the first place. Flowing behind, tended to with much time, loving comb strokes, overpriced product, and a constant dose of vanity, his hair matched his tight shirt, tighter pants, and designer sneakers. He too was clean shaven. Around the curve was an older man, seemingly wise because of his hair, venerable in grey. Long and kempt, his beard was wise in its own right. Nothing special in his style, organic, growing from the tested proteins of his oft-tested brain.

That beard opened a can of worms, blaring new tunes of facial hair styles at me in keys I’ve never heard. Paramount among them: the moustache  a style often made fun of in the U.S., at parties organized around the theme, pedophile jokes, and white trash punch lines. In India, the ‘stache is in. It is everywhere, cooler than bellbottoms, sliced bread, or what that guy on the motorbike thought of himself. Fruitseller, bus driver, tailor  a man assumed to have a sense of style, sporting the ‘stache without shame  another guy on a motorbike, one of my teachers at the school, businessmen in the newspaper. The list could go on. Pubescent boys do their best but need to wait their turn. The moustache, replete with wax, attention, trims, and a garish air, is hip.

Sikh men grow their hair long but rock their turbans with the same concern for appearance as the trendiest secular Bollywood star. Purple shoes, a violet shirt, and darker hue in the turban, one Sikh man struts his stuff like the coolest rooster in the pen, feathers puffed, chest out. There are an array of colors, but the most common are black and white  white is the new black once again, just after black was the new white, equally timeless despite the best efforts of marketers and fashion magazines to suggest something outlandish like earth tones. Simple, becoming.

Some men use henna in their hair, an orange like a tiger, fuming almost in the intensity. That color, if put on a dude in leather with piercings, is available on St. Marks Place, but here it is just right, fitting, and fantastic.

Women are far more understated, a part in the middle, their natural beauty does the talking, not highlights or bloated chests. Most schoolgirls put their hair in two braids, looping the bottoms with ribbon, but even still there are no bells or whistles, texture and natural beauty the expression here.

I’m ready to part with my current style. One week into Hindi language school, we’ve not yet learned, "Please shave my head." Turning into one shop, a storefront no more than four feet by six feet, I am met by a blank face. May I please have a haircut? Still blank. More blank. Then some hand waving, a two-handed, fast-forwarded hello. He is not the barber. Walking on, another sweet beard on another owl-like older man, the moustache featured but aware of its strong supporting cast. About the same size, two chairs, two mirrors, a small bench, some pictures of Ricky Martin, I feel good about this barber. May I have a haircut, please? Yes, please sit. Doing better already, I like where this is going, ready for this teen of about 14 to go get someone. Instead, this young man, unable to even enter as a contestant in the ratty 14-year-old moustache-growing contest, is, it seems, the barber.

His hair is awesome, well oiled, trimmed, a meticulous part in the middle, not as slick as Alfalfa and without the cowlick, a little more air underneath it, wing-like. A sweet guy, yes, but I don’t want his haircut. Grinning in amusement, laughing at the absurdity of the situation and absence of my Hindi skills, I begin: Can you please cut it all one length? Reminded by his face and the mirror, I have a mohawk on my head. Touching the sides, he asks me something. Language barrier. I pick up the clipper and ask him for the #2 attachment. Nice, now we’re going. He shuffles through a drawer that doesn’t glide open, but in its worn wood that just fits, it sits in place, hanging down, its contents rushing forward. There are matches, papers from the Dark Ages, rusty scissors, magazine shards, and lucky number #2. Right where I put it, perfectly organized, a little smile peeps through from the barber, amused at what is going on. I’m right there with him, still smiling. One length please, all, cut it off… I try numerous approaches to the same end, taking the clippers and motioning them through my hair. Enter hands: not just saying "one length, #2" but pushing my hands through my hair as if I just surfaced from underwater, then scissorhands, back to the water motion again. Slowly, the boulder creaks forward; we are on to something, about to start rolling down the hill. The sweet buzz of a hair clipper, a soft hum like a blue mosquito light, my hair running to the blades and their dramatic end. Smoothly, the sides are crisply clipped. Now I really look ridiculous.

Getting the clippers through the thicket on top proves challenging, far more testing of the clippers, mosquitoes upgraded to Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a wild animal far more difficult to tame but not unconquerable. With great care, this young man, a young man with great experience but no frame of reference for this foreign species, crouches slightly, pauses, unplugs the weapon and calls for backup, reaching into a bag on the wall to produce another clipper. "New." My smile grows, as does his, and my mohawk quivers in fear, eyes darting like a cornered mouse, aware that it doesn’t stand a chance. This new clipper has been raring to go, a young colt pleading for the track, a Porsche feigning for the Audubon, no seatbelts, bets placed, harnessed with current, plowing ahead. There is a lot of hair, but his savvy enters here, the home stretch in sight. He saves enough for the straightaway and comes up strong to challenge and overtake A Few Stray Hairs, Precarious Ear Area, as well as the favored Encroaching Back Moss.

A deep breath on both our parts; little did I know we were just getting started. Those awesome rusty scissors jumped out of the drawer. I’m stoked to think that they are going to touch me with the intent of cutting things off my body. Sweet. But, young Luke Skywalker uses the force, shaping the hairs around my ear keenly. Nice. I think we’re done. Then, like a samurai wielding numbchucks, he does this crazy thing with a straight razor, like a ninja with a butterfly knife, too fast for a mere mortal to really understand, aided by instant replay and dramatic camera work. A new razor inserted, my neck is cleaner than a newly Zambonied ice skating rink.

Unknowingly, we had now arrived at the final frontier. With his palms down, arms bent at the elbow, and my body the location of a fire, he started fanning me and saying some words. Clueless, my face’s blank stare said that I didn’t know what was going on. More flapping and I finally got it. I crouched in my chair, deciphering the "can you please schooch down" motion that he was trying to tell me  there wasn’t actually a fire. Then, Spider Fingers went to work with a divine touch to rival that of Brancusi, massaging my head in ways I didn’t know were possible. Jammed into the chair in a proper crouch, I was delighted.

Baby powder, payment, and the awesome burst of air on my newly shorn head. One last look back, our smiles were mutual, entirely amused with what just transpired.

In The Fray is a nonprofit staffed by volunteers. If you liked this piece, could you please donate $10?