Barbers are an affable community. Despite huge technological advancements, no alternative to a physical tryst with a member of this fabulous group has been discovered. Sometimes, I feel, the old-timers who launched this profession had a vision par excellence in conceptualising the nuances of a haircut and the dependence that society reposes in them.
Ruldu Ram joined our army unit as a barber (they are combatant tradesmen) almost the same time as I joined as a second lieutenant on commissioning. He was confident in his profession, coming from a family of army barbers belonging to upper Himachal. The amicable fellow immediately caught the fancy of officers, including the old man (as the commanding officer or CO is often referred to).
Therefore, he was in demand on Sunday, being a personal grooming day in which a crew cut was a must.
Besides a non-negotiable convenient time for the CO and the second-in-command (2IC), the other slots would come to officers based on Ruldu’s preference, which we realised soon, depended upon the officer’s listening ability to his unending gossip.
The prospect of extracting worthwhile news affecting the troops would be another factor for his preference, which he would selectively disseminate as langar gup (news emanating from the other ranks mess). Ruldu, in order to cut down on our crew cut fixation, would wisen us up on maintaining a cavalry tradition of longer hair than our other arms counterparts. Feeling sheepish on possessing better cavalry spirit, his visits reduced to alternate Sundays , thereby giving him more time to indulge in langar gup.
Setting up of a unit barber shop was a new concept during the ‘90s, wherein all unit personnel could patronise at wish and convenience, like what we have at saloons here. Ruldu opposed the concept since it obviously didn’t suit his extra-curricular hobby of a private gossip. Nevertheless, a barber shop was put up but not without my friend designating himself as a roving barber to attend to officers at their quarters. His new role, however, was on popular demand of one and all.
Years went by and the unit won repeated compliments for its well turned out soldiers. Though many others contributed to this achievement but like the proverbial “Ghee banaye rotian barri bahu ka naam”, it was attributed to Ruldu. When I returned from a deputation to command the unit, Ruldu, witty as ever, was summoned to give me a crew cut prior to my first meeting with the infantry general officer commanding (GOC).
He refused to move his scissors beyond the size of a horse’s mane. “Saab, agar hamare CO saab apni pehchaan nahin banayenge to laftain saab log ka kya hoga? he said. The next day, the GOC seemed more transfixed with my hair than my professional introduction. Ruldu, henceforth, was nominated the personal barber of the GOC. His availability for a Sunday haircut, thereafter, was subject to availability, similar to my days of a second lieutenant.
Today, as I sit in a fancy saloon for my monthly grooming, I miss Ruldu Ram, our roving barber.