On a corner of the busy market street in front of Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar, 75-year-old Debaraj Barik has been running his small hair-cutting saloon since 1959. In fact, his is the oldest saloon of Bhubaneswar.
Barik had started as an apprentice barber at the young age of 14. Recollecting his childhood days, he said that when his father passed away, he had to make a difficult choice between pursuing studies and taking up a job. “I chose the latter and joined my uncle’s saloon, where I learnt the techniques. I set up my own saloon at 19.” He has been running it since, for a full 61 years now.
“I have customers from three generations,” the veteran barber proudly said of his loyal clientele. His saloon has seen writers, poets, politicians and local celebrities over the decades. “Initially, it used to cost only 2-4 annas for a haircut and 2 annas for a shave,” he recounted.
The lockdown has not downed Barik’s energy or passion for his work for over 61 years now. He disinfects his shop with turmeric water and neem and informed that post-lockdown, he gets the usual crowd to get a haircut or shave.
Prafulla Swain, a resident of Harichandi Sahi, recollects the days when he would come with his grandfather to Barik’s saloon at Badhiebanka Chhak. In fact, it was the only saloon as most of the barbers of Barik Sahi would go about their profession with a small wooden box in which they carried the tools of their trade — combs, brushes and scissors, straight bladed with large circular finger holes, folding cutthroat razor, which used to give the smoothest shave of all, powder puff and bowls and a mirror and offered their services home to home. Some of them set up shop under convenient shady trees near the different bathing ghats of the old town.
Old fashioned barber shops have become nearly extinct, and now hair salons are prominently displayed around every corner. However, Barik has been keeping the tradition of the old world haircutting alive. His saloon is a no-frills male haven. Mirrors along two facing walls set at a slight angle to the vertical so that one can see the back of his head. It also gives the illusion of space.
Barik recounted that he faced competition when disposable safety razors became popular, allowing men to shave in their own homes. As more and more brands hit the market with cheap razors, several customers stopped outsourcing their grooming. But for haircuts, they still had to rely on the barbers.
His saloon has a conversational and comfortable air. The high antique wooden chairs are something to behold. These chairs are too large for small boys, so a board is placed across the arms for them to sit on.
Earlier all shaving was done with straight razors. They were honed regularly on whetstones and stropped on a leather strip before each shave to maintain the edge. The ubiquitous tin of talcum powder, puffs and the alum astringent can still be seen. In earlier days, before the use of blades, it was common to nick a person, and when this happened, the barber rubbed a rounded block of alum on the cut to stop the bleeding. Nothing was sterilized. The barbers used the same combs, scissors, clippers, razors and mugs for everyone. Nobody seemed to mind, no one ended up any worse.
He said that his children insist he quit and take rest, but he refuses to do so. “I cannot give up on what I love to do. I have no plans of retiring. I will continue this profession till my last breath,” he said ardently.
The saloon’s days are numbered. Very soon the small place will be bulldozed like the many other iconic shops which dotted the Lingaraj temple periphery. The shop is slated for demolition in the modernisation drive being executed under the Ekamrakhestra Plan.
If you do want to sit back and get the full experience of a vintage saloon, a shave with a cutthroat razor and a neat haircut which will cost you just Rs 50, Barik’s saloon is open from 9 am to 7 pm every day except Sundays. Go before it is too late.
After all, there are some things that are better the way they were.