A Close Shave by Gareth Nixon
Today was up there with one of my stupidest moments in my life. Waking up to a text saying "pick you up in 15 minutes" with no idea who it would be. Before I left England, Ross said to me "be a yes man", so I thought to myself what do I have to lose. I went outside the hotel to find a happy Indian dude waving at me. I had no idea who this dude was. Once sat in his car, I'd worked out that Ali had given me a lift home in his taxi the night before and I had asked him to be my tour guide around Mumbai... Of course I did. He was a very smiley small dude, I reckon about 30, with a tattered baseball cap on. He asked me what I wanted to see and I said I'll leave it in his hands. After an exciting but nervous drive through Mumbai dodging cattle and over populated traffic, he took me to the local fishing harbour. It was like I was an alien and definitely not a welcome one. I saw a huge dead shark, about 30 women de-shelling prawns and some ice making machine. In all honesty, although the experience was pretty cool, I thought to myself this isn't something I'd want to tour back home. Although random, it was quite funny though. Ali then took me to the biggest open air laundromat in Mumbai, where dudes were washing and drying clothes, which I suppose was quite interesting as it was all manual labour with no machines.
As we walked along he told me he was going to show me the slums, which I thought would be pretty cool. We walked through and it was bloody mad. Whilst walking along a dirt track there was a random chicken in a cage, stray dogs and kids missing limbs around me. It was the first time I've come to see the TRUE reality of poverty first-hand. As we were walking, Ali was a little ahead of me looking at his phone a lot. I didn't think much of it, but when we came to a dodgy looking dude that he paid some money to, alarms started ringing, naturally. Still walking along and Ali ahead shaking people's hands, this is where I started to question the whole situation. It became more apparent when Ali was on his phone talking to someone and looked back at me and smiled. I now felt like I was in a predicament. Panic kicked in but I held it together. I imagined in my head the whole banged up abroad program that I'd seen on TV on how they trust someone and get themselves into a pickle. I asked Ali where we are going and asked if we were far from the car. He was like "relax man, you want to get a shave? Your beard is long." Responding that I'd rather head back to the car, Ali then looked at me very disappointed. It was then that I thought of Ross again "be a yes man". I thought to myself, 'there is no way in hell you could do a runner now' as I had no idea how far we were into the slums. And, if anything, Ali would be my safest bet, if he was trust worthy. And if the worst was to happen, there would be nothing I could do about it! I put my trust into Ali and agreed to this stupid shave idea. We made our way through the slum alleys where I had to shuffle side ways to get through, dodging muddy sewage and shitting myself every time a stray dog was near. We even walked through someone's shack while they were cooking. We then came to what I can only call a front room with two mirrors and two chairs. Ali introduced me to two kids no older than 15, in the mean time we accumulated an audience who were all trying to pile in to see the white dude in the slums. The whole situation was intense! I was in pretty deep by this stage. The kids that happened to own this barber shop told me to sit down. Ali reassured me that everything was sweet. Absolutely everything was going through my head, I thought this was it. It didn't help with everyone filming too. I thought I was just another sucker picked up by a taxi driver and taken on 'a tour round the slums' to be killed. Paranoia, panic and all sorts of emotions were rushing through my head whilst taking in the surroundings with no idea where an exit was. The kids proceeded to lather my neck and face, ready for the big shave, Ali asked for my phone to take pictures. I tried smiling, without looking and thinking 'I'm fucked right now'. As the chair was tilted back I closed my eyes, I thought to myself "you've really done it now... this is it...you idiot!". The blade touched my throat. And proceeded in a vertical direction (not horizontal) actually shaving my face ha, I opened my eyes and all became a lot more relaxing. Once paranoia and the situation in my head defused, I started asking questions from Ali to ask them. I realised I could trust him, and them. Ali then paid the kids for the shave. It was then I realised how friendly the Indian people were. On the way home I asked Ali who the guy was that he gave money to. Ali told me he had paid the 'bad men' as he put it, in order for me to come through to the slums. I still don't know how comfortable I feel about that. I offered Ali money when he dropped me off back at the hotel. He said that tomorrow he takes me to the National Park and I decide after. Welcome to India Gaz!