What happens in a barber's shop? Well, the answer would be hair-cuts, hair-grooming, head massages, manicures and the like. Of course, there is a lot of gossip too and barbers in the desi context are next only to the Marasis in telling many an amusing or risqué tale.
Remember, all those funny jokes about the barber and late Pakistani autocrat Zia-ul-Haq that whenever the man wielding the razor would tell him that elections were round the corner, the president's hair would stand up and cutting them would then be an easy task!
But there is more to it than that: ever heard of singing talent being nurtured in a barber's shop? This may sound improbable but it is not. Young Amit Kumar of Amritsar, who has made it to the coveted Top Five of Indian Idol, literally grew up in his father's barber shop and can give a blunt, wedge or mushroom cut for the asking, but he is also a singer of talent who has been learning classical Indian music and looks like he will go far.
Young Amit's story brings a legend to the mind, born to an Amritsar village called Kotla Sultan Singh. Yes, Mohammad Rafi, many of you must have guessed it right! The celebrated singer of evergreens songs was born to Ali Mohammad, a respected barber of Kotla Sultan Singh. Rafi was known as Phito to his childhood friends.
His passion was singing and he took little interest in studies. So Ali Mohammad apprenticed his son to his brother, who had a hair-cutting salon in Lahore. As the old story goes, it was in this salon that Rafi was humming as he manicured a music director's hands. The latter saw the promise in the voice and that's how Rafi made his debut as a playback singer in a Punjabi film. Then he moved from Lahore to Mumbai in 1944. The rest is history.
Once on a visit to the village some 20 years ago, I met his childhood friends, who recalled a Rafi Nite in the Sixties at Amritsar, where the villagers went in tractor-trolleys to hear him and they said Rafi said happily, "Today the people of my village are here. Do not stop me. I will sing all night."
So he did, putting a healing touch on the soul of the people of Kotla Sultan Singh, who had seen Muslim villagers being killed during the Partition riots and his female cousins abducted and killed by the rioters from other villages. Rafi passed away in 1980, leaving behind a rich legacy of songs and the villagers built a memorial to the celebrity from their hamlet almost two decades ago.
One wishes young Amit, the Rafi brand of success minus the pains of historical tragedy. It does not matter if he reaches to the top title of Indian Idol, but he should work as hard as Rafi did to sing songs that will always be remembered.