Billu Sans Barber? Oh No!
A barber (from the Latin barba, "beard") is someone whose occupation is to cut any type of hair, give shaves, and trim beards. A hairdresser is a universal term referring to someone whose occupation is to cut or style hair in order to change or maintain a person's image. This is achieved using a combination of hair coloring, haircutting and hair texture techniques. Some barbers prefer to see themselves as hairdressers or hairstylists. There is a common misbelief that barbers do not perform any service other than hair cutting and that hairdressers perform all coloring and perms. In fact, barbers can cut hair, trim beards, color, perm, provide facials and shave. Many working stylists are, in fact, barbers. Today, barbers and stylists may be found working side by side in establishments known as male salons.
As a child, I never went to a barbershop. It was the barber who came to our house in Lahore every morning for my father's shave, and would cut my hair whenever needed. As I grew up and started going to the barbershop in our neighborhood in Delhi, I remember being fascinated with all the barber stuff. What I remember most though, was the distinct manliness of the place. Even as a young boy, I could sense that a barbershop was a cool hang out for men. Men would stop in not only for a haircut and a shave, but also to fraternize with friends. Barbershops were classy places with often stunning surroundings. Marble counters were lined with colorful glass blown tonic bottles. The barber chairs were elaborately carved from oak and walnut, and fitted with fine leather upholstery. Everything from the shaving mugs to the advertising signs were rendered with an artistic flourish. The best shops even had crystal chandeliers hanging from fresco painted ceilings. Despite this level of luxury, barbershops were homey and inviting. A memorable and heavenly man aroma filled the air, the smell of tobacco smoke mixed with the scent of hair tonics, pomades, oils, and neck powders. These aromas became ingrained in the wood and every cranny of the shop. The moment a man stepped inside, he was enveloped in the warm and welcoming familiarity. Many decades later, I’m rediscovering the barbershop in California.
A new type of hairdresser siphoned off the barbers’ former customers: the hairstylist salon. Places which were neither beauty salons nor barbershops, catered to both men and women. The problem is that many of the people who work at salons are not trained barbers. They’re cosmetologists. The difference between the two can spell the difference between a dopey-looking haircut and a great one. When I went to hair stylists, I hardly ever talked to the woman who cut my hair. I’d chat about my family and theirs and that’s about it. The woman who cut my hair usually ended up chatting with the other women in the salon, while I sat there awkwardly. Barbers, on the other hand, are interesting guys with interesting stories to tell. And I in turn feel at ease to say what’s on my mind. There is conversation about politics, cars, sports, and family. Guys read the newspaper and comment on current events. In between the banter, jokes are told and laughs are had. And everyone is involved: the barbers, the customers getting their haircut, and the customers waiting to get their haircut. Adding to the enjoyment is that a variety of men take part in the conversation; young, old, and middle-aged join in the mix. Barbershops are places of continuity; they don’t change with the shifts in culture. The places and barbers look the same as they did when I got my hair cut, decades ago in Delhi. It’s a straightforward experience with none of the accouterments of the modern age. There are no waxing, facials, highlights, or appointments. Just great haircuts and great conversation.
I think there’s a good argument that barbershops are among the last civic forums where do people go today just to talk with others in the community? Coffee shops? Every time one goes to a coffee shop, people are at their own tables minding their own business. Discussions in traditional barbershops shape political ideas in the community. Political debate in barbershops can be vigorous and engages young and old alike. So, if you’re wanting to get your thumb on the pulse of civic life in your community, head over to the barbershop. What a great way to bond with the men in your life! And some hairdressers had the audacity to declare the term 'barber' as derogatory, and Shah Rukh heard them and ordered hiding 'barber' from the title of his film Billu Barber? Billu sans barber? Oh no!