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Lakshmi Subramanian
Lakshmi Subramanian


With scissors and razors, in a man's world

Devi-Barber Devi Thangavelu at work in her saloon | Sanjay Ghosh

Exactly ten years ago, when she first took the scissors and razor in her hands, no man would sit on the rolling chair and show his head or cheeks to her. Instead, they would ask where her father is and when he would come back. Men who came into the small Thangam Delux Salon in Palladam, a small town near Coimbatore, would ridicule her. And some would leave the spot the moment they see her inside the shop. But now, there is a long queue outside the nondescript Bhuvanadevi hairlines, because she is inside. Devi Thangavelu, in her late 20s, is the most sought after hairstylist in Palladam these days. The two rolling chairs and four plastic chairs in the 20 by 20 feet Bhuvanadevi hairlines is occupied all the time. On a Sunday, at least 50 young and old men in Palladam make a beeline to her saloon for ‘Ajith hairstyle’ and ‘Singam Surya style’.

Women holding a pair of scissors and cropping tresses in a unisex spa or saloon might be a familiar sight in the cities. But Devi was ridiculed when she took up her father's business to support her family financially. Men and women in Palladam even derided her parents for letting their daughter to do a man’s job. “Not even a single man would come into our salon, when I started ten years before. My father and I would sit idle in those days. Even my father’s regular customers turned away because I did cutting and shaving,” recalls Devi. She remembers receiving lots of offensive comments in the initial stages for becoming a barber.

Devi is a BCom graduate, with foreign trade as major, from the Chikanna Government Arts College in Tiruppur. When Devi completed her graduation, like every other woman she wanted to take up a prestigious job. But on a fateful day everything changed. Her father fainted while attending a customer. Devi quickly stepped in into her father’s shoes and grabbed the razor to complete the shave, before rushing her father to the hospital. “I stood helpless but quickly gathered my wits and took the razor to complete the half-finished job,” recalls Devi.

Within months, Devi joined her father to inherit his business. Not because she could complete the half done job, but because she had to support the family. When Devi’s father Thangavelu fell sick, the family was financially shattered. Every morning Devi would set out for her new accountant's job, which earned her a meagre Rs 3000 a month and then settle in the saloon from 6pm to 9pm with scissors and razors to serve her father’s customers. “Those were days when we were heavily indebted after my elder brother died. My father was also sick and unable to support the family. But I would not have even a single customer a day. I used to wait with the lights on and the razors in my hand. But no one would turn up,” recalls Devi. However, Devi fought all odds.

Now, 10 years later, she has set up her own saloon, Bhuvanadevi hairlines. The name is a combination of her younger brother's first name and her name. Now, Devi owns the most crowded saloon near Palladam government hospital and bus station. She gets close to 20 customers a day and on a Sunday the number exceeds 50. “In 2013, I set up my own shop as my father was ailing. Now my father and I take care of the shop together,” says Devi.

“People used to tease me. Women would ask me why I wanted to do a man’s job and men would not even enter my shop,” says Devi. She has not undergone any professional training and has learned from her father. “Since childhood I used to spend my free time in my father’s salon and observe him work. I used to love watching him applying the foam on someone’s cheeks. He would rub the razor on his left palm and then shave. It used to be exciting to watch him. But I never imagined that one day I would succeed him,” she adds.

After a year of waiting and struggle, Devi was still determined about her choice of profession and men started coming to her shop. Then came the demands for specific styles. Now, Devi is the most sought after barber in Palladam and has regular customers from across the state.

Meanwhile, love blossomed in Bhuvanadevi hairlines. Shekhar, who got to know of Devi from her Facebook page, began frequenting her shop. “He was my customer. He used to frequent my saloon every week for cutting and shaving. Not just for the service, but also to meet and chat with me. Ours is love marriage,” she admits, with a shy smile. Devi has not turned up at her shop for the last 45 days as she just had a baby boy. Her father says this has upset her customers. “They ask for her. But I manage to do the hairstyles for them. Many complain that I am not a perfect stylist like my daughter.”

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