Ever since we moved to Indirapuram I have been having my haircuts from roadside barbers whom I find better and cheaper (obviously) compared to salons and other trained hair designers. Up till now I had been either calling barbers home or going to one of those Habib’s stalls that are present in every neighborhood mall these days. The barbers working at the Habib stalls – although very polite and courteous – aren’t very well-trained, maybe because in a limited amount of time they have to cater to many customers, both males and females. They use trimmers and other gadgets, but no matter how many times you tell them how to cut your hair, they ultimately end up giving you less than exactly what you want. You feel like sitting on the conveyor belt of some assembly-line production unit.
The roadside barbers on the other hand mostly work manually. They just have their rusted scissors and plastic combs. They are very eager to know what you really want, and they take every sort of hair cutting job as a challenge. So tell them what you want and they put their entire focus onto that. Despite presenting to you the archetypical image of a perpetually poor and hungry Indian, eternally lost in the swamp of deprivation, they take pride in their work.
A big plus point for me is that I don’t need to get off my power wheelchair. They very eagerly move aside their wooden chair so that I can place my wheelchair exactly in front of the mirror.
There is a complete social milieu around the barbers. For instance, the barber to whom I went today, is in the midst of many other shacks where people sell cigarettes, cold drinks, and whatever snacks that can be cooked on the makeshift roadside ovens. There was a cobbler to give us company. Just two shacks away a tailor was vigorously working on his sewing machine. The place was teeming with buzzing flies, discarded razor blades, cigarette butts, a couple of naked urchins and remarkably, lots of used and partly-used incense sticks poked into the stem of the tree under which the barber had his shop.
There were many loafer-type lads sitting around smoking, drinking Coke, laughing, chatting and cursing each other. Those Coke bottles were not even chilled; they were simply placed in a container and people would just pay for a bottle, use the opener lying there, open the bottle, and start drinking and smoking, reminiscent of the beer bars and pubs they show in Western movies.
The place was quite dirty, and so were the people, but once you become a part of them, they’re quite nice and friendly. The barber told me how he has been working at the same spot for the past 10 years. The residential buildings and apartments were being built at that time and there were thousands of laborers working there. The business was so brisk that he would keep working past 10 PM. Now that all the buildings are complete, there are no laborers left. He goes home by 4 PM. In fact the business is so low that his son has become a contractor, instead of taking over the barber job from his father.