Monday, October 08, 2007

On the cutting edge

Hair cutter, K.B. Binu, does his work with style and finesse

By Shevlin Sebastian

On a Monday evening, Dr. Binu T. Abraham, 35, a dentist from Aluva, sets out, with his wife and two children, to Ole, the hair-cutting saloon located in the courtyard of the Grand Hotel in Kochi. For the past seven years, he has been going to one cutter, K.B. Binu, 34. “Binu knows how to give the right styling for the right age,” says Abraham. “I have a family now, and the minor modifications that he does, suits my age.” Since Abraham’s children and wife, Reena, also get their hair cut by Binu, going to Ole has “become a family outing”.

The object of the appreciation is stocky, with a visible paunch, but he has an easy smile and is dressed neatly in an orange shirt and trousers. “I am grateful to Dr. Abraham,” says Binu. “He has recommended many people to me.”

So, what is the technique for cutting hair? “You have to see how a person has combed his hair,” he says. “Later, when we wash the hair and comb it, we have an idea of what is the most suitable style. Then, we will shape it in that style and ask the customer whether he likes it or not.” If he agrees, Binu goes ahead and does the cutting.

As he talks, Binu is working on K.R. Rabin, 20. First there is a quick head wash, then a white towel is placed around the shoulders. Then Binu pastes a neck covering. This is made of paper and is imported from Dubai; it prevents the hair from falling on the shirt. “Rabin has a long face,” says Binu. “So, it is better to have a wedge style, that is, the side and the back should be short. It will give him the look of a model.”

Rabin nods and Binu goes to work with comb, scissors and a trimmer. He takes only ten minutes to do the cut. “One reason why I am fast is because most of the customers are businessmen and professionals, who are pressed for time. They want a fast and professional haircut, so I take a maximum of fifteen minutes.”

As for the style which is most preferred, he says it is a medium, short style. “This is called the executive style,” he says. “Not too much flash. They want to look presentable in offices and public gatherings.”

Of course, there are younger customers who come for colouring or to spike their hair with gel or get it cut it in Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s style. Basically, the hair is cut in an uneven manner and is allowed to fall straight. “Most of these youngsters watch a lot of MTV music videos, English and Hindi films,” says Santhosh Joseph, 20, another cutter. “So, they want to follow their heroes. Nowadays, colouring the hair has also become very popular.”

However, the majority of the customers is in the 28-50 age group and belong to the upper middle classes and the well-to do. Says Krishnan Rajan, 47, owner of Ole, who has been in the business for 25 years: “The clientele includes businessmen, film stars, high court judges, professionals and senior government officials like the collector and the commissioner of police.” Regular customer, Benny George, a corporate trainer, says, “I enjoy the ambience and the cleanliness.” Incidentally, there are Ole shops in Dubai, Kottayam, Calicut and in the Hotel International in Kochi.

The saloon, which has an area of 600 sq. ft., gets around 200 customers a day and it charges Rs 100 for a haircut. Binu, one among seven cutters, does about 20 haircuts a day. He is paid Rs 350 daily and works seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. “However, we usually finish by 9 p.m., as a lot of customers come in only by 8 p.m.,” says Binu. Like in restaurants, they earn extra from tips but, unlike waiters, this is not shared. “I get tips ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 100 per customer,” he says. “Some happy customers even give me Rs 250.” So, by a conservative estimate, Binu earns around Rs 25,000 on tips alone.

Binu came into this lucrative profession by accident. His father was a CPI(M) worker in Kottayam and since he was not corrupt, the family went through bad times. After he passed his Class ten exams, Binu, who is the youngest of seven children, went and joined Fem, a beauty parlour in Thiruvananthapuram. He stayed there for two years and returned to Kottayam. For the next few years, he tried all sorts of businesses, but it flopped. It was during this trying period, mired in debt, that he met Rajan, who hired him, taught him the basics of the trade and transformed his life. Today, he lives in Kochi, with wife, Sanju, 22, and daughters Allena, 2, and a two-month baby.

So does he enjoy his job? “Yes,” he says, with a smile. “Each customer is unique and I feel a sense of satisfaction when I do a new style and the customer shows his appreciation. Sometimes, the hours go past in a blur. I don't even know whether it is night or day.”

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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