His is the oldest barber’s shop on the Crossing Street road. Long before there were others. With nothing fancy but two wooden chairs and simple mirrors at the back, side and front wall. Fresh newspaper lying on the side wooden bench that had many cracks in it with a few holes here and there. A souvenir, something like a locket, probably from Mecca, hung from the front wall beside the frame that had Mecca painted on it. What was left of the side walls after the mirrors, was covered with posters of Bollywood actors at the top and leaves of Hindi newspapers at the bottom. Spider nets, who probably wanted to compensate for the lack of anything fashionable, were hanging from every possible place, object, and corner. Not that he didn’t care for cleanliness or was cynical about it but, one – he didn’t have time for unproductive chores, and two – he knew people won’t mind. And it was true, they didn’t; for they loved coming there and it had perhaps nothing to do with the fact that they had similar situation or worse back at their homes.
Ever since I have been going out, as far as I can remember, to get my hairs cut, which I didn’t think was necessary ever but had to, I went to Nadeem. My oldest of memory, as it serves me, from as young age as I can recall, tells that it has always been him. With a smile on his face that doesn’t seem to know otherwise and is kind of stuck there, unaffected or unfazed by anything he had been through; through life, challenges of livelihood, and naturally (read readily) available problems to any man on this planet, certainly of his position & resources, that grow or shorten with seasons and age. Although, if you ask him, he will tell you that he knows only of two seasons: season of good earnings and when he is not earning enough. And only two ages, he admits, are there: before marriage – when you can do whatever, that you want; earn for yourself and for your interests, and after marriage – when everything you earn and do is for the family you must feed and protect.
Events, or even age, that affects others significantly, and which certainly have bent a portion of his back and weakened his structure, do not seem to bother him. But if you look closer, one can see fine lines of timeless labor on his forehead that never frowns, even a little, for I haven’t seen him doing that ever. Even the hardest of the truth or saddest of the event could not erase that smile off his face. But, I know this as I have seen, if you sneak a look into his eyes, behind those black curtains, the white moon, and still water, you would see that they are waiting for something – perhaps for what he asks of from the God he worships, everyday; may be for a miracle that could turn his life around. I don’t know if it’s a regret that he has buried inside or the hardships of his profession & life, but I have seen him often sighing when he thinks no one is looking.
In his own way, he plays the part of the joker while rest of the show moves around him – close yet distant. Anyone who has known him knows that he is as jolly as a human can be. His indifferent look and childlike smile that seem to know no differences of class & cast between people keep lightening up people’s hearts and for those who still visit him from so many years, he is a source of amusement and many amusing tales that know no sad endings. Sadly, for me there weren’t many as I always miss the beginning and end. Life in this metro has me on toes & strings, always. People who know him still go to him even after two decades and he is still as sharp and candid as he was twenty years ago, when his hairs were not white and age did not reflect through the cracks and tones of the skin.
He still has those wooden chairs, with wooden headrests without cushioning in them, as ever, probably not the same ones but same type. One might find them out of custom when every other shop, even those in remote corners of this huge and densely populated neighborhood, has revolving cushion-clad chairs. Some of which even are better than the sofa at my home. But, I never found them uncomfortable or grumpy probably due to the sense of belonging it gives me. This place is still the same as I have known it for years and it is him that makes it ‘feel-at-home’, unlike places where I only feel as good as another head on the money-sucking cushion-clad chairs and never felt welcomed after I have paid.
More than anything people go to Nadeem for his talks. That is what he does: he talks, cracks jokes and sings sometimes – folk lore. His endless talks are anything but the type of what people nowadays do to fill the awkward silence with. These engaging conversations attract passer-by’s and many will sit to become part of the conversation and suddenly it’s a gig! So many people speaking their hearts – like music riding the air, floating on the occasional laughter, satire, remarks and exchange of so many stories, anecdotes and thoughts which makes it a river of words and thoughts – mostly calm and clear, roaring sometimes – but flowing in sync. Synergy and empathy are two fishes that swim in this river. Compassion that has grown gradually through years of hardships, builds up and rises to breaks the chains of all types of overrated social mark-ups, taboos & false identities, and eventually merges everyone with everyone creating a colorful bouquet of social connectedness and pure human emotions.
This is where I think one can find the ground shaken up for the ones spreading anything but love & compassion, and their other forms. Nadeem’s shop is a place strengthening my believe in humanity and goodness in people. If you ever doubt it due to any reason, or ordeal you have been through, for everyone has their fair share of bad experiences – you can pay a visit to Nadeem’s too and feel that the believe that you thought was uprooting and would fall has started to hold on to the ground and the roots are again going deep, giving you strength and hope to stand up and start again.
What one may study in heavy volumes of psychology books, can be learnt by spending some time in his shop, with so many others. You’d find there are more people than actual ‘customers’ in there, always.
He is now getting old and his son won’t continue his profession, neither did he want him to. So, nowadays you can find two trainees working beside him. Sure, they can replace him as a barber but they cannot replace him as Nadeem.
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