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An unkind cut for the barber

The well-intentioned No-shave November wreaks havoc with the livelihood of the local hairdressers

Whether it stemmed from youthful exuberance, or a desire to display one’s masculinity, or a keenness to benefit mankind, “No-Shave November” made me remain “unshaven” during that entire month in 2015, and several around me were also smitten by the campaign. This movement was launched in 2009 by the “No-Shave November” organisation based in the U.S. The rationale was to use the money saved by not shaving, to spread cancer awareness and contribute to cancer research. Another movement, led by the Movember Foundation, set up in 2003, asks people to sport a moustache for the whole of November to initiate conversations with people and spread awareness of men’s health issues. This organisation invests in research and other help in the areas of prostate cancer and testicular cancer, in mental health and in encouraging physical activity among men.

Being associated with the former gave me a “warm-glow” feeling. I felt I was involved in something meaningful and that I was making a difference. To ensure that I was not merely aping some western movement, I tweaked my way of observing “No-Shave November” and decided to contribute the money saved to the Cancer Foundation of India based in Kolkata.

I just happened to talk on the phone to my fiancée about the whole thing. I expected her to shower me with compliments for my sensitivity and initiative, but her reply pierced my heart and shattered my ego. All she was asking me was about the plight of the barber when people take to such movements!

I admonished her, a civil services aspirant, for not showing an ounce of appreciation for my efforts and our conversation ended rather prematurely.

I sat down for a while, attempting to introspect on what it was that caused me so much discomfort: was it the lack of acknowledgement from my fiancée about my good intentions, or was it something more? Is it possible that I had caused some harm to the local barber? I recalled a conversation with the barber, wherein he mentioned having to pay a monthly rent of Rs. 5,000 for his salon premises. He made the point that only if he made a total of Rs. 7,000 a month he would square up all his expenses and be able to make a surplus with which to look after his family consisting of his wife and two children.

Though my not going to the salon would have resulted in only a meagre loss of about Rs. 100 at the most to him, think of the loss caused by the coordinated actions of many of us on the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, campus. The combined effect would surely be bitter for the barber. Did I just cause a situation in which the barber and his family would have to miss their meals?

What this then reveals is that a “No-shave November” might bring about good outcomes in developing countries, but this improvement would be at a cost — in this case, the barber’s well-being. The implications of the whole analysis for me were immense.

First, when I would go to the local salon some time this week to do some much-needed grooming, I would pay him for his current services and also the notional savings I had accrued by not shaving and cutting my hair for a month.

Secondly, as a nation we need to think more about how we could have a more appropriate version of “No-Shave November” customised for our country’s needs. This could be a generalised appeal to reconsider all the models of growth that we use in policy in our country, oblivious to the fact that these were designed for altogether different purposes and in different contexts.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 8:01:04 PM |

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