I just reached home after my monthly visit to the Barber’s shop. I was lucky today as there was no crowd and he was able to attend to me almost immediately. A disciplined Army style hair cut followed up by a dash of colour took the best of an hour. While returning home I mused about men and their lasting relationship with the barber shop.
Barber shops are fascinating in themselves. Once you grow out of your kid phase where a visit to the barber shop was a horror best avoided, I am sure most of the guys remember their favourite barber. The barber’s work is that of an artist and most of them are amateur philosophers in their own right.
The best barber memory I have is of the character Harry Van Dusen from William Saroyan’s play, ‘The Oysters and the Pearl’. His philosophy of ‘Take it easy’ and tackle your obstacles with cheer to achieve your goal is a cool one. And it is good to get to hear it in your teens – so we were lucky to have it as part of English text-book. In fact we had some more of William Saroyan’s stories like Pomegranate Trees (the naïve and sentimental Uncle Melik). Locomotive 38, the Ojibway (the kind-hearted native American Indian who buys a luxurious Packard cash-down and humors a youngster to drive him around) etc. These stories best represent the typical Saronesque style of narrative of Armenian family life and the struggle during ‘The Great Depression’ years. And I like the barber character the best.
I got to another interesting barber character years later when I read Somerset Maugham’s play, ‘Sheppey’. Sheppey is the name of a professional barber who is good at heart, street smart and familiar with the ways of the world. He wins a fortune through a lottery ticket and runs riot in life by wanting to give it all away to the needy people. His family thinks that he has gone nuts and want to thwart his plans. Maugham makes a monkey of the reader using the dexterous wordplay to first alienate our sympathies away from Sheppey to finally wanting to cheer him on with his plan. Maugham then turns a neat trick at the end but not before he pays a cynical tribute to middle class provincialism, the hypocrisy of people and their religious beliefs. Sheppey assessment by a psychiatrist who certifies him to be crazy is marvellous play of words.
I just remembered these stories today after my visit to the barber’s shop. It an old-fashioned shop and my barber, Asif, who hails from Kerala is a very quiet man who likes to keep his counsel. He knows my preferences to the ‘T’ and so quietly goes about his business while I spend the hour mulling out on my issues. And it was very productive as I worked out a creative solution to troubling problem at work. The icing on the cake is the ‘5-minute’ head massage he gives after trimming your hair. It reminds me of Johnny Walker crooning the famous song, ‘Sar joh tera chakraye, ya dil dooba jaaye; aaja pyare paas hamaare, kahe ghabraye are kahe ghabraye…’