Blog post by Raj Vaidyanathan
It used to be a monthly routine, depending on how fast the hair grew or didn’t, for that matter, a visit to the local barbershop or as we called it “saloon”. The event was pretty mundane, no catalogs to browse at or designs to pick from, that is available these days at some locations, instructions where quite banal each time, “baal chhote chhote kaatna bhaiyya” (cut the hair as short as possible, brother), the last part was purely a formality. We’d sit on the bench awaiting our turn and breeze through “filmy magazines”, particularly one named “Mayapuri” and then put it down haphazardly when the chair was vacated for us. Once it was done, we would walk back home, we were barred from stopping by and say hello to our friends playing cricket on the street (it was always on a Sunday), we’d go straight to the bathroom, without making physical contact with anything other than the floor and our feet (or anyone for that matter) where a bucket full of water and a towel awaited, we had to stay clear off the kitchen and poojai room on our way to the shower, reason? We had to cleanse ourselves first because an “ambattan” (barber) had physically touched us. when I think of those times, an array of emotions come to surface, guilt, shame, disgust, anger, in other words, repugnance.
I am very proud of our TamBrahm culture but it must be acknowledged that before I was a Tam or a Brahm, I was human and unbeknownst to me, I became part of an idea that denigrated other humans without merit, purely based on their caste and profession, the guy probably probably knew where he stood in the social ladder but never had an inkling how low it really was. He was the only barber around, so he was a regular during my upanayanam ceremony for the traditional cutting of the hair lock and my brother’s and for every Tam Brahm upanayanams in the neighborhood. He always had a razor sharp smile, if you’d pretend to excuse my pun, and he’d show up with his knife and a towel of his own and would happily collect his fees for the services rendered, little did he know, we needed to be “baptized” so to speak after his mere fingertips touched our hairline. Granted, there was no contempt towards him, nor any bigoted dialogue that was implied while talking to him but that didn’t change the fact that it was already instilled in our juvenile minds that he was way beneath us in the non-existing ladder of piousness created out of self righteousness. Perhaps we’ve made progress over time but to say that it doesn’t happen anymore would be an overstatement, in my opinion.
“Untouchables”, as they are referred to, primarily consists of people performing services, think about that for a second, the entire world is now moving towards service oriented industries, are we to label them all untouchables and wash our hands of them? I didn’t think so. When I look at it closely, it isn’t our Vedas or Upanishads or other scriptures that endorse this kind of discrimination nor they are the proponents of it, they talk about love, peace, bhakti and salvation for ALL, it is us, humans, in our never ending propensity for greed, interpret and conflate things for self prosperity, case in point
No one is superior, none inferior. All are brothers marching forward to prosperity.”