At Barber’s — The Only Place In Entire Cosmos Where Men Can Be Men

If there is one place in the entire universe where men talk men stuff openly without any inhibitions and holding back, it must be The Barbershop. Hands Down. In a vast infinite cosmos it is one place where men bitch about the other sex without worrying about the other sex listening to them. Imagine it as some exclusive-for-men holy shrine. Barbering is a cult without the formal ‘cult’ status from any authority because hey! which cult cares for outside authority? Barber is our leader, the priest. The men, his flock. Barber is no ordinary man. He knows about you without your’ uttering a word. He knows when you had your last haircut. He knows what haircut suits you and what won’t.

At Barber’s, men indulge in men-talk. Even historically, barber’s place have been known to be social gathering venues where men gather for their daily share of gossips and news. It is where they religiously join for their share of stress release. You thought only women banter? Well, men do too. But there’s slight difference between the two. You see, women care, they mind about what they say and hear while men don’t. Women mind whose husband did what to whose wife. Women mind everything but their own business. Men banter is just careless talk about sports, women, sex, more women, more sex, more women, more sex; did I say women and sex enough? Oh yeah, men also talk about other men. It’s not exclusive women trait. We love our stories. You see, we feel sad for how painful his life is but also happy for how less worse ours is!

The conversation goes from politics, mostly local with lots of gossips to popular films including who is currently dating who to their past to mundane stuff. Mostly sex. Point to note, it is always about sex.

You must see the look on men’s faces when a women comes with her child. It’s like an alien has entered their territory. It should always be a dad or caretaker, cousin, uncle, any male who should bring the child. Hey! It’s men’s place — single place in the entire universe. Leave them on their own.

The cities have mostly changed the equations. Also in the city life, all of a sudden people have become busy. We mostly stare at our screens today than talk in person. Barbers back then and in countryside (or villages) even today are sources of all kinds of information. They are point where all gossips and stories are served from morning till night. In fact at my place back home, that’s where we collect our newspapers. And also the local news not in print but verbal!

Back when I was kid and my dad used to take me to ‘family barber’ for my haircut, the barber used to give me those orange candies because as a kid you cry and candies are your bribes. As I grew up, I learned the meaning of ‘family barber’. The barber’s family used to cut our hairs since generations — both ours and theirs. During marriage there is tradition of barber cutting grooms hair in an elaborated ceremony. Same with a newborn with his first haircut. I was also told when I started visiting new barber as I grew up that you need to pay visit to ‘family barber’ at times or they might not visit us during ‘cere

How Would You Like It Sir? Image Courtesy: Paul Davies  

Barber’s job is an work of art. Our scalp is their canvas. You must see those carefully drawn maps and faces during any high-octane sports matches. So when he asks, “How would you like it sir?”, you answer what you want. And then close your eyes and say a silent prayer. Even if you are an atheist, you pray — you pray to all gods that it turns out good! There are two professions where you are not supposed to shout or misbehave before you are done — doctors and barbers. Don’t forget, they both work with razors and “I’m Sorry!” is not the phrase you wanna hear when they are done!

Theirs is one of the oldest known profession.

Barber at Peshawar, British India 1907. Wikipedia Image

Razors have been discovered among relics of the Bronze Age which was around 3500 BC in Egypt indicating the earliest roots of the trend. Now there can be other methods through which men got their hairdo done in earlier times and we have no relics but proof wise, that’s how far we can trace barbering. Today, barbers may just play with our scalp and facial hair but in ancient times, around middle ages, there are records that suggest they also indulged themselves in surgery and dentistry. Apart from the usual work they do today, they were known to perform enemas, fire cupping, leeching, neck manipulation, cleansing of ears and scalp, fistula, draining of boils; the list goes on. In fact, they were paid more than surgeons of the time.

In India, a barber passes his art to his son or his accomplice at his own place of work. It’s more or like, you look at the actual work and learn yourself. But do you know, there are barber schools where they teach you how to cut and style men’s hair? Well, it all goes back to 1893 when a barber named A. B. Moler from Chicago established a school for barbers. Obviously, it took off followed by more branches almost in every state of United States. Be it recession, low pay or no pay, flood or famine, day or night, your hair knows none of it. All they know is to grow and at some point you need to cut or style them. So despite the economic recession of 2008 when every industry was faltering and coming to its knees, barber industry continued its positive growth!

Everyone has their ‘own’ barber. One they can go and just be. You go to your barber and sit on that chair. He does his job without any question. And does it perfectly, the way you like it. In between you take a nap or do whatever, he does his job exactly the way you wished it to be. But that’s the case at your place. Familiarity comes with frequent flying. But when you fly frequently to new places, it brings havoc not familiarity. One, you have to find a ‘perfect’ place to give your hairs to a barber. Second, you have to answer the cult question, “How would you like it sir?” with precision. If one explanation goes wrong or is miscommunicated then all hell might break lose. You see its hairy business down at this place.

You may scoff or just laugh it out at hair business but I wonder what would be your reaction if I told you in India there are few temples where tonsuring one’s hair is part of devotional exercise and one such temple has earned Rs. 200 crore (i.e. one-tenth of its annual revenue) in 2011–12 by just selling these very hairs of its devotees. That temple is the famous Tirumala Temple — world’s richest in terms of donations received and wealth. Not just in India but world across hair business is serious business.

That is two bits on hairs and those who style them from my side. Do comment below of your insights and experiences from these men shrines. And if you are a women reader, do comment how different hairdressing is at women’s saloons.

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