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No More Bad Hair Days:
A Sikh at the Hairdressers

JOGISHWAR SINGH

 

 

 

If you are someone who believes that it is sacrilege for a Sikh man to show his hair to anybody other than his immediate family members or allow anybody other than them to touch his hair, please do not read any further.

I say this because I once met a Bengali lady in Mumbai who told me that her Sikh friend had told her that it is sacrilegious for anybody other than immediate family members to touch or see a Sikh’s hair.

However, if you‘re like me and know that, though it may be not a bad getaway line, it is pure baloney … then, please read on.

I had a serious right shoulder fracture last year, following which my right arm was immobilised for nearly two months. It became impossible for me -- who, being a Sikh, have never shorn my hair  -- to wash my waist-length hair. Until now, I had managed its grooming, washing and all, on my own all of my life.

My wife, a Swiss lady who had never had to grapple with such a copious head of hair, suggested that I get it washed and dried at our village hairdresser‘s, a lady known to our family.

Faced with an extraordinary situation, I decided to give my wife’s suggestion a try.

The first experience at the local hairdresser was quite strange for me, who had never set foot inside a hairdressing salon until then. The hairdressing salon owner was amazed at seeing the mass and quality of my long hair, falling below my midriff (I am 177 cm tall).

I made it quite clear at least twice that there was no question of cutting or  even trimming my hair at all. It was only to be washed, dried and tied up. My wife, who had been combing and tying up my hair every day since my shoulder operation, showed the hairdresser how she had been tying up my top-knot (joorrah) by first making a plait before rolling and tying it up.

In fact, the first time my wife tied up my hair by making a plait, I was emotionally in tears since it reminded me uncannily of how I used to sit in front of my late mother as a child in Nabha while she used to so lovingly comb and tie my hair by making a similar plait.

It was as if time had been rolled back. I felt again like a little boy, sitting down to have his hair combed and braided. I could almost feel my mother present by my side. Having to depend on my life partner for such a basic chore as grooming my kesh was therefore not easy to accept even though she did it very nicely.

But as she herself is the first to admit, she “cheated” a bit since she used to put three elastic bands to hold my plaited hair in place since she found it too unwieldy otherwise, not succeeding in taming it into an organized top-knot.

She passed on her technique to the hairdresser who then also used the three elastic bands to hold my hair in place.

The first session at the hairdressing salon went off quite well. I suddenly realised that I had been depriving myself over so many years of the pleasure of having a trained professional care for my hair instead of having to do it myself.

As a secondary advantage, getting my hair washed and dried at the hairdressing salon meant not having to clean up masses of hair lying around at home after combing, or in the shower-drain after washing it. This was an added incentive, conducive to domestic happiness!

On my second visit to our village hairdresser, she asked me whether she could invite her daughter to come and see my hair, having herself declared it “so beautiful“ -- her words, not mine.

I had no hesitation in agreeing to her request. Her daughter came and unashamedly admired my hair. She even took a photograph of my hair, asking me lots of questions as to why I kept it, why I never cut it and what it signified for me. This gave me the opportunity to explain to her, in a nutshell, what I understood about Sikhi.

After four visits, the hairdresser announced that she would henceforth charge a much higher price since washing and drying my hair took up a lot more time than what was required for her other male clients.

Judging the amount she was asking for as being exorbitant, I decided to try another hairdresser in the village where we live. My wife had been to her some time ago.

Once again, I explained to the lady that my hair was only to be washed and dried, not cut or trimmed in any way. The session went off quite well but her rate for this service turned out to be as high as that of her predecessor.

My mother-in-law recommended her hairdresser as a replacement. This lady was based in Lausanne, some distance from our village. Since I could not drive a car because of my immobilised right arm, my younger son began driving me to and back from the hairdressing salon in Lausanne.

This hairdresser was a lady with a lot of strength in her hands. She would massage my scalp with a lot of strength, providing immense relaxation and relief.

Now, not only was getting my hair washed and dried by a professional hairdresser proving to be a pleasurable experience, it was also improving the quality and sheen of my hair.

The next switch of my hairdresser came about because the lady I used to go to in Lausanne ceased working on Saturdays, the only day on which I had the time to spare for the operation.

My younger son suggested I try the village hairdressing salon he frequented. He told me it was a very modern set up, quite spacious, and with nice hairdressers.

This marked the beginning of a relationship which continues to this day. I am by now the most cherished client of this hairdressing salon in Le Mont-sur-Lausanne, the village where my wife and I live.

I go there every Saturday at 9 am to have my hair washed, dried and even oiled.

A young girl, initially an apprentice, now a fully qualified hair dresser with a diploma, has been taking care of my hair since last year. My hair is now silken, thick and luxurious. It is the object of unrestrained admiration from the other clientele also attending the salon on Saturday mornings.

It is not possible to narrate all the interesting comments my hair has elicited at various places.

However, apart from the fact that curiosity about my hair from onlookers brings them to ask me questions about my beliefs, thereby allowing me to explain a bit about Sikhi, here are some vintage snippets from my experiences in hairdressing salons ... Which by now are legion.

I was in Japan last year, staying at the Peninsula Hotel in Tokyo. Since I was there on a weekend, I got an appointment at their hairdresser’s for the usual chore. I discovered that most hair dressers in Japan -- even for women -- are men.

I was served by two young Japanese men, both having very modern hair styles. There were two weddings taking place at the hotel that very day. I was seated on a chair between the two brides who were also getting their hair done before their weddings. I was told that my hair made them envious.

I was particularly amused at seeing how discretely the Japanese came to observe my hair. They would come there for some plausible reason and discretely steal glances in my direction.

I spoke basic Japanese and my hairdresser spoke basic English. We got along fine. He told me he had been to India as a tourist. He narrated his experiences in India to me. He also gave me his visiting card for future sessions. He and his helper combed my hair by putting it on rollers and then combing it out. My hair felt so smooth and silken after this session that I had difficulty in tying it up.

While I was staying at the Hyatt Erawan Hotel in Bangkok, I went to their in-house hairdressing salon. The Thai lady who did my hair made two of her colleagues come and watch the entire process. They then asked me to have a picture taken with them which I did but not with my hair loose. I got photographed with my turban on.

The Thai hair dresser claimed that she had never seen such fine hair.

I was visiting Chandigarh where I stayed a few days with my cousin. I asked my nieces (his daughters) about where I could get my hair washed and dried. They not only suggested a specific hairdressing salon at which they themselves were clients but also suggested a particular employee (named Raju) who gave excellent scalp massages.

An appointment was made. I duly asked for Raju who, it turned out, justified his reputation. The scalp massage he gave was truly excellent. While he was drying my hair, the lady in the neighbouring chair, also getting her hair dried after washing, told me she was a Sikh. She said that she had tried several times to persuade her husband to experience the quality of service at this hairdressing salon but always in vain. She told me how pleased she was to see that I had no such inhibitions and was enjoying the scalp massage being given by an expert. We chatted amicably till I left.

Having had my hair ‘done’ at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai as well as the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, I have found that a majority of the employees working in hairdressing salons in both these hotels are Muslim men. They gave me excellent scalp massages. I experienced the traditional Indian “champi” at both these hotels.

At both places, I was told that many Sikh men used to come to them to get their hair washed and dried. So I guess I am not the only one able to narrate the tales of Sikh tourism at hairdressing salons!

The reactions of young children when they see my hair being washed and dried are particularly nice. A young girl began protesting to her mother that she did not want to have her hair cut, but to have it long like mine ... And pointed at my hair. 

Last week, the lady in the chair next to me asked me whether I would be willing to exchange my hair with hers.

Once a reasonably bald man, getting his hair done in the chair next to mine, also proposed whether we could exchange our scalps.

Then, there was the hairdresser who requested me to go with her for her practical examination where she would have to show how to tie a top knot for somebody with long hair. I could not oblige because the date of her examination did not fit my schedule.

I have only experienced friendly curiosity and banter during all my hairdessing, be it in Switzerland, India, Thailand or Japan. It has given me endless opportunities to explain to people asking questions as to exactly why I keep my hair the way I do.  This actually helps me to better understand myself and figure out exactly why I have kept my hair and not cut it off like those who find so many justifications as to why we should not keep our Sikhi saroop in these ‘modern’ times.

Before I can explain it to others, I have needed to understand it myself. This has helped me in reinforcing my identity to myself as a Sikh, in accordance with the message of our Gurus.

The fact of going to hairdressing salons to get my hair washed, dried and cared for has liberated me from any inhibitions about what would happen if somebody other than close family relations saw my hair or touched it. The standards of hygiene at all the hair salons to which I have gone have been immaculate.

Nobody has touched or handled my hair without first thoroughly washing their hands. In Japan, the two men who cared for my hair even wore surgical gloves before touching it.

I am sharing my hair tourism experiences with readers of sikhchic.com. If any of them have been tempted to have their hair cared for by professional hairdressers, they should go ahead and do so without fear or trepidation.

My experiences in this respect have only been interesting and positive.

 

[Dr. Jogishwar Singh was with the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) before leaving India in 1984, the year of cataclysmic events for Sikhs in India. With an M.Sc. (Hons School) in Physics and an M.A. in History from Panjab University, Chandigarh, he did his D.E.S.S. at Sorbonne in Paris, followed by a Ph.D. from Ruprecht-Karls University in Heidelberg, Germany. Now a Swiss citizen based in Le-Mont-sur-Laussanne, he is serving as a Managing Director with the world famous Rothschild Group in Geneva, having earlier served as Senior Vice-President, ING Bank, Switzerland and Director with the Deutsche Bank Switzerland. He is fluent in eight languages and has basic knowledge of two others.]  

July 9, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 09, 2013, 4:57 AM.

OMG - No not this one. Looks like an opening of a Khalsa Hair Grooming Salon may be in the offing. This was the last frontier in this weird business. Never dreamt this would happen. Sikh modelling raised eyes but this one ...

2: Mehtab Singh (San Jose, California, USA), July 09, 2013, 6:22 AM.

I think it is an excellent solution to your dilemma, when you are incapacitated by your injury. But I would suggest that it is not the correct route to take as a norm. Sikhs are meant to be independent and to constantly strive to free themselves from any kind of dependence. Hence, for example, no priests. We do our own praying and worshiping. No warrior class. If there's a good fight to be fought, we jump into the fray to protect the weak and the oppressed. Similarly, one of the Five K's we've been given is the kangha -- to ensure that we groom our own hair ourselves everyday since cleanliness is a prime virtue. [As long as we physically can, of course.] Therefore, once one has recovered from a disability, it would be appropriate to revert to self grooming, even though our affluence allows us to take the easier route. The same applies -- and I offer this as another example to prove my point -- it entirely defeats the purpose of the langar when we have it ordered and delivered from a local take-out or restaurant. But, regardless of all that I have said, it was a great article. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you.

3: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), July 09, 2013, 7:14 AM.

You are a bold and a funny man. Thanks for a refreshing write-up. But don't get used to the luxuries ... listen to Mehtab Singh and then treat yourself once in a while.

4: Gurteg Singh (New York, USA), July 09, 2013, 4:07 PM.

I generally enjoy Sardar Jogishawar Singh's well informed articles, but this made me cringe from just thinking about the scenario. Some masseuses will perhaps massage the scalp, if that is the reason to go to these salons. But as a Sikh I will NEVER ever enter a barber shop or advise any Sikh for such hair care because it is a very fine line from your stated goals to losing your hair with the barber's scissors. The downfall of Sikhi in Punjab was the direct result of a liquor and a barber shop in every village as well as in every nook and corner of the Sikh homeland.

5: Harinder Pal Singh (Patiala, Punjab), July 09, 2013, 5:56 PM.

A long time ago, 1983 maybe, I arrived in Village Kauli where I was posted as a doctor to find Wazira, a yokel of the area being thrashed. I managed to save him more 'chittars' but I asked why it was so. I soon found out that in a Sikh neighbourhood, he was planning to set up 'Guru Nanak Hair Cutting Saloon'! The guy was a real dim-wit. Reading this article, I wonder if he could have spared himself the blues -- literal and metaphorical -- by naming it 'Guru Nanak Hair Caring Saloon'!

6: Gurdarshan Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 10, 2013, 3:52 AM.

I too had my first experience with a hair dresser. I went to a Chinese hair saloon in Kuala Lumpur hoping to get some oohh and aahh massage for my long hair and scalp but ... always remember never take off your turban (the saloon had a room to do that) immediately after you sit down on the dressing chair with your hair open on a hot day. Anyway, after some 'settling' down, it was a wonderful experience as explained by Dr. Sahib ji.

7: Deep Singh (Dehra Dun, India), July 10, 2013, 3:58 PM.

Dr. Sahib, great article. It's good to see you followed the practical approach. Please enlighten us with more experiences like this. "Soch badlo desh badlega."

8: Harminder Singh (Jalandhar, Punjab), July 11, 2013, 8:59 PM.

Except in emergencies = such as the one described by the author in this article -- a Sikh should always take care of his hair himself. We have been provided with the kangha by our Guru Sahib and every Sikh is expected to use it twice everyday for keeping his/her hair in good shape.

9: Rosalia (Baltimore, Maryland, USA), August 23, 2013, 12:37 PM.

Wonderful article, self-effacing and droll! Thank you for posting it!

10: Vicky (India), March 22, 2014, 11:02 PM.

I browsed through for info on hair care as I heard that Sikh men have the most glorious hair on the globe ... next only to the women of Kerala and Bengal! No tips here but thanks for amusing me on a sultry afternoon ...

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A Sikh at the Hairdressers"









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