I had a haircut on Sunday. Well, this is nothing unusual, nor something special to write about, but the experiences of this routine activity left be wondering….so I thought I will pen down by wonderings….

Living in a gated community, generally we have a “home delivery” haircut every month. Our home delivery person has been missing for last few months, the story is that the business is poor and he has migrated to Kathmandu, (told by my friend who cut my hair on Sunday). But this absence has forced many of us to venture out and try out the various other providers around our campus. I for some time resisted trying these out. Mostly because of a “laziness” and because of a story that keeps reverberating in my mind whenever I think about barbershops in Bihar. My father who left this world almost a year back, while visiting in 1995, had one experience of haircut at a local shop. He loved the town and the community, and he always wanted to come back and stay here with us. But that was not to be due to his physical inability. Till he died, every now and then he would bring up this memory of his visit to the barber.  How the smell of the towel used in the shop back in 1995, is still strong is his nose, even recently!

I went out looking for a shop nearby, and found two shops next to each other just across the road. Walked into the first one – found an elderly man waiting for the owner. No clients, no provider. I went to the second one. Two chairs, both occupied and 2 very young “professionals” cutting hair – may be in their mid-teens. I kept observing and felt, trained or untrained, they seem to be having a good grip on the skills and decided to wait till one was free. One finished and he along with the client got out and went off. I kept waiting, but he did not come back, nor was the other person anywhere near completing the job. So I decided, this was not my day. I got out and on my way back peeped into the first shop, the old man was still there waiting. As I reached the road, a nearby shop owner came running calling me back, saying the first shop is functional, come back. I returned to find the boy who was cutting in the 2nd shop and walked out, now manning this shop. I went in sat down and handed myself over to this professional who was to try his skills on me.

And in the next 15 minutes or so, in our conversations we learnt a bit about each other. He was student of 9th standard, and he cuts hair only on Sundays. His uncle owns this shop and since he was out of town, he was to man the shop today. I asked him, how is it that you were cutting in the other shop when I came. He said, the boy there is my friend, I wanted to help him out.
Competition or his ego was not on his mind, only cooperation and support to each other…..A friend in need of help was more important than his own business. I was left wondering – how about me….?
And then his story came out. His dream is to study in Navodaya schools and then get into police force. His parents are un-educated and cannot help him. He has another uncle who went to Navodaya and has become a police man. He, by working here on Sunday’s, get 50% of the haircut fees (Rs 15/- per cut) and this helps him to earn some money for his dream. He has no one who can help him but he goes about trying to find how to apply and take his dream forward. He was open about the fact that he was from a low caste (neech jadi) and that might be an advantage. But he was clear, he will try pursuing his dream….

The dreams of the underprivileged and finding ways to take these dreams forward in the midst of challenging and depressing contexts….how much I need to be grateful for what has been provided to me….I was left wondering – would I have been so proactive, if I was in his shoes….?

Then he asked me a question. What caste are you? I do not remember being asked this question ever. I fumbled a bit and told him. I do not know, I do not have a caste. He seemed surprised and at the same time apologetic. Sorry sir, I should not have asked you this question, forgive me…I assured him it is okay, but tried telling him about the lack of caste among our community, but then I could not do that with confidence knowing how caste conscious even some of my own communities are and so closed that conversation assuring him that it was okay to ask that question….

I was left wondering, what would it have been like to constantly be told that you are from a low caste and you were left to fend for yourself….

But he did a good job, with my hair. I want for another month and another Sunday….

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