A Barber with Healing Fingers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
People born into barber caste in India specialize in barbering, massaging and playing drums, three distinctly different professions bundled into one. How that happened?

Submitted: December 07, 2013

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Submitted: December 07, 2013



A Barber with Healing Fingers

Subba Rao


Hair gets dirty pretty quickly in hot tropics with sweat and dust. Handling hair is considered dirty in Hindu culture. Giving body massage was also considered dirty job since not everybody is clean, some may not take bath for days, and few camouflage their body odor with perfumes. Similarly, handling hides is also considered dirty since hide comes from dead animals. Since animal hide is used in making drums, drummers were relegated to the lower end of the Hindu society. In a calculated way, people in the trades of barbering, body massaging and playing drums were bundled into a designated caste at the lower end of the social hierarchy in Hindu culture at least until the recent past. Generally, a barber during day job gives a haircut and then offers as head massage for free and as a second job plays drums in the bands that perform in weddings, funerals and in other occasions. Boys born into the designated barber caste learn all three trades from childhood from their elders.

Juggernaut during his recent visit to Pineappleville, his native town known for growing pineapples on southeastern seacoast in India visited a barber shop. Unlike the old time barber shop at the street corner, this one was a fancy one with high chairs and mirrors. The barber was in mid thirties with a nicely shaped mustache as if it is attended on a daily basis. “Do the persons born into barber caste still practicing barbering?” asked Juggernaut.

“Not everybody but most of them still stick to their caste trade of barbering for living though some smart ones went into other professions like doctors, engineers, scientists bankers etc.  We also run massage parlors and play drums during festivals,” replied the barber looking at the Juggernaut’s reflection in the mirror.

“l always wondered why people born into barber caste play only percussions not other instruments in the band, I am sure they could play other musical instruments with training,” Juggernaut wants to explore further into their profession.

“It is true we play mostly drums but many members our caste also plays other instruments particularly wind instruments like trumpets.”

“What instrument you play?”

“I play drums, all kinds from traditional Indian tabla drum to drum trap set in big bands, and I wish I learned wind instruments like trumpet or clarinet.”

“It is amazing how you learn hair cutting and playing musical instruments, a totally unrelated field?’

“For people born into our caste, these skills come naturally and elders train us from our childhood; practically anybody can learn how to cut hair, massage and play musical instruments from a good teacher.”

“Do the people born into other castes getting into your trade now?”

“Certainly many women from different castes are now taking the profession of hair styling; massage parlors were also becoming very popular now, people from various background playing music not just those born into the barber caste.”

“Is this trend good or bad for you?”

“We don’t have monopoly on these trades anymore like in old days but still the majority of people born into the traditional barber caste have a grip on our traditional trades.”

The barber on finishing the hair trim proceeded to give a head massage without asking for a consent; his fingers ploughed deep into the hair racking the scalp as if  a mechanical plough working deep into soil before planting. He was tapping his fingers on the scalp with a rhythm as if he was playing a drum.  The sensation from head massage was so comforting, Juggernaut felt as if he was drunk. While the physiological effect of massaging was unclear to Juggernaut, no massage parlor in the United States could match the quality of massage from a traditional barber in India. “No school could train somebody into a hair dresser or a masseur; one has to born into the barber caste to become a true barber and a masseur,” thought Juggernaut getting from a temporary euphoria from head massage.

If Ringo Starr, a member the famous Beatles were to born in India in barber caste, he could have been a barber first, then a body massager then a drummer, in that order.  He could have been ended up as a celebrity hair dresser or a massager with rhythm.




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