Ode to a Barber
No one, not even the mightiest and the brutish can snatch them from me – yes with all their might, they cannot snatch my dreams. Singing about glory of my land many times, I dream of reviving its ‘symphony and song’; its rhythm and ecstasies; its ambience and culture and its attribute and ethos.
Dreaming of deleting sufferings of the land like a spam at the click of a button, I often look for reviving eagle like freedom to the have-nots- the heroes of the land. Our have-nots : weavers on the looms interlacing damsels’ dreams with kani (wooden needles), needle workers writing poetry with silken threads on pashmina shawls, woodcarvers giving spirit and vivacity to walnut wood by dexterously pecking floral designs out of it, papier-mâché men creating rainbows of colors on ‘paper-ware’ and our potters churning marvels out of clay have been our nobility.
Our commoners, for their nature gifted wisdom and erudition have been our aristocracy. During summers the lawns of hospices and grand mosque and during winters the cozy shops of tailors and barbers were our Lyceums, where one learned history and politics of the land in ‘Socratic tradition’. I remember many tailors and barbers in our part of the city who were wisdom and politics incarnate. They were not only articulate but men of great exactitude knowing every happening to the minutest detail. For their remembering every event in depth and detail, I would love to call them historians with flavor and fluency. These chroniclers of sorts, witness to an era, remembered every incident in microscopic detail that no contemporary historian has recorded. Not only did they remember what brought Jawaharlal to Kashmir but they could tell what dress he wore, where he stayed and what was his pastime. These unlettered chroniclers could tell what verses from the Holy Book did Akbar Jehan wife of incarcerated Kashmir leader Sheikh Abdullah recite at M.K. Gandhi’s prayer meeting in 1947.
That reminds me of a barber of our locality. Like others in his trade, he not only had encyclopedic knowledge about every family in the locality, but also was an institution unto him. Clad in traditional Kashmiri tani-nal-pheran, half-folded sleeves and huge white turban on his head he could pass on as courtier of some great Sultan of Kashmir. He shared portion of a shop in our Mohalla but for his art of storytelling, he was most sought-after person in the locality. On every Sunday morning in wee hours of the morning, he visited our house. The small sparkling walnut wooden box with black leather straps slinging from his shoulders was no less than a magic box for me. On sitting down and reclining against the wall he first asked for hubble-bubble, the walnut tobacco casket and firepot and filled the room with aroma of fresh tobacco. Having puff after puff of the smoke, he engaged my uncle in grand political conversation that mostly bordered on the criticizing the then deposed leader Sheikh Abdullah for his politics and decisions at different junctures of our history. He seemed obsessed with M.A. Jinnah’s visit to Kashmir in 1944. He not only talked about the rousing reception accorded to him on his arrival but as master narrator he gave a graphic picture about mood on his arrival in the city the impressions of which still live in my memory. He was an ending conversationalists, while cutting hair of the children or shaving beard of elders with great deftness he switched on from subject to subject, other than politics his favourite subject was talking about the sermons he heard from Mirwaiz Ahmedullah and Yusuf Saib- many sermons he remembered by heart.
He also talked about his proficiency in treating various kinds of boils. Calling him a quack would be belittling him- he was surgeon who scalped difficult boils with great efficiency- even the painful “ka’chebour” boil under armpit. He was proficient in administering leach treatment for various ailments. Known for his efficiency in circumcising, while cropping our hair he often reminded us of that agonizingly momentous day.
Compared to tailors in a Mohalla, barbers were considered as better source of information for knowing background of a family at the time of fixing of marriages. Making a haircut, Wousta often reminded us of his role as Manzimyor – a marriage fixer and would tell us that I have a bride in mind for you…compared to many other go-betweens the barbers were counted as more efficient in arranging marriages…… there is more to barbers tale..
Lastupdate on : Sat, 14 Jul 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 14 Jul 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 15 Jul 2012 00:00:00 IST
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