My first visit to a barber, as far as I can remember, was around the age of 6 years. Not that I had my first haircut then, but because prior to that the barbers used to come to our home. Not our home really, but our ancestral home. Since all my cousins were scared of a haircut, they used to bawl out (I dont remember my being scared though) on the sight of a barber. The only person who could possibly create a conducive atmosphere in us for a haricut was our grand father. I dont know how he did it, but he inspired courage and confidence in us.
The barber was 'Aaru'. The name probabaly was a short form of the Tamil name Arumugam - Iam guessing I guess. Aaru would be pre-informed of our arrival at the ancestral house and he was sort of hijacked out of his road side saloon by my uncle, on our arrival. Some half cut heads and lathered up chins were left in the care of his assistants.
Aaru himself was a perfectly groomed guy. Not even a hint of stubble and a smiling face. He too considered the hijack a pleasurable one, for the free ride he got on my uncles scooter (A Lambretta which is still in running condition). The pay for the mass haircuts at our place was not bad either.
By the time Aaru and Uncle vroomed in, all arrangements would have been made. We would have been given a lovely briefing on the beauty of a haricut and we would almost be looking forward to having one. My uncle too enjoyed the scene. Either because he was slowly going bald and hence he had a sadistic pleasure in seeing people loosing hair or because he didnt like to be evicted from his room and looked upon our hair loss as a revenge.
Ah! thats another part. After sending him on the mission of trapping Aaru, grand father would immediately set himelf upon converting Uncle's room, overlooking the front garden, in to a saloon. Thus our hair growth was sort of a timer for Uncle's temporary loss of residence. Hence when ever he visited us, he casually guaged, the thickness and length of our hair by running his hand through our hair.
Aaru went snip snip snip, while we sat on grandfather's lap one by one, he himself being seated on his massive leather upholstered chair. The recitals of stories to us and the discussions on local happenings with Aaru went side by side. Uncle fidgetted a twenty feet away, while seemingly cleaning the spark plug of the lambretta.
With all heads cleaned and ready for a bath, Aaru wound up his work to start a sumptuous tiffin along with piping tea. Before he left he would have been secretly and handsomely rewarded for his neat job. The exact denomination of exchange though a secret, it brought pleasure on both faces, the giver and taker. Both the service provider and the customer were happy.
As I grew up, I lost touch with this 'captive form of hairstyling' and I lost my grand father too when I was around nine years. But Aaru is still around but with poor eye sight and a weather beaten appearance, somewhat like the relics of Mohenjodaro and Harappa. His lieutenants have fully taken over the saloon - a much refurbished one now and flanked by a Reliance fresh store. The remuneration is no longer a secret - people pay as per the tariff list and strictly no house visits. The road infront of his saloon has widened and the volvos, fords and Hyundais passing by are not few. Aaru's son manages the daily collection ,material supply and recruitment at the saloon along with the realty brokerage firm that he runs. I dont know if he knows hair styling but he certainly has inherited the smile and the stubble free perfect grooming.
As for Aaru he sits till early afternoon on the porch of his shop with a welcoming smile. A symbolic 'father of the shop' kind of a thing.