My glib-tongued barber

My barber is a pious Hindu. He methodically goes through the morning pooja before opening shop for business. Though in his early 20s he has wise head. With consummate skill he manages to hide his lack of education behind a business-like exterior coupled with a glib tongue and easy bonhomie. His business instinct is indeed remarkable. Though he does not employ any assistants he manages to attend to all his customers single-handed. His methods are simple. When a new customer butts his head in to estimate his chances of a quick service, my barber would say, “Attend to you in 10 minutes, Sir” without batting an eyelid, knowing fully well he has at least half-a-dozen others waiting on the bench.

To forestall any protest from the waiting customers against this apparent misrepresentation of facts and ensure their continued silence he has about a dozen film magazines and Kannada and English dailies spread on a small wicker table in front of the long bench. The waiting customers, a cross section of Hindus and Muslims, are either immersed in reading or engaged in a lively debate over Pakistan’s nuclear programmes or Tendulkar’s exploits in a cricket match. My barber is all ears, never missing a single point made by the debaters. Sometimes when attendance is thin, he engages in conversation with even the customer under his scissors. Between the snicks of the scissors and the flicks of the comb he pick’s the man’s brain to collect more information on any given subject such as Rahul Gandhi’s chances of becoming the next prime minister or the Tamil militants’ chances of wiping one another out to ensure permanent peace in Sri Lanka.

Even when his scissors and razor remain idle, as it sometimes happens, he often has a few old-timers of the neighbourhood popping in for a look at the daily newspaper or some youngsters looking in to preen themselves at the mirror or take a deco at one of the movie magazines. This way, though illiterate, this enterprising young barber not only adds to his fund of knowledge, broadens his outlook and widens his circle of customers but also basks in a feast of reason featuring mature brains reminiscing the past, analysing the present and predicting the future. He is a tiny bridge between contrasting thoughts, ideologies and faiths.

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