Haircut on the House

Apr 7, 2005

"Kaka, where is the nearest barber?" I ask, rubbing my fingers across the three week old beard. "Oh, right there, on the other side of the street," he responds.

We cross the street, wait a bit, and then have the barber go at it. "Just have a seat right there, and rest your head here," the barber says. As I assume my position, I'm sitting right smack in front of a photo of Shirdi Sai Baba. "Yeah, just make my beard look like his," I joke but he takes me seriously. ;)

Instead of the typical Bollywood music, the barber is playing some spiritual music through an old tape player. At that particular moment, the words went a little like this: "I came with nothing and I will go with nothing." Hmmmm. Inspired, I make a bet with the universe: "Dear whoever you are, am I playing games with myself? If you can hear the prayer in my heart, make this hair cut for free."

I know it's silly, but hey, pilgrimages are short, play hard. :)Guri is sitting out on a wooden ledge-like bench, looking after our back-packs that are stacked on top of each other. It's obvious that we are two pilgrims doing something nutty; we start talking about things spiritual, the barber and I. "Sahib, I have bhajans on all day, from the beginning to the end. Here, feel this radio. It's so hot because it's always on," he says as I appreciate his choice of music.

Just then, a squirrel comes whizzing past the roof and peeps in, from a crack in the thin aluminum roof. "Hahhaah, these squirrels, they're lovely. This is everyone's shop. I don't bother them. They're been here since day one," the 35 year old barber tells me. "So, you're an animal lover," I comment. "No, no, I love all life. If a poor person comes to my shop, I cut his hair for free. If someone is in need, I do my best to help. If a dog is hungry, I give him some of my food," he says in a matter-of-fact way.

Then comes the big moment. "How much is it?" I ask. "Bhaiya, no money from you," he tells me. "What do you mean no money?" I ask with a disbelief on my face (largely because of my bet with the universe)! "I'm not gonna take anything from you." After a few tug of wars with my wallet, I give up seeing the big smile on his face. This is his contribution to our journey.

Partially, I feel bad because I know he doesn't make much money and my faith really shouldn't be playing dice at his cost. "Sureshbhai," I say, now knowing his name, "I will feel bad if you don't take some money from me." "Ok, give me that 5 rupee coin," he motions for my coin and goes to the shop next door. He comes and hands me the 4 rupee change. "Just to keep you honor, I will take my cost, 1 Rupee," he says with another big smile.

A barber in Petlad is now a part of this pilgrimage. I prayerfully look to the vast blue sky, as if to say, "Bring it on, man. I don't know how I will carry them all, but bring it on, my shoulders are getting stronger by the day!"


Update: the next day, we happen to be passing by the shop. I quickly turn to Guri and say, "I really want to do something for that guy." "Whatever you do, it should be anonymous," she tells me. "Yeah, but what? I can't give money to random strangers, because they'll just snag it. What to do?" We can't think of anything.

Just as we walk upto the shop, we see that it's closed. "Ah, great," I said. We walk over, tear a piece of paper from my notebook, put a 50 rupee note and slip it through the door cracks. In my broken Gujarati handwriting, I scribble a few simple words on the paper: "He who gives, lives in God's hands." Put a little "aum" on top and passed it through the cracks.

"You understand that's more than a day's budget," Guri reminds me knowing my foolhardy nature of giving beyond my capacity. "Yeah, I know," I say with a smile just as big as the barber's, the previous day.

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

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