We are number one in something at last, even if it’s the export of raw human hair,” says 58-year-old Bhagwan Sahai Solanki of Karol Bagh, Delhi, with a laugh. “India now tops unprocessed hair exports. Our products put together have conquered the Americas, Africa and Europe. Their models walk the ramp wearing Chinese wigs made with Indian hair.”
The export houses dealing in human hair are mainly in Delhi and Chennai, but the suppliers are all over. “I get hair from every district of India,” claims Solanki. “Hawkers, barbers, suppliers, wigmakers, exporters — our bread depends on this,” he adds while caressing a switch of hair in his godown as if it were a piece of silk.
The recession has, however, hit the industry in India which employs nearly 25 lakh people. G.R. Kaushik, managing director at the Noida-based Marchers International, for instance, has stopped exporting and has diversified into making non-surgical hair replacements. That’s because the prices have fallen — a kilogram of human hair now fetches Rs. 300, half the amount it would have fetched two years ago.
Despite the slump in prices, there continues to be demand for Indian hair since its texture is close to European and American hair and can be used for fashion as well as for making wigs and hairpieces. “Remy (hair cut from root) is the best and that you get only in India, especially at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh,” says Kaushik.
Every hair exporter has his eye on the Tirupati stock. Some 100,000 pounds of hair are collected here every month from the nearly 25,000 people who donate hair every day, says Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam PRO Ram Reddy. Three newspapers print notices of its hair auction in four languages each. So do the temple’s two websites.
A few temples in Tamil Nadu do brisk business too. Tiruttani, the abode of Lord Muruga northwest of Chennai, collected Rs. 1.16 crore by auctioning the licence to collect hair offered at the temple in the coming revenue, says P. Dhanapal, the temple’s joint commissioner. This works out to a twelfth of the temple’s annual revenue. “This amount is Rs. 60,000 more than last year.” The Muruga temple at Palani nearby is also raking it in. P. Rajamanickkam, a senior official at the temple, says the governing trust hopes to raise Rs. 2 crore this year through hair.
As elsewhere, devotion pays various dividends here too.
(Inputs from M.R. Venkatesh)