At Face Value

by Ashish

I got a facial done yesterday, for only the second time in my life.

The first was not, as one would have expected, on my wedding day. I got ready for my wedding by shaving twice – once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. That was the extent of my wedding preparations (and if I may add, understandably so. Polishing gold is a largely pointless exercise).

No, the first time I got a facial was after I got a haircut – this was during the days when such an exercise was necessary – and realised that I had forgotten the keys at home. Upon finding out that the missus would not be home herself for at least an hour, I had sixty minutes to spare, and the barber, having overheard the entire conversation, suggested that I try a “phasial”.

Now, in the barber department, I’m pretty well served if there is a chair, a comb and a pair of scissors at hand on the premises. Not for me the contraptions that seem to be mandatory in most modern establishments, and the facial was of a similarly basic nature. The barber slapped some cream on my face, scrubbed around in charmingly untutored fashion, and declared the routine over after about three rounds of the same steps.

The reason I tell you all this, dear reader, is because without this background, I could simply not have begun the tale of horror that follows. And horror, as you will find out anon, is not too strong a word – quite the opposite, in fact. Here goes:

I’m on holiday as I type this, with the pleasing prospect of doing nothing for days on end – a sport at which no one, bar none, can better me. And during the ante meridian hours of one such lazy, languorous day, the wife suggested that I go get a facial done.

She does this, the missus, bless her heart. She’s always giving me advice that she truly believes will be good for me (“try Amul Lite, it’s good for your heart” or “don’t have another round of desserts, you’ll get a stomach upset tomorrow”). And in this case too, she truly believed that the experience would do me good. I had no reason to not believe her – my first experience as a customer of a facial wasn’t all that bad, and what’s more, I have regularly observed female members of my family fairly salivate at the prospect of getting a facial done. And so, without giving another thought to the consequences, I assented and made my way to the nearest parlour.

Except that this time around, we were in Delhi, and not Pune. Which meant it was not my regular barber who would be slapping on the creams, but so, I reflected, what? How different, I idly wondered as I settled in to the chair, could a facial possibly get? And to be honest, in some ways, I figured this would be an improvement – the place was air-conditioned, with reclining leather chairs and what not. Exactly the kind of treat one should subject oneself to on a holiday.

And even half way into the experience, I was still smugly congratulating myself. Creams had been expertly massaged on to my face, water had been dextrously sprayed and hot and wet towels had been interchanged more often than politicians change parties – all in all, I was being pampered on a suitably large scale. And so there I lay, half asleep, idly wondering what treat was next, when those fateful words were uttered.

“Just get me the blackhead remover, will you, please” said a person in my general vicinity. And I remember, even now, wondering without being overtly curious what exactly a blackhead might be, and why its removal was necessary.

I’ll tell you what blackhead removal is. I know now.

Blackhead removal is what the Spanish Inquisition stopped short of. It is where the Gestapo drew the line. It is the point beyond which the henchmen of the KGB would not go. It involves using a slim, slender, unbelievably pointed object to poke holes around the tip of the nose. And when I say poke holes, don’t for a moment think I’m using metaphors. That blasted man actually poked holes into my nose, even when he, more than any other person on the planet at that point of time, could see that I had two rather large and perfectly operational nasal cavities working just fine.

At one moment I was inching close to slumber, and at the next I was bucking about in the seat like a rather plump gazelle, tears of pain in my eyes, ready to tell him whatever it was he wanted to know; ready to give him anything, including all of my kingdom and more, if he would just stop poking holes in my nose.

But he was made of stern stuff, this person who ran a salon by day and auditioned for the post of India’s Chief Torturer by night. “I know its painful, Sir” he said, as he continued to construct s series of tiny borewells around my nostrils, “but you have a lot of blackheads.”

And I want all of them, every single last one, I wanted to scream, but couldn’t, since every single nerve ending was yelling more than Arnab has managed to in his entire lifetime. And still he continued, the Grand Pasha of Pain, on his relentless march of unceasing torture. It couldn’t have lasted for more than five minutes, I suppose, but every single second felt like an eternity, thrice distilled. At the end of which he leaned back, obviously satisfied with his handiwork, and raised the chair so I could look in the mirror and appreciate his skills.

I looked in the mirror, and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer stared back at me.

My skin, I noted in passing interest, looked cleaner than it had ever been. But my eyes were mostly drawn to my nose, which at that point of time was the brightest celestial object in the visible sky. They could have stood me in stead of one of the towers during a day night match at the Eden Gardens, and nobody would have noticed the difference. Ray-Ban could have sold sunglasses in my vicinity and increased their profits twice over.

“Its because you are getting this done for the first time, Sir,” said the Grand Pasha, having stared at my reflection in politely horrified fascination. “If you do this once a month it’ll get better with time”.

“Or whenever you want next”, he hastily amended, as he noticed me turning towards him, menace writ large on my face.

Here’s the worst part, however. The entire experience, after a fifty percent discount, cost me seven hundred and fifty rupees. A meal at Barbecue Nation, to give you one of many, many counterpoints, costs about the same. That restaurant also has air-conditoning and comfortable chairs.

And here’s the clincher, I said to myself, as I and my newly obtained halogen lamp walked back home: the good folk at that fine restaurant don’t come anywhere near your nostrils for the entire length of time you’re there.

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