Tuesday, December 02, 2014

691. The Indian Barber Shop - A slowly disappearing Art form

If you are living in an Urban city in India, you would see the boom of beauty parlours and spas in the last ten years. Franchisees of Toni and Guy, Green Trends, Femina, Naturals have taken the cities of India by storm. It has become a prestige symbol for most of the people in the urban community to get their hair cut in one of these parlours.

Offlate I can see one art form slowly disappearing from the Urban scene. I am talking about our very own Barber shop. I still get my hair cut in my favourite barber shop. I grew up in a small town called Nagercoil- the southern most town in India. Even now when I go to Nagercoil, I make it a point to visit Balan Barber shop in Chettikulam. That old man has cut my hair when I was a 8 year old boy.

Every year when I go there, he gives me that broad smile and says " Chennai water has ruined your hair". The manner in which he criss crosses with his scissors is an art by itself. Hair cutting is in his blood. Even when he is not cutting your hair, he would go on clicking the scissors. There will be an old tape recorder in his barber shop that will be playing old MSV/ Mohan hits and Illaiyaraja songs.

Image Source : Internet 
All I have to do is go and sit there on that chair. He would adjust the head stand and ask "Medium or Short?". I would say "Medium". That is all he had to know. He would tie a cotton cloth around my neck and he would spray some water on my face. That feeling when the moist water is sprayed on the face is something that can't be described in words. One has to experience that feeling to understand how it actually feels.

He would then start cutting my hair. None of the present day parlour hair specialists can match his artistic brilliance. He would then take a blade and break it into half and put it inside a razor holder. The shaving behind the ears will start. It would give a tickling sensation and every time I would smile when he does that.

He would put Ponds powder on my neck. and brush off the hair from the neck and shoulders. Then he would apply lather on my cheeks and start shaving. The cheeks will finally have the baby bum feeling. After this, he would dip an Alum block in water and keep it on my cheeks. It is the best after shave lotion in the world.

Now comes the most important part. He would pour a handful of Navratan oil on the head and would start playing drums on my head. The massage is hundred times better than the Ayurveda/ Kerala and Thai massages combined together. The massage would make me to sleep. To give the final touches he would crack all the stiff joints in the body.

Finally he would again spray that water mist on the face and say " Done".  I would then take a Rs 100 note and give it to him. He would take that money from me and keep it inside his inner shirt pocket and return Rs 40 to me. Yes! The total cost for all the treatment is just Rs 60. If I get the same treatment from any new-age parlour, I would have to definitely part away more than Rs 1000.

When my friends boast about their new hair style that they had from the new parlour in town, I would just smile and tell them " You have no clue about Balan Barber shop". Balan uncle must be more than 70 years old.  His brand of barbers are slowly disappearing from the scene. I am worried that this art form will soon totally disappear from the scene in another ten years time.

If you are not from India and if you plan to visit India anytime in the future, please get a hair cut from the Barbers in India. I am sure you would love that experience. I will be going to Nagercoil soon and I will get my hair cut at Balan Barber shop.

- Chronicwriter


  1. The case is the other way around for women. The more professional, the better. The old ones, not professional but better by experience are also quick to raise their prices for newer "products" and packages. Either way we ladies never get a bargain when it comes to the beauty department.

    1. In the case of women, it is again the brand franchisee that determines the commercials. My wife gets her hair cut at Naturals. She has her favourite hair dresser. If she is not present, she waits for a day.

      The best bargain - Become friends with a fashion blogger (esp a make up artist). Thanks for reading and commenting Karthika


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