Hairstylist Jawed Habib transformed haircutting into a science.

“So full of himself…,” is what you think when hairstylist and cosmetologist Jawed Habib talks about his achievements without a pause. The knick-knacks at his Lajpat Nagar ‘Academy' corroborate your view; a coffee mug with his caricature, tea coasters too. A complete library of carefully guarded writings on him — well-arranged in neat leather files, a long row of glass-framed cartoons, caricatures, photographs, copies of certificates and other recommendations on the academy walls, and several ‘yes' men around him.

But before you realise, you are engrossed in his (almost) enticing rags-to-riches story. His anecdotes prove that success didn't come to him without its share of humiliation, insult, back-biting and demoralisation. They came through two types of people; one, those who thought hair cutting to be a ‘lowly' profession, and two, those couldn't equal him in his stature despite having the power of money.

Tale of toil

He begins his tale of toil and triumph. “My grandfather Nazir Ahmed, who used to cut the hair of almost all the heavyweights among Indian and British politicians, lived in Rashtrapati Bhawan. Jawaharlal Nehru and Lord Mountbatten were his prized clients. I did my Master's in French from Jawaharlal Nehru University, thinking a foreign language would help me get better employment. My father Habib Ahmed taught me how to cut hair, but like any other young boy I was very confused about choosing a particular career after college.”

But before he could take up a job, his father made a wise decision — a decision that would change the entire course of his life. Recalls Habib with a glint in his eyes, “He sent me to a nine-month hairdressing course at Morris International School in London. He said, ‘Just see if you like it. If you don't, come back and we will think of something else'. London was an eye-opener. In India, a person who cuts hair was simply a barber, a nai, a lowly occupation. But in London, it was a well-paid, highly recommended profession. Soon after the course Sunsilk appointed me. I stayed there for nine years. But as I started stagnating, I resigned.”

Back home in 1989, he became a spokesperson for hairdressing. He began with organising workshops and seminars on hairstyling. “I used to walk up to food outlets like McDonald's and talk to visitors about hairdressing skills. My first press conference was held in Patna. There, while I was saying that hairdressing is a science, a journalist got up from his seat and said ‘Toh kya hua, hain to aap nai hi na'. (After all you are only a barber). It was very rude and blunt.”

Though hurt, Habib didn't retaliate. But he did a wise thing. “I started small units in unlikely and remote areas of India, in Hissar, Bhatinda, Shillong, Kapurthala, Jammu, Ranchi, Siliguri, Vapi, Agra, Kanpur and so on. I taught hairstyling to a handful of students. Maine sharam nahi ki. I had tremendous faith in my scissors. If I taught five students from remote places of India in my father's salon on Lodi Road and South Extension, I encouraged them to go back to their hometowns and gather only five people for my lecture, and I would then start a salon with them. It worked.”

He soon started writing books on hairstyling and hair care. “Selling skills didn't come easy. People used to make fun of me,” recalls Habib sombrely. “When I got married in 1989, my in-laws did not accept me. When I went to meet them in the U.S., they didn't tell their relatives that I was a ‘hair cutter'. Today they have put up a huge photograph of mine on their living room wall and they proudly tell people that I am their damaad.”

To reach his present place, he sacrificed sleep, food and personal joys. His success mantra stems from “behaving like a common man and not like a celebrity”.

“I worked for more than 15 hours a day. I swept my own academy floors, wiped the dust, made tea for all. I would run from one small town to another to deliver lectures and open small units. I didn't want to get a thousand bucks a day and live peacefully. I wanted to popularise haircutting as hairstyling, as a science,” he says.

Now, with 207 saloons and 41 academies across India, and one in Malaysia, Jawed is making newer forays.

“I will go into branding now. You will soon see Jawed Habib shampoos, serums, makeup cosmetics, hair clips, razors, spas, (saloon) chairs, cups, electronic hair appliances, etc. I have a team of 30 people in my research and development (R&D) department who are working towards it. And in five years from now I want to be a listed company,” he says with immense confidence.

The energy is infectious. The 47-year-old can give a 25-year-old a run for his money as he starts posing for photographs. For a second, this music lover seems to get lost in the Rafi song playing at the background in his academy. “Rafi saab is my weakness. Unki awaaz mein surroor tha, meri kainchi mein hai,” he laughs.

This time we couldn't agree more

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Jawed Habib was born in Rashtrapati Bhawan Block no. 12 and house no 32.