As you head to Pondy Bazaar from Panagal Park in T.Nagar Chennai, a signboard in a distinctive 40’s typo sits pretty across the street. Usually the first shop to open at dawn, Kerala Hairdressers is an iconic third Generation salon known for their simple style and quaint ambience.
Before I got to documenting and working on this project, I spent some time talking to people at the salon and also taking a few photographs of the everyday nuances. I believe part of photography is the process involved which leads to the story you narrate to the images you familiarize yourself with.
Kerala hair dressers came to be in the year 1939, when the owner of the shop Sankunni Nair decided to separate from his family and move to Sri Lanka in search of a job. He unexpectedly stayed back in Chennai and took over this barber shop, previously named Malabar hair dressers. At that time it was about to be closed permanently. Now, the shop is owned and managed by his grandson, Sandeep.
In conversation with Sandeep,
How do you want to maintain this legacy?
From the time my grandfather started this barber shop, we never planned about who would take over the legacy. I trust that whatever happens will be good for us. When it comes to how I want to maintain this place, I wouldn’t change anything about the way it is. I always aim to retain the old-world charm of this place. Our customers are the ones who have been coming to us for years because of the bond that they have with us and this place.
What is the oldest object you have here? And what does it mean to you?
These salon chairs and the wall clock are the oldest things that have been a part of this place. The people who made these were a good friend of my grandfather. I cannot compare my love to anything else as much as these things. They have been a part of this place since dawn and I can never let go of them. An English man wanted to purchase the wall clock and whatever price I quote but I kept it as it remains special since it is a part of this family and our culture.
Any big offer you refused that came your way?
Kamal Hasaan’s team came to me a long time ago to request me to give them the space for a professional shoot which I declined because I believe spaces like this need to be experienced first-hand and shouldn’t be part of the reel world.
Could you tell me how the barber shop has survived despite the rise of modern day salons in today’s generation?
The most valuable advice my grandfather gave my father was to first respect the individual and then do what you do best. My father said the same sentence to me when he passed on this legacy. Right from the moment we welcome our customers into the shop till we bid them a good day, we never miss a chance to interact with them personally. This is what keeps us going.