Friday, December 24, 2010

End of an Era - A Barber's Story

I have written a piece in 'The Men Within' in which Dayanand the barber gives Coach Sampath gyan on how important it is to do things well, to focus on each job. It is an important section in the story. Sampath is wondering why the team almost lost their second round game and after watching Dayanand's excellent work ethic, realises that they were looking 'ahead' at the next game and not focussing on the 'present' one. Dayanand keeps his eye, all his senses on the customer in hand, not the one next and he says so.

Dayanand is the name I gave to that barber who also stars in 'The Misfit' in a chapter. This Dayanand is based on a barber I have known for the last thirty years almost, the proprietor of the Blue Moon Hair Saloon opposite TB Hospital. He was quite popular thanks to his skill, his excellent PR skills and mostly his work ethic. I have been to him since I was in school, having watched his wife teach their small son while he worked on us in hot summer afternoons. As the area grew busier, the shops around Blue Moon became more and more noisier and crowded, a welding shop, a denting shop etc. My friends, Ram and others stopped going there. His was a low market shop with a lot of low market clientele but somehow I stuck to him over the years. I grew quite fond of the barber shop with its long glass windows from where I could see the sunset in the twilight over the TB hospital. Sometimes I would go there late in the evening when it was empty - after a cricket match or a hard day at work. It had a relaxing environment.

Over the years his son grew up and became an expert barber himself. However all the older clientele would come and ask only for the older man, which irritated the younger one a bit. The new clientele was given to the young man and the older man took care of his clients. Even if there was a rush, and the younger one started on one of his old clients (like me), Dayanand would come by to give the finishing touches. A snip here, a snip there, a small smile and some talk about the state of the hair, and he concluded the business only after he was fully satisfied.

Dayanand always dressed like an officer with a plain white, blue or grey shirt, trousers and belt and never in all these years have I seen him dress otherwise. Always on time, from morning eight to half past nine at night, even later on many days, the man worked hard to support his family and build his little world - a house, a shop. In later years we began to talk a bit and he asked me about loans to buy the shop, confided his son's marital problems and things like that. Always willing to listen to advise. And to the people from the slum who came to him, he always had advise and a kind ear. Many were the entertaining stories I heard there while I got a haircut - marital issues, marriage expenses, parties, family discord, movies, politics etc.

Now after all these years he sees me and my long unkempt hair which is well past its regular time for a cut, and merely smiles. 'Don't dye the hair,' he told me. 'Why is it going grey at such a young age?' Or sometimes he would ask after Ram and what he was doing. Or about the state of politics. Always dignified.

I walked in today afternoon, and found his son. This was normal because Dayanand sometimes slipped out for a chai or a paan at the nearby cafe. but he returned soon as he saw some clientele because he kept an eye on the shop. The boy shook his head and showed me the seat. I normally would come back later for Dayanand, but today I just sat. After making me comfortable and starting on his job, the boy suddenly told me 'Sir, father passed away three weeks ago.' And that is when I noticed the picture on top of the mirrors, framed and garlanded. 'He had a heart attack, late at night, and passed away almost instantaneously,' said the boy looking completely lost. 'No pain. Just died.' I looked at the picture and there was a lump in my throat. 'What was his name?' I asked. And then I noticed that his name was written below his photo. Pamri Ravinder. I don't know why, but I thought the name Dayanand was apt for him and named him so in my stories. I could imagine him standing behind me, looking down at the cut in his ageing Amitabh Bacchan hairstyle, impeccable in dress, well shaved. True to his work ethic he had worked all day even on his last day, shut shop at nine thirty as normal, giving no hint about his departure that night.

For teaching me what a professional's work ethic can be, how to take pride in one's profession, how being dignified has nothing to do with power and education, how to take care of his family and friends and grow along with them - Pamri Ravinder - the barbers in my books, whom you have inspired, will from now on be called Ravinder. May your soul rest in peace.


Anonymous said...

Very sad to hear this. I should have had another hair cut there last year.

Harimohan said...

Yes Anon, sad. Another of those many things and persons we take for granted fades away. And the other day Ranjan and I walked into Jugnu for a chai and there we saw another familiar face framed on the wall. In fact Jugnu looks like a frame on the wall as it is now - nothing like it was in its glory days, jukebox and all.

Raghavan said...

Very Poignant Hari. God bless his soul.