Baba, the Barber!

Childhood memories are always cherished and no matter where one goes, they are the permanent companions through our life journey. Everyone relives those nostalgic moments through every phase of his or her lives. A devout Muslim man owned Janta Hair Cutting Saloon that was about 150 meters from our house, in Ranebennur. I don’t remember his name, but we fondly addressed him as ‘baba’. That hair cutting shop was their family venture and all his three sons took turns to help their father in his business. He wasn’t a literate man in a conventional sense, but he was an extremely affectionate man with an uncommon business sense. I still remember, he was a fellow with a “meethi zubaan”! For all our family functions, be it a ‘mundan’ ceremony or a thread ceremony, he was a permanent fixture: All other rituals followed only after he was done with his work.

Once a month was our routine visit to the baba’s barbershop. Since he was our family barber, all the members of our joint family, including the vacationing cousins, were his loyal customers. The way he handled his customers was praiseworthy, right from welcoming them with a gleam in his eyes and a genuine smile on his face. He often had around 4-5 chairs for the customers in “Q”. The moment any one entered, he would greet them, offer them a chair and handover a news paper/ magazine to read, even when he was in the middle of a ‘hair cut’. It wasn’t that the newspapers were placed for the customers to pick up; it was that he personally handed over a reading material to a customer, keeping in mind their interests. Although he did this instinctively, it ensured that no customer left his shop out of impatience. He would often engage the waiting customers in some religious or political talks, even when engaged in a haircut. This was yet another trick to hold the waiting customers. However, the man was so very genuine, those things never appeared to be the tricks.

He could attend to three customers, at any given moment. While he was in the middle, his obedient sons handled two other customers on the sides. He controlled the ‘operations’ from being in the ‘center’ of the goings-on.

It was a sparsely done up shop with just the bare essentials that were required for his trade. Three rickety chairs, in front of three fading mirrors, completed the extravagance in the shop’s décor. There were no designer chairs and such fancy ensemble. For kids like us, he had an ingenious improvisation where in he placed a wooden plank on the armrests for us to sit for the haircut. Perched atop those planks, we felt privileged during those moments. We, as kids, didn’t have the luxury of giving instructions for a haircut: ‘To cut our hair to the last bit’ was a standing instruction from the family elders. In the evenings, when he had fewer customers, he would often stand at the door of his shop, on the MG road, and smile at the known people passing by.

Janta Hair Cutting Saloon, for us, was not just about the haircuts. We had a sense of bonding with the man who served us. Those days, there was an intense bonhomie between individuals, irrespective of their trade and irrespective of their religion.

Sadly, such human relations do not exist anymore. We now live in a consumerist environment where the business is now purely transactional and fully commercialized: There is nothing to be made, except the money. And, as Bob Dylan sang in the 60s, “The Times They Are A-Changin!”

Times have not only changed, they have deteriorated!




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