An envoy’s barber story

 Before he left India to take up his assignment as our envoy in Brazil Mr B S Prakash visited his mother in Shimoga.  As son of a locally prominent doctor Mr Prakash basks in reflected fame in his home town. His Shimoga visit made news in the local media. The newspaper report  prompted a visit by a frail elderly gent to his place.  He walked into ‘our small garden’, seeking to meet ‘the Doctor`s son, now a dodda sahebaru in Delhi. The visitor, Hanumantha, had been the family barber retained by Mr Prakash’s father. 

That Hanumantha had walked  miles  to look him up touched Mr Prakash. “We gave him some kodubale and Kobbari mithai which he had, but without coming inside the house”, said Mr Prakash , adding that Hanumantha had never stepped into their house.  His father used to have his hair cut in the garage outside.  Before taking leave  Hanumantha  reminded Mr Prakash  of his dharma – Yenadaru baksheesh kodabeku,neevu.  The barber claimed his tip as an entitlement.

I had Mr Prakash reminiscing about his Shimoga barber  when I  sent  him the link to a fascinating piece by Mr M P V Shenoi on his Mysore barber, who played clarinet.  Mohalla barbers in Shenoi’s younger days (1940s) doubled up as street musicians,  hired to play musical instruments at weddings and other festivities.  Every upper caste household had a family barber, handed down to it from generation to generation.  He was paid a pittance as monthly retainer; given some sweets and clothes on festivals.

Mr Shenoi’s account, appearing in Dadinani.com,  triggered this mail from Mr Prakash:

In my Shimoga school years, early sixties,  my father,  a prominent doctor, used to have barber Hanumanta come to our home to cut his hair. He was too busy, perhaps, too successful a doctor to go to his saloon. My job was to go running to Hanumanta`s saloon and call him home. Like the barber in Mr. Shenoy`s story,  he too had a musical vocation: he and his brother were nagaswaram players at weddings and often were not available for haircutting.  I too used to get my haircut at home till my middle school, but thereafter shifted to more fancy saloons in Shimoga.

 Two years ago, I was in Shimoga visiting my mother. The local one-page newspaper did a feature on me to the effect that `this man, son of Doctor so and so, who had joined the IAS/IFS and is now the Ambassador to ….etc is visiting the town“. I guess there is still some local interest in me in Shimoga. 

The next evening, a frail, bent, elderly gent came in to our small garden…In a feeble voice,  he introduced himself as Hanumanta. “Do you remember coming running to me when you were young?”  he asked. Of course I did, though it was a memory from forty years back…  He said that he had come walking from a village nearly six miles away, after he had seen the local paper.  At his age and in his condition it had taken him hours.  This memory will certainly last a life time.  And he was not even my barber, but the recipient of my father`s summons.

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One Response

  1. Yet another interesting entry, keep em coming!

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