Nepal | January 17, 2021

Saloons of the bygone era


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The relentless noise of scissors at work and a bedlam of people practising multi-lingualism is a familiar scene at traditional salons. Salons, which are often mispronounced and wrongly spelt as ‘saloons’ in small towns, bear a testimony to the inacquaintance of the dwellers with the foreign language. Both the words are distantly connected as the word ‘salon’ means an establishment where a hairdresser, beautician or couturier conducts trade, and ‘saloon’ means a public room or building used for a specified purpose.

I have had a long association with such traditional ‘saloons’ since the time when I was first exposed to the dreadful black throne-like hair dresser’s chair as a child. I was traumatised by the sight of the scissors gnawing off the hair with such swift precision. I fostered a strange fear that the barber would accidently cut off my ears while giving my hair the desired shape.

How could I forget being made to sit on a wooden block placed on the arms of the chair and the irritating sound of the razor rubbing at the back of my neck? At times I feel that since then nothing significant has changed in these salons. The clients, the ambience, the chit chat, the movies and the barbers – everything appears to be immortal in their own respect.

Still we see hair dressers engrossed in movies while trimming or shaving. The client under the blade is eternally in the embrace of fear. Barbers are the ones who can also be termed as the encyclopedia of the surrounding areas as they maintain a robust data of the residents, their occupation and even their personal lives. One just has to name a person, and his detailed curriculum vitae will be unfolded before you in mille-seconds.

Then there is always a septuagenarian with his eyes fixed to the newspaper. He keeps grumbling and castigating the current policies of the government and giving his keen insight on matters of national security and finance. Besides, you would also find youngsters fiddling with the newspapers just to learn something more about their favourite movie stars.

Apart from this, the gossip mongers hold a place of paramount importance. Their conversations range from showbiz to politics and sports to academics. The barbers too keep playing a cameo in such discussions with their incomplete knowledge and peculiar expressions.

I firmly opine that barber shops not only smarten us up and make us look presentable but also give us a peep into the psyches of different kinds of people. It is a school in itself wherein disciplines like politics, literature, psychology, cosmetology, humour and criticism are at our very disposal.


A version of this article appears in print on November 23, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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