The only constant (Stories of our lives)

9 min read
07 Jun 2017
9 min read
694 words
From the Archive (Jun, 2016): For Patan’s denizens—generations of them—Bhai Bahadur’s salon is an institution in itself
For Patan’s Denizens—generations of them—Bhai Bahadur’s  salon is an institution in itself

Bhai Bahadur, now 70, has been a barber for 60 years. He used to work in his father’s shop in Mahapal, before setting his his own shop, here in Daubahal, Yaunkuli Mahavihar, in 2021 BS. The shop is small, with only three chairs, and only two of them are used for seating customers. The other chair, which always has a bundle of yellowed-out newspapers sitting on it, is now showing its age: There are patches of rot on it that contrast with the off-white marbled floor. On the walls of the shop hang three mirrors, and besides them are pale posters showcasing a plethora of hairstyles on offer: the French cut, the German cut, the Aristocratic cut, the Collegian cut, the Soldier cut and many more.

Greeting all those who enter the shop, through its green channel gate, for all these years, has been Bhai Bahadur. Most of them have known Bhai Bahadur for many years. "My customers are usually introduced to me by their fathers," says Bhai Bahadur. "And the fathers are usually introduced to me by their fathers," he adds, with a chuckle. Oftentimes, you’ll see a father-son duo getting a haircut here one after the other. Bhai Bahadur’s interactions with the neigbourhood’s families goes three generations deep. “Maybe even four generations,” he says.

“I Know Everything About My Customers And They Know Everything About Me”

That’s perhaps the main reason for the customer loyalty he commands. “People who have moved to Kathmandu from the tole still come all the way here to get a haircut,” he says. “I know everything about them and they know everything about me.” He even has most of the locals’ family genealogies inscribed in his memory. He can recite the names of the people, their places in the family tree and their histories. For most of these people, he is the only person whose service they’ll use for important occasions like Bratabandhas and Sharadhas.

Just as we are digging up the stories of the locality, an old man comes in for a haircut. Bhai Bahadur and the customer are on a first-name basis. As soon as the customer is comfortably seated, he signals to Bhai Bahadur, with just his eyes, that he’s ready. Without hesitation, Bhai Bahadur picks up an electric trimmer, makes small arrangements on it and starts cutting. There is complete—and comfortable—silence for the next 15 minutes. Cut done, the old man gets up and departs with only an “OK, bye”. Not much, it seems, needs to be said. Bhai Bahadur does not fit the stereotype of the chatty barber, and his customers perhaps don’t want him to change how he conducts himself either.

In the 60 years that he has been at the job, Bhai Bahadur has gone from giving set haircuts to haircuts that require him to cut in a particular way. “Back then, when a haircut cost 10 paisa, people used ask for a certain set style. There was a uniformity to the styles too. Now, people, especially the young ones, ask me to do ‘this and that’ and ‘cut this part in this fashion but cut that part in another.’ The tools have obviously changed too,” he says.

Bhai Bahadur has been witness to Patan’s changing over the years. People have moved out of and people have moved into his neighbourhood. But one man, working out of one shop all these years, has stayed the same—Bhai Bahadur Napit.