Even simplest of the chores, when away from home, in a different country, can be daunting. After more than two years in Sweden, I still can’t get a decent haircut – mainly because I cannot convey myself clearly – and I don’t blame the people working in the salons for my plight.
With such trepidation that has become a common feeling now, I finally made up my mind to trim the shabby dark mop that sits over my head. I went to the usual salon, behind my university and work place. I used to visit a different place initially. Now, of late, I have settled with this one. In the last 6 visits, never have I seen the same person run this shop. They are all different, only denominated by their nativity and the generous warmth.
The place is a meagre establishment, and not a posh salon. I must admit here, I have tried to imagine how different the experience in these exorbitant places could be, when all we want to is to let go off some hair. In any case, this place is run by second generation Swedes – a weird euphemism that categorises people whose parents migrated into Sweden. Most of them from the middle East, and not for happy reasons. This family is from Iraq, I learned.
The man who was running the salon today must have been in his late forties, and had all the qualities of the patriarch who was running the show. Slightly large, but he seemed agile with his movements when performing his meticulous art on another customer. Occasionally, also whistling along the radio. Mostly out of tune.
When my turn came, he ushered me warmly to the seat, and immediately asked if I was from India. I nodded, as if to acknowledge the stereotype about our multi-purpose nods. After I confessed my lack of Swedish skills, he confidently said “litet Engleska”. Assuring me we could do just fine with his little English skills and I gave him a thumbs up, assuring him I would contribute my two cents of Svenska.
The first words that he spoke were a series of names – Bachchan, Gabbar Singh, Hema Malini, Dharmendra- I captioned the series with ” Sholay”. He gleefully nodded and said that he was a big fan. I thanked Bollywood for being that bridge (not necessarily a proud one) between some of India and rest of the world. After our bond was made based on the greatest film (or so it is perceived) to come out of Bollywood – Sholay – we got along pretty well for the next half n hour.
Our Bollywood chats spanned the same course, as with any foreigner from the middle East – few songs, some more names and immense fondness. Even I miss the 70’s and early 80’s Bollywood. Bollywodd today is trash in comparison. I refrain from delving into further details of our Bollywood conversation here.
This man did know a few phrases from Indiska – the Swedish name for Hindi – presumably because it is still falsely believed across the world that Hindi is the main language spoken in India. As I know Hindi, I did not get into a discussion on the linguistic diversity of India. A useful phrase he expertly used was “Mushkil hai”, which can mean anything ranging from “it is difficult” to “it is infeasible”, or even “it is sorry”. He started saying “Vatan (country) mushkil hai”, “jahan (world) mushkil hai”, “jung (war) mushkil hai”, “gareebi (poverty) mushkil hai” and ended with the Swedish word for loneliness, which because I could not grasp the word, he had to animate it to me and declared even that was Mushkil.
We spoke some more in broken sentences about various other things – religion, humanity, wars, movies, families, democracy and world politics. He came across as a passionate and caring human being.
In the end, he said he had love, in fact he used the Hindi/Urdu term – Mohabbat – towards all mankind. Next, he started listing some countries in his Mohabbat rankings. In decreasing order of love, he said – Iraq was on top of his list – meaning he loved his home country the most. Then came Iran, India (maybe because I was there), Sweden, the Arab world and everyone else. He paused. And as if to correct something he had missed out, he said “But not America. They are shaitan”.
Shaitan is the Urdu/Persian word for evil, or the devil. He then added, if not for their (USA’s) oil greed and the wars they started, he would have still been in his glorious Iraq of the 1970’s and not have had to flee and come to Sweden. “We are alone. All of us (the migrants) are together because we are alone”, he softened. He then moved around me finalizing my hairdo, of which I had lost track of and was now short enough to show my scalp, and he sighed again: “America is shaitan”. I nodded, again, in acknowledgement. Thinking to myself, if my analysis of contemporary world politics were reduced to three words, it might end up around his version.