After a series of disappointments due to my curly hair, I started dodging hair stylists the same way Donald Trump evades the taxman. My friends, on the other hand, have gone to great lengths to cultivate meaningful relationships with their hair stylists.
Back in my teens we had the ‘burger cut’, named after the so-called ‘burgers’ (slang for Westernised elite). There were other hairdos that were considered trendy. In 1991, the movie Terminator 2 was released and every boy wanted a hair style like John Connor’s (played by Edward Walter Furlong) — a side part with a long fringe on the other side. A similar thing happened when Titanic was released in 1997 and Leonardo DiCaprio made us believe that long locks will make you a hit with the ladies. It didn’t.
It wasn’t just Hollywood movie stars that inspired hair style trends. Haircuts of Indian movie stars, local musicians, cricketers and even popular wrestlers of the WWF (now WWE) were all copied — much to the exasperation of our parents. But we weren’t doing anything new.
For Karachi men, a hairstyle is all about making a statement
Hair has always been a prized possession and whether it was Waheed Murad’s side part or Dev Anand’s slicked quiff, men have tried their hand at various hair styles. The fibrous follicles on top of our head are the crowning glory for many gents and the foundation of a 20 billion dollar industry.
Nature intended hair as insulation from heat and cold, and enhancing our sense of touch. For centuries, however, tresses have reflected whatever their owner thinks is going to make him popular with the opposite sex. Love is truly in the hair.
There is no denying that a good haircut is a sheer delight and Karachi’s men go to great lengths for it. In the olden days, even among the fashionable crowd, there was a lingering social stigma towards a man who gave too much attention to his hair. Most people had the notion that this is something a ‘real’ man shouldn’t do.
Grooming was what horses used to get but the modern male wants to maintain good hair and visits the barber every week even though his hair only grows 0.44 mm per day — indicative of a paradigm shift in men’s approach towards hair.
There are a growing number of people who not only take pride in maintaining expensive hairdos but also consider it a pleasurable activity. Since the city’s humidity is bad for a carefully coiffed head it’s an uphill battle but those with hair are more than ready to cough up whatever their barbers feel like charging for their services.
Tony, the barber at Super Cuts in Saddar, says, “We used to have one person coming every month or six weeks. Now they are here every 15 days and even after we have raised prices to 150 rupees for a simple cut and 250 rupees for a proper hairdo.”
According to Tony, the most popular hairstyle is the ‘Ronaldo’ cut, named after the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and derived from the Pompadour Haircut that was worn by Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV. The current version has hair shorn on the sides and kept luxuriously voluminous on top to be slicked back in a quiff. It’s easy to cut and maintain but requires frequent visits to the barber.
Hairstyles are fairly egalitarian: men from different socio-economic strata can all go for the same hairstyle and pay different rates. At Maskan Chowrangi in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, you can get the ‘Ronaldo’ for 110 rupees at a ‘salon’ under a lemon tree. For a bit more, barber Omar Rahi will be happy to give a head massage to calm any nerves.
He has competition from Axe Saloon which opened up close by just a few months back. It attracts a much younger crowd of 20-somethings who line up to pay 300 rupees for another popular style: a side part with very close trim on the other side. Majid Khan, a frequent customer, waited for over three hours last Eid to get his turn in the seat.
Mushtaq at Victory Saloon, Teen Talwar, is always in great demand for his way around a comb and scissor. His customers are mostly PTI fans and in 2013 many asked for Imran Khan’s bouffant. For 150 rupees he can fashion a hairstyle for any political hopeful who has a dream of tabdeeli through a good haircut. But fashion, it seems, trumps politics. Overhearing our conversation a rakish customer smiled and said, “Forget everything yaar, gorgeous hair is the best revenge.”
Victory does brisk business and so does its rival Balis, opposite Uzma’s Shopping Plaza in Clifton, where Fawwad Nomani charges 50 rupees more. Fawwad has calloused hands from holding scissors for years and keeps his customers happy by copying whatever they come up with. “In the past, they would bring magazines and photos but now they just download anything from the internet and show it to me. I do my best and mashallah no complaints yet,” he said.
It seems no matter which way you cut it, hair saloons are all in the black and their customers are ever-growing. A good barber is now among the close coterie of associates for any male no matter what the economic conditions are. An unemployed guy getting a fade cut says it is the best: “Sure my life isn’t perfect but my hair is.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 23rd, 2016