Saturday, August 09, 2008

On the cutting edge

For more than 30 years, P. Sasidharan has been the barber of the Chief Justices and judges of the Kerala high court

By Shevlin Sebastian

Inside barber P. Sasidharan’s shop on Market Road, the following notice is pasted prominently: ‘P. Sasi has done a decent job, so far as cutting my hair is concerned. I have very few, and yet, he could find and give them shape. He is a good and dedicated worker. I wish him well.’ This commendation was written by Jawahar Lal Gupta, former chief justice of the Kerala High Court.

Just below it is another accolade from V. Bhaskaran Nambiar, a former judge: ‘Sasi has been my barber for several years. He is efficient, smart and courteous, and knows his job very well.’

For many regulars, Sasidharan, fondly known as Sasi, has been an institution. He has been cutting hair for the past 38 years at the Premier Saloon, and, among his clients, is the current chief justice of the Kerala high court, H.L. Dattu, several judges, numerous lawyers, senior policemen, Navy personnel, businessmen, and people who live in the area.

On a rainy Wednesday afternoon, he is cutting the hair of Shince C. Peter, 19. Since Shince has asked for the hair to be cut short, Sasi is going ‘snip-snip’ at top speed. He gives the impression he can do this blindly. Shince has been coming to the saloon ever since he was a child.

“My father has been a regular, even before I was born,” he says. Shince’s father, C. Peter, 50, says, “There are two reasons why I go to Sasi. His saloon is near my house and, secondly, he is good at his job.”

Because of his good work and behaviour, some customers do not want to leave him, even if they have left Kochi. Like contractor N.S. Unnikrishnan, who lives in Guruvayoor.

“I have been cutting my hair at Sasi’s shop from the time I was in Class 5,” says the 51-year old. “Over the years Sasi has become like a family friend. And, don’t forget, he is a very good barber!”

So, when Unnikrishnan left Kochi, a few years ago, he could not imagine getting his hair cut by anybody else. So, once every two months, Sasi goes to Guruvayoor to cut Unnikrishnan’s hair.

Sometimes, because of the mutual affection between barber and client, the latter goes out of his way to help him. So, when Sasi was going through a financial crunch, because of a daughter’s marriage, regular client, George, who has a shop on Broadway, lent him money.

Sasi has faced financial emergencies before. When he was eight years old, his father died, and the family, which was based in Thiruvananthapuram, went through difficult times. He studied only till Class three, because he had no aptitude for education.
“I worked for a while making beedis and later, in a cycle shop,” he says. Just next to the shop, the barber, Manian, was plying his trade. Sometime later, he took on Sasi as an apprentice.

“It took me six months to learn the trade,” he says. “The only way to become skilful is by cutting hair. You have to be unafraid to make mistakes.”

In the beginning, his hands trembled, and Manian used to hit him whenever he cut the hair in the wrong way. Then, he slowly built up his skills.

In 1968, after eight years with Manian, Sasi, who was 20 at that time, moved to Ernakulam for better economic opportunities. He worked in a couple of barber shops, but in 1970, he came across the Premier saloon.

With a loan of Rs 2000 from a watchman, who worked in the high court, Sasi paid off the barber and took over the shop. “I repaid the loan by paying Rs 10 every day to the watchman,” he says.

And, today, he is a barber with a high reputation. So, what do customers want?
“The persistent demand is to keep the hair short, because of the hot climate,” he says. Those who need a short haircut include the police officers and the Navy personnel, who tend to wear caps, while on duty.

Meanwhile, of his three married daughters, one son-in-law works as a barber near Thiruvananthapuram. Asked whether his son-in-law would, one day, work with him, Sasi smiles, and says, “It would never work. I would like to carry on, on my own, as long as my health permits.”

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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