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Challenges and dreams galore AT WORK

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MAKEOVER: G. Arumugam attends to a customer in his salon at Palavakkam.
MAKEOVER: G. Arumugam attends to a customer in his salon at Palavakkam.

Meera Srinivasan

Barbers who do not work at high-end salons cater for a large clientele

CHENNAI: A young man dressed in faded blue jeans and T-shirt walks into Classic Salon on Alaiyamman Koil Street. “Give me a hair cut like actor Ajith’s latest one,” the customer, who looks 20 years old, tells the barber. C. Ezhumalai gets started immediately.

Barbers like Ezhumalai, who do not work at high-end salons, cater for a large clientele in the city. Most of them are in the profession, as their families had been for years. “I started when I was 10 and have been doing this ever since,” says the 32-year-old.

Income dips

While he makes nearly Rs.4, 000 a month, Rs.1, 500 of it goes towards the rent for the portion that looks not more than 8 x 7 square feet, with a large mirror and two salon chairs. “When I opened my shop here six years ago, mine was the only one. But now there are at least five small salons nearby, and my income has come down,” he says.

“I would not mind switching over to a more pleasant profession, but I have no choice,” he says.

However, to make sure that his children are not starved for choice later, he has put his older son in an English medium school in the neighbourhood and plans to do the same for his younger son.

A. Ramesh, who works with his uncle at Srinivasan Hairdressers at Teynampet, regrets having discontinued his schooling. “I failed in Std. X, and my parents thought I would not be able to study further. Since my uncle was in this profession, they sent me to him.” His uncle K. Srinivasan taught him the tricks of the trade and Ramesh makes Rs.200 every day.

Speaking of the challenges, barbers point to “unruly customers,” who sometimes make a fuss, or derogatory remarks about the profession. And not all customers have a sense of personal hygiene: barbers have to put up with bad odour and dirty hair. Furthermore, many youths asking for hair cuts like that of Suriya, Ajith or Vijay get disappointed with them if the style does not suit them.

However, those like S. Pazhani have fewer things to complain about. The barber is also a Thavil artist, who plays at weddings and temple festivals. “If I have a salon, it will be difficult to maintain it and simultaneously pursue my interest in Thavil.”

With his kit, he goes to customers’ homes when they call him up and caters for senior citizens and patients. “I also take up tiles-laying. I am fairly comfortable financially,” says the 38-year-old, who has bought a small house near Vadapalani.

G. Arumugam of Santhosh Salon at Palavakkam is another barber who has no regrets about being in the profession. “Why, my grandfather did this, my father did this…why not me? I have trained about five boys and they have opened their own shops.”

Best education

With “sufficient” income every month, Arumugam has only one little worry. “I wish I could read English,” he says, quickly clarifying, “not to find other jobs, but just to read sign boards.” To realise this dream, the father of three children is sending them to English medium schools. “I will give them the best education. It is up to them to choose their profession. But if they don’t study well, they may be forced to choose this.”

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