Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 7, Tuesday July 22, 2003






































of barbers, hair and mindless gossip…

IT is quite commonly said that barbers know the thoughts of the town and the thoughts of different individuals. This relationship shared with the barber is unique and quite fascinating to lots of people. Barbers are said to be 'psychotherapists' for the common people and great people to converse with about all the miseries of life. Barbers shops are even termed as the modern man's den, where one can even pour one's hearts out, about the 'manliest' of problems.

Even from the earliest of days of civilisation, mankind has picked up tools or flints to cut hair. It may surprise you to know that the earliest records of barbers show that they were the foremost men of their tribes. They were the medicine men and the priests. But primitive man was very superstitious and the early tribes believed that both good and bad spirits, which entered the body through the hairs on the head, inhabited every individual. However, these superstitions have passed away with time and now visiting the barber usually accompanies visiting a saloon or small shop located in several different parts of the urban city.

Bragging about the skills that some barbers possess, the common question one would firstly come across at a saloon would be, "Like which actor would you like to style your hair?" This topic brings about all the hairstyles of Bollywood, Hollywood and even the Dhaliwood actors and sometimes things get out of hand. "Would you like a hairstyle like Ilias Kanchan (A well known actor in Bangladesh, mainly ridiculed for his hairstyle)?" shouts out a barber at a Dhanmondi saloon, only to make the whole shop burst into laughter. Even the helper at the shop has a smile in his face, but the atmosphere soon gets serious again and the topic shifts back to more serious topics like politics and the foolishness of the country's leaders.

The so-called 'intimacy' that was once shared with a barber has disappeared almost completely over the years and your regular barber tends to so many customers a day that he'd only remember you by heart if your bokshish (tip) was higher than others. The long lost story of the barber sitting under the tree with a mirror and a small tool at Dhanmondi Lake has disintegrated with time and mainly due to the influence of the police. Md. Faruq, a barber who once used to tend his customers under the shade of a tree at Dhanmondi Lake, had to give the neighbourhood police officers almost 30% of what he earned. Even though he was there for years at a stretch, he soon had to wrap up his mini-business and head for a job with a monthly salary of Tk.1000 at a small saloon in Shankar. His customers say that they miss cutting their hair under the tree with a view of the lake up front. Faruq complains that he now has the daunting task of somehow maintaining his family, through all these hard times, even though his house rent is about Tk.1000 itself.

The barber shops at Mohammadpur were a beautiful site themselves. About ten to twelve barbers used to sit together one after the other, in a lane beside the road and used to provide haircuts and shaves. The atmosphere there was quite different from the other places and the competition between the barbers was soaring. However this soon came to an end although there are still quite a few of them around the city, but not in such high numbers.

If the community is small and the location a small town outside Dhaka, or even in the outskirts of the city, the scenario is completely different. A visit to a barber in Kuakata one fine day, resulted in my getting a good idea of what the town gossip was all about. People say that the tea-stalls or tongs are the best places to catch up with the town gossip, but trust me - if you visit the saloon you'd be surprised at what you would hear. Since almost all the individuals go to the same saloon, it can be mentioned that this elderly barber has the best knowledge of the whole town, starting from village politics to when the bus to Dhaka leaves. A refreshing shave and haircut is accompanied by gossip which surely keeps one from getting bored, and if one can join in the conversation it can be even more enjoyable.

The lives of 'new' coiffeurs or barbers are said to be becoming worse day by day in the city, with a lot of the hair-cutters even at the largest of saloons, complaining that learning the art of hairdressing was the worst mistake they ever made. Even at a saloon like Hairobics, situated in Lalmatia and quite popular with customers, the barbers get paid a meager salary of Tk. 1500, and basically live their lives on the bokshish they receive from each customer, said a barber working with them for quite a few years now. Even though the so-called new workers have a job experience of about 8 years, they still can't make a descent living out of the profession. The only glimmer of hope they see in their uncertain future, is the opportunity of leaving Bangladesh for some Middle East or Eastern country and making some money for the family. Some even say that they would invest taka one lakh, by borrowing from others in order to get that sort of job. More often than not, these jobs are completely illegal and it can be said that the lives they live in the foreign countries are often too daunting to be discussed.

However, all the barbers do not complain of the same old story. Some 'master' barbers say that the trade has brought them good money and that they should be loyal to it. Some of them have worked in the same line for over thirty years and the craft has supported them and their families for almost all their lives. These barbers are a few of the fortunate ones with a lot of respect from their understudies. They often teach new and aspiring barbers the tricks of the trade and one such master barber is based at Mirpur-12. Md. Ibadul says that it brings happiness to his heart to see that the barbers he once taught are living their lives on the skill, which often requires so much dedication. He also adds that the barbers going through hard times will soon overcome them and discover the passion behind the profession. "Every profession has a drive or passion behind it and this takes some time to obtain, but once you are there, you can master your work and achieve your goals," says Md. Ibadul, who is still working at a saloon in Mirpur.

Another barber working at Shankar for many years, Md. Alam, has even established a fisheries business in his village home using his savings from the small saloon. Together with his own personal savings and the help of some of his clients, he has set up a good business, which really helps him lead a decent living.

The surprising fact is that different fashions for hairstyling originated a long time ago and were practiced by the different tribes and this made the barber the most important man in the community. In fact, the barbers in these tribal days arranged all marriages and baptized all children. They were the chief figures in the religious ceremonies. However, those times have changed and a simple mistake made by a hairdresser now, causes the customer to really get violent with the barber. Nowadays, it is the Nayak (actor) of Titanic (Leonardo Di Caprio) or Hritik Roshan (A Bollywood actor) who are really captivating the hairstyling industry according to barbers around the city. However, some come up with weird ideas like the hairstyle of Omor Sani (A Dhaliwood actor), which is really entertaining to the curious onlookers filled with giggles.

By Mishel Ali Khan

narcissus reborn

CLOTHES make a man. Sure, dress up a monkey in an Armani suit and women will swoon in delight. Of course, many women will complain that they ARE living with monkeys but that is a different story for a different Tuesday.

Today it is all about men and how clothes are no longer enough to set female hearts racing. Put on your fancy outfits and you can still be a monkey underneath all that finery. Yes, yes, I can see the women nod in assent.
Generally men wake up in the morning and stare at the mirror for a few seconds. They brush their teeth and put on clothes and off they go. Baths and other grooming matters are a distant thought. Sounds not too different from Fred Flintstone. Maybe the female heads are still nodding or maybe not.

Sisters and mothers will complain that their post-pubescent men spend too long in the bathroom. Let's face it. They are too busy covering up the pimple among many other things. Older men are often too busy wondering if the paunch or the scalp or both are showing too much. That's about as far as the mirror worship goes. Or is it? Men today are falling more in love with themselves than ever before. They have more to do and less to be ashamed of. Preening in front of the mirror is no longer just a feminine trait. Call it equality of the sexes or whatever you wish. Men are grooming big time. Move over ladies; give us a share of the mirror.

Let's go back to the matter of clothes. Present trends indicate that there is no particular fashion going about. You have your general drop to the ankles at any moment pants also known as cargoes or baggies. Some hip men will sport see-through body hugging tops that make other men and women too embarrassed to watch. There is also the bunch who loves T-shirts and pants with holes. You can call it ventilation. Others love the relaxed executive look in formal clothes sans ties. So you see, pretty much anything goes except Elvis's flared collars and bell-bottoms. It's no longer like the 70's or 80's with its own dress culture. The distance between the sexes is closing, literally. As a toothpaste ad proclaims, nowadays people don't look at the clothes because everyone is standing too close. It's the face that says it all. It's not so much the clothes but rather how well you present yourself. Nothing speaks better than a well-groomed person.

Fair and lovely
Beauty is a subjective matter but despite that in our culture fair is beautiful. Even if you are fair and ugly you are still damned lovely. It used to be an affliction for women but sadly it has crossed over to men as well. It is a surprising fact when you visit any of the upscale salons for men. Most have at least one male having a go at making himself brighter. Speaking to the people at some of the upscale salons I found out that 2-3 men have their faces done every day. Bleaching the face costs about 100-250 taka. It is a process in which you apply chemicals to make your face brighter. Facials especially are a lengthy process requiring about an hour and provide better results. The whole torturous deal involves applying a hot towel to the face to loosen the muscles. Then there is the face pack, which is a paste that picks up the dirt. Also there is the scrubbing session where the blackheads along with further dirt are removed. All this costs a hefty 250-400 taka. What it basically does is remove all the ingrained dirt and lighten the complexion. If Shakespeare was still alive he might have thought twice and decided to put Juliet in Romeos position asking what light shines yonder.

Hair today gone tomorrow
There's a tale about a little girl asking why daddy's hair is falling at the top. She wanted to know if it hurt. "Only the vanity' was daddy's grunted answer. Man's vanity is his hair. While it is still there men do all kinds of things to it. The common trend nowadays is to straighten any curls or waves. Most of the customers are the young men and they pay about 600-800 taka for a chemical job to straighten the locks. Very few go for the curling, which costs 300-600. It takes a lot more effort than absentmindedly twirling your pencil around your hair during a calculus exam.

As far as cuts go there is no specific style such as the Step Cut famous in the early 90's. Most customers bring their own tastes. Some of the notable styles are the wake-up-looking-a-mess look. Hair is tousled and pointing in all directions. It takes plenty of gel or mousse and a lot of time to create a look that says no time has been spent at all. A step further is the spiked look. It's a self-explanatory style with the head resembling a porcupine suffering from goose bumps. Often it is a prelude to no hair which itself is a big style recently. The proclamation is bald is beautiful.

Big hair is out. No more puffed styles or long at the back. Short and neat is in. Not many go for colouring. Usually it is the typical black cover-up job for greying hair. Some of the young people add brown or ash blond highlights. Colouring costs 160-600 depending on the amount of work needed. The present trend for hair is the shape and not the colour.

Due to hair loss older men generally have the facial hair left so that is what they spend their money on. 50-100 taka gets your moustache/beard highlighted.
And while we are on the subject of hair, a lot of men nowadays go for threading. It's a process that uses cotton thread to snip off unwanted facial hair such as that beneath the eyes. Also some go for subtly reshaping their eyebrows especially when the brows meet in the middle. Next time you see a guy with designer eyebrows you know where he's been; it costs around 150 taka.

Give a hand…or a foot
Ancient societal norms differentiated the noble from the masses by the hands. The nobles had fine hands that were smooth, clean with nicely detailed nails as opposed to the commoner's calloused palms and cracked nails. It made sense since the former handled silver forks and the latter wielded rusty tools.

Quite a few older men have precious minutes spent on manicures and pedicures. I say older men because they have the income to dish out 150-200 taka to have symmetrical nails. Neat hands are a better attraction than an expensive Rolex on the wrist. All you males consider this a valuable tip from several females I spoke to.

Achilles heel
Unfortunately this is the one region everyone neglects. It becomes one cracked zone showing signs of close encounters with the bacterial kind. Some crevices look really deep and are so easy to rectify. Creams are available in the market starting from around 50 taka and going all the way up to 250.

The hole truth
Piercing is done too at many hairdressers. Per lobe costs about 150 taka and it's a common practice. Some go for rings dangling from their eyebrows. All the places I spoke to replied in the negative about piercing the tongue. Either people are squeamish or no one has thought of it.

The gist of it all
Attitude speaks volumes now. The face says it all. Boys take a peek at the mirrored side of a CD just before they play it. The reflection is checked and admired while passing a car with tinted windows. Split air coolers over the doorway are so annoying because they ruffle the hairdo (or hair-don't). No one has time to scribble on the bathroom walls because the mirror is there to ask the everlasting question…who's the fairest? You see, in nature the males of the species have the better plumage. Male birds are more colourful. The lion is the proud owner of the mane. It is about time human males step into the grooming game. After all, it's all about feeling good about oneself.

Special thanks go to the men at Hairobics and Man's Planet

By Ehsanur Raza Ronny


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