Sunday, March 22, 2020

Global Haircutting Experience – Part 5

Price: $ 15 - $ 30 excluding a tip. Prices depend on how closer or farther you are from the city

It’s a while since I blogged about getting a hair cut outside of India.  I got an opportunity to work in the Southern Hemisphere and in a new continent, as I was finishing my engagement in UK in 2013. My wife and I jumped into the opportunity to re-locate to Australia. Sydney has now been home for close to seven years (come May) and during this period of time, I have constantly shifted residence. With this shift in housing from the Western to North Western parts of Sydney, we also had to choose different shopping areas to get groceries, vegetables and all sundries or for self-grooming such as getting a haircut.
In Strathfield, I found a place right next to the square in front of the train station. It was perched on level one of a big building that house various shops from grocery stores, laundries, Korean fast food joints, florists to dollar stores. As you climb up the stairs, a bell chimed thereby alerting the shop owners upstairs that they had a visitor. The men’s saloon was straight up and the women’s was just to your left hand side as soon as you took the last step up the flight of stairs. The gentleman in the men’s saloon was a person of Indian origin, who comes from Gujarat, a state in the western part of  India. Over the three years that I stayed in Strathfield, I would have visited him atleast 25 times. Every visit was full of conversations ranging from Bollywood, cricket to Indian politics. We discussed at length about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected to be the Prime Minister for his first tenure around that time. The respect, adulation and following the person had for Mr. Modi was unmissable and he had all the facts of how well Modi had done as the Chief Minister of his home state – Gujarat. Whenever there were cricket matches where Indian team played, be it IPL or International matches, he used to have it telecast live on the television set that found a permanent place in the corner of the modest work space. The waiting times indeed kept everyone creatively occupied if not with cricket matches, with Bollywood movie songs. Songs, that take you down memory lane to your growing up years and allowing you to visit parts of your own personal memory that you were surprised to re-discover.
Once we moved farther from the city, towards the ‘Wild West’, Girraween became our new abode. The closest train station from Girraween is Pendle Hill or Toongabie, depending on which end of the suburb you reside. Pendle Hill had shops occupying both sides of the narrow street called ‘Pendle Way’. Pendle Way connects the Pendle Hill Station on one side before merging into another lane. On another end, it takes you upto Great Western Highway, one of the major roads connecting various suburbs between Parramatta and Blacktown and an alternate to the M4 motorways. Pendle Hill is the ‘South India’ or ‘Tamil Nadu’ of Australia. The suburb has a rich history of European and local Aussie inhabiting it for a long time. Over the last 20 -30 years the social fabric of Pendle Hill has changed and it has been dominated by people from the Indian subcontinent, especially from Tamil Nadu (a state in the South of India) and the Tamil inhabited parts of Sri Lanka. The Tamils of Sri Lankan origin, have always made a home away from their original home in Sri Lanka, in countries such as Norway, UK, Australia. I have found them to be one of the most hard-working people and easy to get along with in my limited social interactions. There are big hoardings on both sides of Pendle Way advertising various shops that sell everything from Indian, Sri Lankan groceries, flowers for various religious ceremonies, gold jewellery, Indian ethnic clothing to items for Puja / worship. Most of the hoardings have signage both in English and Tamil. This strip is also the gastronomic bowl of authentic South Indian food – both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. The prices are reasonable, ambience is modest but food is great. If you happen to walk down this street and have a look around, you may well feel you are in a village in Tamil Nadu in India than in Sydney. There is a barber shop right in between various shops, called ‘Ceylon Cut’.  I have at least had 22 haircuts across both of their branches – one in Pendle Hill and the other right outside Toongabbie road for the couple of years I stayed at Girraween. It has been an interesting experience getting the hair cut here, as the television in the corner is constantly switched onto Tamil TV programs aired by SunTV. Having been born and brought up in Mumbai, it’s a totally refreshing experience to listen to Tamil Songs, movies in the background as you wait for your haircut or have it. I got new friends here, not only with the person in charge but also the various hair stylists who gave me a hair-cut. Some of the interesting stories of how they got to Australia and this shop, from Sri Lanka or even from within Australia are waiting to be told some other day. However cannot resist indicating that once we had a lady of Asian origin who was interning in an otherwise male dominated work space. I didn’t see many takers who volunteered and when I was asked if would be OK, I decided to try it out. Though the lady had a language barrier (she could understand some amount of English), the person in charge communicated between me and the lady to pass on the requirements on how I would like my hair cut.  While I was a tad nervous on how the final outcome would look like, my fears were put to rest as she did a good job. It is indeed inspiring to see the diversity and inclusiveness built even by these small businesses. When I accompanied my father here for a haircut, while they were in Sydney, I managed to get a special rate for Seniors (knocking off $ 3 from the usual rate)!  Once the hair cut is finished, as I settled the bills, the gesture with which the person in-charge communicated showed a lot of gratitude and keenness to serve again. This aspect was always certain for every visit I would have made to the Ceylon Cut in Pendle Hill. There are few customer experiences that touch your heart and stay etched in for a long time, and this one is just one of those rare occasions.
Last year, we shifted from the Inner West to the North West and in the last few months, I have been visiting the barber at Parklea Markets, a flea market selling anything from vegetables and fruits to groceries, bargain items, clothes, memorabilia and dry fruits. It also has a huge garden, collection of pots, antiques, kids play areas and of course a barbers shop. Adams barber shop now has two spots, right in front of Entry 1 of Parklea Markets and the other, far behind, near the CBA ATM. I have had a hair cut at both places and been served by young kids, who seem to be some Middle Eastern country (maybe Iran, Iraq or Lebanon). While few are able to communicate in English, the ones who can’t can quickly understand what you want post a translation from the owner. They do a fab job, but operate only on a cash (which wasn’t the case with the other two mentioned above) basis. Recently when I had gone shopping to Parklea over the weekend with my father and father in law, I decided to have an unplanned activity and had a haircut, while I asked them to explore the shops around, as there was hardly any waiting.
On a lighter note, dad asked me to check if they had a Senior’s discount or a bulk discount for three heads and it was politely declined by the team. Maybe few months or years away? Is it the right time to now be self sufficient and buy a men’s grooming kit and do all the hair-cuts at home? Time will tell, or probably the growth of hair as I age will determine 😊