In India, as tradition dictates, the barbering profession is inherited and passed down from generation to generation. Historically, and in addition to cutting hair, barbers have played other important social roles. For example, some of the earliest surgeons were barbers because of their expertise with handling razors. In ancient India, barbers were traditionally used as messengers, mediators and confidants, concerning themselves with the resolution of social matters. Even today, when arranging a marriage, barbers are the preferred mediators. The barber’s influence on Indian culture is undeniable. But even with the profession’s rich history, a new age of the craft, partially facilitated by western influence, is changing the landscape of what it means to groom and be groomed in India.
The historical depth of barbering can be quite intriguing. In some cities barbershops are 300 years old and have been run by and have been serving the same families for generations. The New Delhi barbershop S. R. Gaur & Sons has been in business for over eighty years, and its founder, S. R. Gaur, was barber for the last British viceroy. His clientele include various businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats.
The success of the barber’s business depends a lot on the bond with their clients. The village barbershop is usually the place where people congregate in the morning to discuss politics and other local social matters. Because of the large number of people visiting the shops and the amount of trust the profession has garnered through time, some village barbers have become brokers who deal with sales and purchases of land and animals.
With all the integrity and responsibility given to the profession, their place of business is usually nothing glorious in size or detail. A barber establishes his shop in a small wooden cubicle on the street. They start their businesses under trees, or against a wall at a bus station. They normally carry few tools: a big mirror, a shaving kit, various razors and a wooden chair with an adjustable neck rest.
A new age has given way to a new practice, and new technology has entered the trade. Hairstyling products have hit the scene, and manual razors have sometimes been replaced with electric ones. Some barbers even offer hair coloring, straightening and other services apart from the typical cut and shave.
Barbershops operated by young barbers, who offer a different atmosphere and seek a different clientele, are frequented by a younger crowd with different expectations. This newer breed of barbershop, or salon, usually decorated with the name of the owner and pictures of Bollywood actresses on the board, is the hangout spot for college kids and others from a younger crowd. A salon will have booklets with a portfolio of different Bollywood actors’ hairstyles, which stylists are expected to emulate. Rajesh, owner of Chauhan Saloon in Ambala, says, “If you need to stay in business, you have to catch up with the new trend.”
[Edited by Brent Minderler]
Keywords: Indian Barbers, Indian Saloon, Barbershops in India, Indian Hairdressers, Street Barbers.