BarBar Shop

April 7, 2010


BarBar Shop – This is what the sign that read on a Barber Shop that I saw in Fujaira (UAE) few weeks ago. I do not think anybody who has visited a Barber Shop, and undergone experiences associated with, will ever want to go to that Barber shop again. I cannot still forget the smells and odours of barbar shops I have visited, even after decades.
The early encounters I remember ere with our family barbar Yamaji. I used to live in a small town with my grandparents. I was 5-6 years old then. Grandpa used to practice law at the district place during the week. On Saturdays he used to return to be with us. Winter Sunday mornings used to start with his ritual bask in the sun while applying glycerine and lime juice. I used to update him on the past week’s happenings – play, friends, school, homework etc. complete.
This is when Yamaji used to arrive with his patent Barbar Trunk. He knew Gandpa would be home on Sundays and also that he would lose a permanent client if he missed his weekly visit. Grandpa would oblige him every Sunday by offering his head and a few hair. But on some, he used to feel his hair on the back of his head and give an enigmatic smile to almighty, and then look at me. This would send shivers down my spine because I knew what that meant – Your turn today. Whether I had an inch growth or I was skinhead, there used to be no escape.
The first step – fetching hot water and towel. Hot water, because Yamaji was adept at using whatever water was available at arm’s length, and no water also. Your own towel, because then you were saved from Yamaji’s towel, which would remind you of the haircut until next birth. I used to hide in the kitchen behind Grandma. But although very affectionate otherwise, for haircuts, she used to be extra ordinarily stern. She used to carry me to Yamaji herself, if my struggle persisted beyond banging a few utensils or if my noise level went beyond minus Decibels.
Yamaji then used to open his famous BarBar tin trunk. This used to open from top in two halves like a tool box. On one side, a single scissor, a rat eaten comb. On other side, a zero machine I used to dread and a razor, which was even more deadlier. In between stuffed his towel, a leather belt for sharpening the razor, and a saucer containing so called soapy, sticky mass with hair growth and tongues of froth.
He would then start unfolding his leather belt and throw it like a hunter. The noise – a reminder to Grandma that he now needs a cup of tea. The tea cup would come eventually, in the midst of the haircut.
The actual hair cut was a simple affair for Yamaji. Take a scissor in hand, look at Grandpa for approval. If he declined, the zero machine. If he still declined, the razor. In those days, the scissors were allowed only after you laureated. The blunt scissor was like a plough for weeding. The zero machine, a pack of blood thirsty fangy hounds in search of hair. The razor, a butcher’s knife for skinning bones and brain.
Somewhere during the process, when you had a central patch removed, Grandma’s tea would arrive, and forgetting my anxiety, Grandpa and Yamaji would start discussing dwindling rains. Also would arrive a bunch of my friends announcing a Kabaddi or KhoKho match and suddenly settling down and giggling, since my present ordeal was more interesting than any play. Their viewing gallery used to be at a safe distance from Yamaji since he was authorised for skinning any brat in anticipation of their parent’s approval; if one did not behave properly. I would be almost in tears by this time because of the shame owing to half shaven head, the lingering pain due to his vice like grip, my breaking neck bone, bleeds and bruises, and possible further torture by friends. Because the custom was to knuckle anybody with a fresh haircut, aiming the already bleeding and tender head.
Grandpa would ask, why do you have to cry every time?… How a man can possibly explain shame? So, increase volume instead.
The tea party over, and Grandma’s stern warning to “finish quickly” received, Yamaji would then start applying soap and water to entire head. Rest scissors, Rest zero machine, in comes the razor. And before I further cried about the hair-soap lumps falling in front of me and the excruciating pain and krrr…krrr…noise the butcher’s knife generated, Yamaji would announce that my hair were very coarse, like pig’s or buffalo’s and need care, i.e. weekly haircut.
By the time the shave was finished, I would be a dead meat. Grandpa would scuttle away my friends, saying no play today.
The mixed smell of the morning sun, Yamaji’s dirty left hand full of hair and lather in front of my nose and holding tightly my head at temples, his sweat and the smell of lime and glycerine is a permanent memory.
But Yamaji would be a star in any of the ceremonies and functions at our place. It was his right to lead processions as a torch bearer and receive grooms/brides on our behalf. He used to come dressed in a swank pink red turban instead of a sweaty rust topi, and also new embroidered clothes. However I always had a doubt whether he bathed before wearing those new clothes, because his characteristic smell would follow him even in the new clothes.
Every Barbar shop has a story to tell. The very noisy ones, those who play Vividh Bharati radio station so much that you are full for next ten generations, the talkative ones, the well dressed and dirty ones, the ones that work like assembly line, those which have hair strewn about like un-mowed September grass, the ones with film stars on walls, ones with assembly of gods or political leaders on walls, one that had a certificate that he was official Barber to so and so on the celebrity’s visits to town, one where the barbar was himself an actor and other touring actors came for a cut and chat, ones with drawings of different haircuts posted on walls, those with engraved mirrors, ones with office like tables and chairs, ones with revolving chairs or wooden fixed chairs or dentist chairs, one where I saw a murder in progress from distance…all have something to tell. But visit again? And again? No way.
However, when I was visiting our town after some twenty odd years, I saw Yamaji once. Now he was very old, teeth gone and did not resemble any “Yamaji the terror”. He had now grown up sons and a brand new steel and glass cutting saloon managed by them. However, I felt the Yamaji I knew was a happier person, compared to this Yamaji sitting like a castaway outside their shop. He looked at me, recognized me with a little effort and asked by gesture if I would… and I promptly waved back – I would never, never in my life. He probably understood and smiled back as if requesting to at least keep visiting the past.

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3 Responses to “BarBar Shop”

  1. Nikhil Kardale Says:

    Nice one.. you’ve shared your experiences very well! When I was a kid, I too thought that the profession is named so because they practice ‘barbar’ism 😉

    While reading your blog, I was reminded of a couple of stories from Pu La – ‘Antu Barwa’ and ‘Paanwala’. Your portrait of the barber is similar to the ones in these two stories.

  2. Rajeev Says:

    Nikhil,
    PuLa is too much. Barabarism I liked very much. That is what they used to be.


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