Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Of Pure Haircuts and Cutters

After a piece on "Haircuts and Stock Markets", a piece or even two/three pieces (especially because the subject is one of cutting) on pure haircuts and hair cutters is indeed required.  Otherwise we may forget the original haircuts and remain confused that haircuts are purely for stock markets and investors and not for the human beings for whom a haircut is an important routine of life!

"Kasturi" is a monthly Kannada Magazine published from Hubli by "Lokashikshana Trust" which is also known for its Kannada daily newspaper "Samyukta Karnataka".  The trust is in existence for over 70 years and has rendered yeomen services to the people of Karnataka.  Veterans like Ranganatha Diwakara (R R Diwakara) and Pa. Vem. Acharya have guided the publication over the years. Kasturi has modeled itself on the lines of "Readers Digest" and is now in its 55th year of publication.  Pa. Vem. Acharya, who later on became the editor of the magazine also, used to write well informed but humorous articles in the magazine.  Some forty five years ago, I read an article written by him titled "Kalaprapoorna Ayushkarma Shaala" which would translate to "Artistic Hair Dressing Saloon".  Venkateswarudu, who was the Proprietor and only artiste in the Saloon, had a policy for attending to his customers.  He would not attend to any customer who directs him to cut the hair in any desired style or shape.  His logic was simple.  Any patient going to a Doctor does not suggest or demand that he should be given such and such medicine.  It is left to the doctor to diagnose and decide as to what is the disease and what medicine should be prescribed to remedy it.  The patient has no right to interfere with this freedom of the Doctor and should only place himself in the hands of the Doctor and leave the rest to him.  Similarly, the Hair Dresser is the sole and final authority to decide what type of hair dressing should be given to the "particular Head" placed literally and practically in his hands.  He is the artiste working on his subject, or the better word would be "the Model", and he would not brook any interference in his field of expertise.  The Story has a sad ending as the customers do not accept this line of thinking and Venkateswarudu had to close down his Saloon since he neither wanted to surrender his artistic freedom nor had any "Models" to work on. 

First haircut in his life for a boy is considered as an important event in parts of India and is celebrated with lot of fanfare by inviting near and dear ones.  It is called "Choodakarma" or "Chandika Mahotsava" and many people celebrate the event  by making a trip to their family deity.  This is one of the "Shodasha Karmas" or "Sixteen important Stages or rituals".  The actual area of head tonsured depends on the family custom.  Some people offer only a part of the hair on the head - said to be equal to a "Goshpaada", meaning an area equal to a cow's front feet, say about 12 square inches.  Some others do not have any such rule and the entire head is tonsured till the shining head in its entirety is clearly visible to every one.  I also know of families who believe in equality of gender, though they may not believe in it in other aspects of life, and get the head of a girl child also similarly tonsured.  A generous layer of "Srigandha" (sandalwood paste) is applied on the shaved head after a holy bath and before the  "Darshan" (viewing) of the family deity.  One of the reasons for applying this is due to its anti-septic quality and protect the tender skin of the child after a barbarous attack. A similar haircut is given to the boy before "Upanayanam"or the holy "Thread Ceremony" in some parts of the country. Tonsuring the head and keeping it that way thereafter is one of the basic rituals of "Sanyas" or "Renunciation", a passport for entering the priesthood or a monastic order and thereby conferring on a right to make all hairy heads bow before you thereafter.

A practice of offering the hair or tonsuring the head to some God or Goddess in accordance with one's belief to cure a disease or fulfill some wish is also prevalent, though the practice is fast losing its currency.  Tirupati is one such place where thousands offer their head (it is actually only hair on the head) to the Lord of Seven Hills.  The temple in Tirupati earns millions of dollars every year by sale and export of such hair offered by the devotees.  This hair is further used for manufacture hairy beauty products and one of the objectives of such products is to cover baldness.  "Tirupati Kshowra" (Head shaving in Tirupati) is a well known and oft quoted proverb or idiom when someone leaves a task unfinished and takes another job, thus leaving many unfinished tasks and causing irritation to others. Origin of this practice has a very interesting study.  In olden days, devotees had to purchase a token by making payment of a prescribed fee at the Temple and surrender the token to the person tonsuring the head. Hair shavers were later paid on the basis of tokens collected by them by multiplying the number of tokens by the amount payable for each token.  In order to ensure that they have sufficient "heads" and tokens, shavers used to cut a small portion of the hair and jump at grabbing the token from the next  "arrival" and prevent them from going to the next shaver.  the devotees had to perforce wait for this shaver only, as any other shaver would not accept the "Head" without a token.  I am told that this practice is now given up, though I have no personal experience of the same.  I was myself saved of this ordeal in my younger days since thankfully my family was not subscribing to this practice.

Tonsuring one's head is also a ritual practiced in several parts of the world, before embarking on holy rituals like cremation of a dead close relative.  "Garuda Puraana" states that such an act brings infinite happiness to the departed soul and we have to perforce believe it since no departed soul has yet come back to dispute it.  One practical aspect of such a practice as experienced by me and many others is that the shaved head provides protection against "common cold" during the days of rituals when innumerable baths have to be taken while performing rituals.  This also provides some uniformity among the persons (usually brothers) performing such religious tasks by giving them a "common look".  Of course, there is an associated problem of identifying our kith and kin when one goes to some holy places where number of such ceremonies are being done at the same time, as everyone performing these rituals appears to be close to us due to multitude of shaven heads.  This is best experienced when one visits Ttirupati or Gaya.

There was an inhuman practice of shaving off the head of a widow, at the death of her husband, presumably making her unattractive to look at.  Civilized world can heave a sigh of relief that this barbarous practice is no longer in existence, but for those who have seen such practice decades ago, this is still a scar in the memory lane.

While on the subject of haircuts, I am reminded of a delightful story I had heard from my grand uncle in my childhood.   This story had no title to it, but I have given it a title,  "Baalwale Baba", which roughly means "The sage with long Hair".  Roughly not because his hair was rough but because strict translation of such words is somewhat impossible.   In a village there was a very poor man who had no sources for getting two square meals a day.  Needless to say that he could not pay for a hair cut.  He was very irregular in taking haircuts.  His days became even more difficult, sometimes one wonders whether that was possible, and he could not take a hair cut for a very long time.  Once he went to a far away place on some work and unable to find a lodging place, he dozed off below a big tree.  When he got up from his slumber, he found that many people had kept fruits and small coins before him and some were even prostrating before him. The growth of hair on his head and beard became so much that people were mistaking him to be a holy man and this notion led to this spectacle.  He was happy that his immediate problem of food was solved!  He stayed there itself and in due course of time, the stream of visitors increased.  He became famous as "Baalwale Baba" as nobody knew his real nae and he did not care disturb his new found status by disclosing his past.  After some years he actually started meditating and found divine light and enlightenment!  Somewhat similar to a hunter turned sage, Vaalmeeki, the author of epic "Raamaayana".

The faster growth of hair and nails on human body is said to be a symbol of good health.   Of course, like two Economists, two Doctors may not agree with this statement.  The topics to be covered under "Haircuts" is also growing quite lengthy, with more and more related topics cropping up.  May be I have to cover them in two more pieces, titled "Historical Haircuts" and "Evolution of Hair-cutting Saloons".


  1. I'll never again be able to use the term- 'just a simple haircut ! :)

  2. The Doctor Patient relationship model you refer to, is mostly seen in Asian countries. It is called "THE GURU CHELA MOLDEL" where a patient completely gives therapeutic freedom to Doctor. In current days, it is regarded as unethical. It still exists in India, because patients may not have therapeutic decision making capacity owing to lack of knowledge, or maybe laziness/inability to aquire knowledge about it.