‘It was only a kilometre from our hostel into the centre of the town, but we still ended up being hassled by rickshaw wallahs, who seemed to think that it was most unseemly for visitors to be walking anywhere – they hassled mercilessly. By the roadside, the town dentist had laid out a strip of faded blue tarpaulin. He had carefully lined up his tools on this, most of which looked more like weapons of torture than dentistry equipment.
Next to his tarp was an old kitchen chair, and it was upon this that his victims sat. He worked with no anaesthetic, and because of his impressive range of angled and long necked pliers, I suspected that he pulled more teeth than he fixed. His hand painted sign showed a large white set of gnashers set into unbelievably red gums; somehow the artist had got them to smile. To me that smile looked more like a grimace of pain.
Next to him was the town barber. A line of men stood waiting their turn to be trimmed with shiny scissors and a set of hand-operated clippers. They were shaved with an old-fashioned cut-throat razor, using richly foamed soap that the barber’s assistant kept ready-frothed. The white-chinned client in the chair looked at me over his shoulder in a fly-blown, silver-rimmed mirror that was hung on the crumbling graffiti-covered wall. ‘Sanjay loves Lina’ and ‘Bappa 4 Farida’.Next to the love grafitti were hand-painted signs advertising the local hospital – useful perhaps, if the shaving didn’t go too well.
The painter of the sign had not been able to spell as well as he’d been able to paint, and for me, that did not inspire much confidence…’