This Monday, for the first time in my life, I got myself shaved by a hajaam (barber). Yes, for the ten-odd years that I’ve been shaving, I’d so far never let anyone put a blade on my face. However, a long vacation in Bangalore, absence of my usual Mach-3 and constant jibes by my mom about “wilderness on my face” led me to the hajaam.
I started off my shaving career sometime in 1999 when I was presented a Gillette Sensor Excel. After I earned my first ever salary (four years back) I upgraded myself to a Mach 3. I’ve had a few flings with cheap one-piece razors such as the Gillette Presto or the 7 o’clock Ready 2 Shave, but till a week back had never put a single blade on my face. It was always at least double. And I’d always do the act twice, once forward and once “reverse”. And for all these ten years, the part of the process that has taken the maximum time has been to ensure that my sideburns (I’ve always had them) are of equal length.
The act of getting shaved itself was pretty quick, maybe since it was so much easier for the hajaam to figure out if my sideburns were of equal size, or maybe since he didn’t care about it as much as I do. It was a bit uncomfortable as his hands, one of which held an ultra-sharp single blade, hovered over my face and neck. It itched a bit, and my face twitched a bit, but thankfully I didn’t get cut. It was again a “double shave” but unlike my own double shaves, both the shaves that the barber did were in the “forward direction”. Maybe the barber’s single blade isn’t suited for “reverse shaving”.
In the two minutes that I spent getting shaved, I started thinking of the history of shaving (no I’m not talking about the series of communist portraits here (Marx-Lenin-Stalin-Mao) ). About how if I’d been born a century earlier I’d have to go through this hajaamat on a regular basis – since safety razors weren’t yet in existence then. About how certain Hindu customs have failed to take into account the development of the safety razor and the fact that one can shave himself easily now. I was thinking about the total amount of business that barbers would have lost thanks to King Gillette’s invention – rather than making their money out of a daily shave, they now had to rely on monthly hair cuts only.
Another thing with the invention of the safety razor is that full beards are now less popular – back in the days when everyone had to go to the hajaam for a shave, people couldn’t afford to shave daily, and a full beard appeared significantly better than a stubble. Now that people can afford to shave daily, they never have a stubble and can thus be always clean-shaven.
The most uncomfortable part of the shave was when the guy was shaving the upper lip. With the nose on one side and the mouth on the other I was quite scared. I now reason that the coming of the safety razor has played a significant role in the decreasing popularity of moustaches – you feel so much more comfortable taking care of that sensitive region yourself rather than handing it over to a hajaam.
It was overall a quick, mildly scary, but decent experience. I got charged Rupees Twenty which I thought was okay for the shave. And I realized how much higher the barber’s “billing rate” was for the shave (twenty rupees for five minutes’ work) as opposed to a haircut (fifty rupees for twenty minutes’ work) . And I started wondering once again about the damage to barbers’ fortunes caused by King Gillette’s invention.