The Indian Barbers of East Africa

The Indian barbers of East Africa
By Kersi Rustomji, one-armed legend of St Teresa's in Eastleigh now of Australia



When I contemplated on it, I found that, my personal experiences were not filled with the juicy tales of or from these barbers, for they did not chat much with kids. However, if one went to the barber with dad, it was an 'informational' session, and the shop itself was place to view.
Most of the available wall space was covered with large number pictures of a variety of hair styles. No matter what style one pointed at, after a ‘Ha, ha, bes bes,’ ‘Yes, yes, sit,’ the result always was short sides, back, and top. Strangely these pictures included women’s hair styles too, though no women would ever dream of getting their hair done at the place. Not only would a right royal scandal ensue, but most probably Chandu the barber swoon.

After being shorn by Chandu, dad took his turn. As the white cloth apron was tied onto him, it began with, 'Aare Rustomji, sambhaliyu che?' 'Gaikale bahu dhadaka thya.'Aare Rustomji, have you heard?' 'Yesterday, were some big bangs.'

Then a font of information poured out, touching on a variety of local topics; some, after looking at me he whispered in dad's ear, then proceeded again to loudly pass on further news of all the goings on in Mwanza town. All was interspersed with very rich Indian expletives. When he talked of somebody with a name, ' Ah, pelo Kersi chene?' 'Ah that Kersi is no?' The hand holding the clipper or the cut throat razor, shot up in the direction of the person's place.

On my one solo trip to Chandu the barber, who I had always found a bully as well forceful, when he turned, raised, or lowered the head, and made caustic remarks, 'Skoolma bhane che ke gadhedo che.' ‘Do you learn at school or are you an ass,' I decided to fix him. I collected a handful of sand from our garden, rubbed it in my hair, and removed the access.

Off I went to Chandu with fifty cents. 'Ha avyoche gadhedo; chall jaldi bes khursi per; mane ganu kaam che.' 'Ha you have come the donkey; hurry sit on the chair, I have much work to do.' I hopped on and he tied the white apron on me. He began to comb the hair, and found some resistance, but continued, complaining ‘Ah hu che tara baalma.' 'What's all this in your hair.' I just shrugged my shoulders, as he continued combing muttering all galias curses.

Next he picked up a clipper. With one hand he jerked and held the head down and commenced to clip upwards on the back of the neck. After two three such clips, we heard a sharp twang. The clipper had entered the sanded part. A grain jammed between some teeth, and one of it snapped with a ting. 'Oh b----od, aa teh su karyu che mara mashin ne!' 'Oh be----od, what you have done to my machine.' The clippers were always called machine.
Quickly I sprang off the chair, unwrapped the apron, and shot out. 'Koi divas tara baap