Thursday, December 22, 2016
Let us pretend that you were walking along the northern pavement of Sir Thyagaraya Road, Pondy Bazaar, on a busy afternoon. Naturally, you can't see the signs of the shops because they are right overhead. You look at the displays. And then you suddenly find this little shop door with a couple of stools put out in the front. No glass frontage, no mannequins on display. An old timer sits on one of the stools, contentedly looking on at life passing by. The wooden doorframe, set back from the street, has the word "Kerala" written above it. Peeking inside, you are greeted with a row of empty chairs, display racks and shelves, for all the world looking like a reading room of sorts.
Welcome to the oldest salon in Chennai. It has been 76 years since Sankunni Nair hung up his shingle in Madras. Kerala Hairdressers is now managed by Sankunni's grandson Sandeep. It does not have the slick design or the chirpy conversation of a newgen coiffeur. You are considered a regular only if your first visit to this establishment was as a kid hanging on to his dad's hand - or if you bring your son over for his haircut. It is that kind of a place, where time stops to swap stories of the city, where the English and Tamizh newspapers provide the stage for the clientele to dissect the news for its relevance - and irrelevance - to the patrons.
Don't get fooled into thinking you can just walk in here anytime you feel the need to have your tresses trimmed. It just so happened to be a lazy weekday afternoon. If you have to come in on a weekend, or after office hours, you had better be prepared to wait and enrich the buzz of conversation with your observations. Else, it will be a long, lonely wait for you!