My father, Gopalan, did not have the monetary means to let me pursue an education. So at the age of 11, I dropped out of school, and started apprenticing as a barber at my uncle, Krishnan’s shop at Ennikkara. My job then was to clean the floors, open doors for customers, sharpen the shaving knives, lather the customers faces for a shave… As there was no electricity in and around that area in those days, work was from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After a few years with my uncle, I started training under Shankaran, a barber at Vellayambalam.
It was an acquaintance of mine, Peter Albert who told me that there was a shop available for rent at Kowdiar. As there were no other barber shops around that area then, I decided to set up shop. In fact, ours was the only row of shops on that street. The rent then was Rs. 15, now I pay Rs. 4,000 a month.
My clientele was and still is varied. I have customers right from ministers and bureaucrats to white collared and blue collared workers. I remember getting a call from South Park one day. They wanted me to come over as there was a client who wanted the service of a barber. I reached the hotel and went to the room only to find Dhirubhai Ambani. After giving him a shave, he asked me how much I charged. I didn’t know what to say. A shave those days was only Rs. 2. I asked him to give me what he wanted. He gave me Rs. 100 and asked if I was satisfied. I said I was extremely satisfied.
I am one of the few barbers who do house visits. Back then, the elite never visited barber shops. Most of my visits were to the houses of politicians. I still do house visits, albeit a few.
Most of my customers are regulars. They are like friends and when they come over we discuss politics, we gossip…Some bring in their children for a cut as it is cheaper than most beauty parlours that have sprung up. I leave the hair cutting of children to my assistant as I am 75 and my eyes are starting to fail me.
And yes, these beauty parlours with their air-conditioning, plush seats and the like have created a dent in my income. As I am getting old, I now go home for lunch and leave the closing of the shop to my assistant. I go home, have a relaxed meal with my wife, Saraswathy, watch a bit of television, take a nap… My house is at Karakulam. Earlier I used to cycle to work. With traffic getting chaotic by the day, I now take the bus.
My four children are now settled in life so I can afford to take it a bit easy. There are rumours that the shop is up for sale. Once it is sold, I intend to quit the profession and relax.
(A weekly column on men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)