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PROFILE

M. AHMED IQBAL BALOCH

COLUMN FOR THE RECORD
SOCIETY 1- BAN ON INDIAN CHANNELS
2-
THE HAIRDRESSER: AN ENTREPRENEUR AND AN INSTITUTION
3- GLOBAL INEQUALITY

 

THE HAIRDRESSER: AN ENTREPRENEUR AND AN INSTITUTION

 

There is need to educate these hairdressers to enhance the level of general cleanliness as well as the benefits of disinfection of the gadgets they use in providing their services

 

By MUHAMMAD BASHIR CHAUDHRY
                                                    
Aug 11 - 17, 2003 
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The hairdresser's place used to be the focal point of the village, though in a small way. Most men and young boys would visit him once in a while for a haircut. But more often than not the men would call on him for small talk or to locate someone or to ask the hairdresser to run an errand. Some days, he would make a round of the farms carrying tools of his trade with him for shave and/or haircut. The hairdresser and the farmer would sit on the cot or on ground as was the case more often, in the sun or under shade of a tree depending upon the season. They would simultaneously indulge in small talk and exchange whatever has happened in the village or the hairdresser has heard in the meantime from others. Only in a few cases payment was in cash. He would get paid in kind once a year at wheat harvesting. On these rounds, he may be offered vegetable, fruits and sugar cane for the family or fodder for the buffalo. The hairdresser intimately knew every villager as they had grown together since childhood. Occasionally, he would also perform minor surgeries to sour wounds or other such affliction. He would be a part of every festivity in the village. Sometimes he would be preparing the food while at other times he would be running errands or attending to the guests. Depending on the nature of task, his wife and other members of the family would assist him at these functions. His wife or mother would also help in match making for the young boys or girls from the village or the few surrounding villages. Largely based on age and intimacy he would be called an uncle or a brother or a son but it was very rare that some one would call him by his given name or his profession. This courtesy was also extended to his family members. The respect was mutual and the villagers were living a contented life as members of an extended family.

Modernization process has brought changes, which have also affected village life. On the one hand, modern conveniences are finding their way to the villages, many of which have access to electricity, telephone and are connected by roads of some sort to the towns. A large number of houses have electronic gadgets such as tape-recorder or a television and home appliances such as washing machines. There are schools for both boys and girls. On the other hand, with repeated sub-division of farm lands due to inheritance laws, many younger farmers have been reduced to subsistence level. Unemployment and underemployment among the villagers is high and many youngsters have moved to the urban areas to find jobs and to earn a living. The educated youth could expect and in most cases did find better jobs and gradually grew in life and now prefer to settle in the towns or cities, while maintaining link with the villages that they visit occasionally. Young people without education try to learn technical trades for survival or get employed as unskilled labour in factories that are coming up fast around towns. The hairdresser also experienced change. Now his services are more often paid in cash but the hairdresser also perceives decline in mutual respect and the villagers becoming more materialistic. The hairdresser or his sons also opted to move out for starting a new life in the towns or cities.

The hairdresser, who had learned the tricks of trade from his father, left the village as a skilled person. He adjusted relatively easily in the town because of ready demand for his services, which are paid in hard cash. The hairdresser on reaching town makes a start by renting a shop that would initially double as his residence. For starters, one or two hairdresser's chairs and a wooden bench are considered adequate. His soft manners and reasonably priced services yield him enough of the clientele to comfortably sustain him. In a few months he would add hot bath for the convenience of the customers. This would increase the clientele further and enhance his profits. After some time, he would expand his business by adding more chairs and taking one or two apprentices who are mostly trained on the job. After a few years he adds another line to his business. He starts cooking of food for the customers to be used at marriages or other large functions including for distribution to the poor people as charity. Once confident of his regular income, he would invite members of his family to leave the village and join him in the town. He has little compulsion to keep the link with the village where he has no farming land. With regular income for a better life he easily cultivates friendship with so many new people.

 

 

Only a small capital is required to start hairdressing business. Basic tools of his trade comprise a razor, a pair of scissors, a nail-cutter and a few combs. With the increase in sophistication many new tools and electrical gadgets have appeared. Functionally, these new tools can hardly replace the old tools but the hairdresser would not mind displaying and using the new tools more often particularly while servicing the younger generation. This gives him a legitimate excuse to charge more from the self-conscious customers, who feel elated when these newer tools are used to dress their hair in the way they want. The hairdresser shops in the towns or cities are relatively better furnished.

The shops in the posh areas are known something like 'Hair Style Saloon' and the hairdresser is neatly dressed like a professional. Their charges are also high and majority of the customers would avoid them if they have the time. The average hairdresser has over time developed into a true businessman who can afford to hire a number of helpers or assistants to provide shave, haircut, massage, dying of grey hairs and other similar services. This adds to his profits. Occasionally, the hairdresser would himself attend to an important customer, and indulge in small talk during the haircut. All other customers are generally attended by the assistants who would give one or two unwarranted small cuts, due mostly to inexperience or enthusiasm. Gradually, they learn and you can expect a comfortable hairdressing without suffering any cuts.

If you happen to visit a modest hairdressing shop for a shave or a hair cut, the hairdresser or one of his assistants would attend to you once he is free from the customer ahead of you sitting in the hairdresser's chair and enjoying the service as well as the small talk. While waiting for your turn, you have the option to leaf through the newspaper or a tattered magazine or participate in the general talk on some current topic. Often the customers belonging to the same area or locality get known to each other and therefore interjecting in the conversation is not objected to. It may be some cricket or hockey match or some recent incidence that is under discussion. The customers and the hairdresser give their considered opinion on the issues or persons involved. Some time a particular subject continues with a number of customers. An important customer may introduce on arrival a new topic to his liking or on which he would like to exchange views. The process continues all day but with varying subjects. The use of telephone, radio and the television has not reduced the value of the hairdresser's shop. Rather, these have given a new dimension to the discussion on current topics. These gadgets are helping the hairdresser attract more customers which means more business. However, sometimes this also attracts the street boys to his shop. Generally, he knows how to handle them very well and is not bothered much.

The hairdresser's shop is liked most for the free services rendered to a large number of people and customers. Some of the customers with no fixed address use the hairdresser's shop as the contact point for receiving mail or messages from the family. The unemployed visit the shop to get employment tips or to get introduced to a customer who might provide employment or help locate a suitable job. The customers also visit the shop to seek advice in particular matters. The hairdresser may introduce him to some other customer who can be helpful in the matter. This continues day and night and some times the hairdresser would accompany a particular customer to help resolve the issue. Besides, a few apprentices are taken, who are provided training in hairdressing or cooking services. After a few months on-the-job training, these youngsters are able to earn their living as an assistant and thus are removed from the unemployed lot. Very few people can match the hairdresser in such services to the community.

 

 

One is not very comfortable with the general level of cleanliness in the shop or the bathrooms or the kitchen where food is cooked. The tools of the hairdresser's trade and the towels are mostly not disinfected. The hairdresser has made one change i.e. he now uses new disposable blade for making shave of each customer instead of the same old razor for all customers. In order to protect the customers, there is need to educate these hairdressers to enhance the level of general cleanliness as well as the benefits of disinfection of the gadgets they use in providing their services. The health authorities might consider issuing advertisements in the newspapers to this effect. This would be an important step for overall cleanliness and health of his customers and the people at large.