Bizarre looks of primitive men owe their origin to different genetic and epigenetic factors, but I often attribute these queer miens to the inexistence of barbers during olden times. Food gatherers had neither adoring attires to make themselves look pleasing nor hairdressers to trim their hair short. Hair undoubtedly add a great deal of elegance to human looks, but no haircut throughout the life, coupled with absence of shampoos and conditioners, would give a witchy look to any man of the world. Antediluvian people could had better and pretty appearances, if there had been artisans with skilled hands to run scissors, razor blades and trimmers. Thank God, we have experts around us to trim and style our hair gracefully; otherwise weird looks might have been prevalent everywhere during contemporary times.
Barbershops of ultra-modern times baffle a simple villager when he makes his maiden visit to it. Full-wall mirrors on all sides, hairdryers and sophisticated music players producing high decibel sounds, give cacophonous feelings to our ears. Usage of different chemicals, creams, dyes, pomades, spray bottles and tall chairs give a royal feeling to customers. Even many vagrant type boys prefer to spend time in these shops. Contrarily, many modest and diffident boys evade visiting such shops frequently. During our childhood days, we didn’t had barbershops in our village. And pertinently, people weren't too conscious about their looks as they are now. We had a unique type of barbering system in our village, then. Let's peep through it.
Actually, a couple of decades ago, we had a different tradition in our village. Gule barber ( Late Ghulam Mohammad Hajam ), commonly called Gule Wuste used to visit every household to have haircut of boys and men. Wearing a light-blue cotton pheran, Gule Wuste was distinguishable and recognisable from a distance. His cone-shaped white cotton headgear would add awe to his typical persona. Gule Wuste would always carry a smile on his face. Carrying his indigenously leather bag under his long drooping pheran, containing only a few tools viz a couple of razor blades, two pairs of scissors, a desilvered mirror which had suffered mirror rot and a solitary tweezer of primeval times, would give Gule Wuste a typical look. He was loved and admired by all the villagers for his unprecedented sense of humour and the ability to crack jokes. He had mastery over good-humoured blarney. I vividly remember his way of honing his razor blade on an old rubber strip. Was it a gimmick to bamboozle simple customers or would it really sharpen the edge of the razor blade, is still a matter of great bewilderment for me.
Having a haircut from Gule Wuste was no lesser than to pass a military training test. Gule Wuste would often make us sit either on bare soil or a tattered jute sack. Contrary to modern ways of getting a haircut, Gule Wuste would rotate our heads almost at three hundred sixty degrees. Any deviation to his instructions would mean a cut or a prick from his pointed scissors. He would often slap young boys for not being absolutely submissive to his instructions. None would dare to ask him about a haircut of choice. Even grown-up boys could never gather courage to ask Gule Wuste for a modern type of haircut. Use of shaving cream was something beyond his station. Gule Wuste used to keep a fragment of Lifebuoy soap in his bag, and it would last for almost a year. He would most often use water to dampen the hair of a customer. And the broken piece of the soap was used for special and privileged ones.
I, my siblings, my pals and other young of our village were always afraid of his outdated manual hair trimmer. The shabby looking trimmer was probably invented prior to his birth. Conditions of the trimmer would make us believe that a generous Sultan (King) had probably gifted it to the ancestors of Gule Wuste. Running the trimmer on our necks and head was the only physical torture we had ever tasted in our lives. Even corporal punishment at school was not as severe as it.
Gule Wuste was indispensable part of our marriages. I have many fresh memories of my childhood where I have been witness to dozens of marriage ceremonies. Gule Wuste was invited a week or two earlier by groom's father. For the special occasion, he would take his scissors to a neighbouring village where a skilled iron-smith used to whet different agricultural and non-agricultural tools. It was the time when no wedding apparels or turbans were available on rent in villages. Barber - I mean, Gule Wuste was entrusted with the responsibility to arrange a special turban for groom. Though it was not as elegant as the turbans of modern times, but it would certainly add charisma to the appearance of the groom. Gule Wuste was inseparable part of baraats, and was always seen glued to the groom.
Gule Wuste was more than a barber to our village. He had the knowledge to treat abscesses indigenously and circumcise the male children. Though most of the boys of my generation had been circumcised by medical practitioners, but Gule Wuste was still the first choice of many households when it comes to the initiatory rite. Prior to my birth, Gule Wuste had been an acclaimed expert in the field. The tradition grew weaker with the passage of time, and people began to rely on medicos for the circumcision of their male children, but Gule Wuste was still held in high esteem. My maternal grandmother had a great regard for Gule Wuste because he was morally upright and honest.
I have never seen Gule Wuste asking for money from his clients. Was he rendering his services free of cost ? No, not at all. The prevalent system then was barter system. Gule Wuste was never paid in cash, but in terms of paddy. I vividly remember that every male in a household was supposed to pay ten kilos ( Ze Trakh ) of paddy annually to him as wages. Elderly women of our village used to give him a substantial share from other agricultural yields like maize, pulses and vegetables.
The beautiful tradition has disappeared from our social set-up. The glare and glint of modernization has swallowed the unembellished practice. Gule Wuste is no more now. Neither that flow of love nor that mutual respect is seen anymore in our social set-up. The decades old beautiful tradition vanished with the demise of Gule Wuste. May Allah (SWT) elevate his ranks in Jannah.. Ameen.
(Author is a Teacher and Rising Kashmir Columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)