Before living to India, I would probably have avoided that faded green door, the one leading to a hole-in-the-wall establishment labeled “Gents Parlour,” but now I go regularly, making sure to carry some small bills.
Kohinoor Gents Parlour is where I get my hair cut in Jodhpur, and it may be one of the world’s cheapest barbershops. For a plain, no-frills haircut (the only kind I ever get), they charge just 30 rupees. At the current exchange rate, that’s about 55 American cents. You can barely buy a plastic comb for that price in the States. It’s a fraction of what I would give an American barber for the tip alone. Although the guys at my favorite barbershop in my hometown do a great job, they can’t compete on price. They charge $14 for a normal haircut, which seemed reasonable until I came to India. Now it seems exorbitant. For the prices to even out, I’d have to get at least two Indian haircuts per week, or one American haircut every four years. That would make a simple trim as infrequent an occurrence as voting for president.
Why is the Kohinoor Gents Parlour so cheap? I still haven’t completely figured it out. Ketaram, the senior barber, whom I assume is also the owner, clearly doesn’t make a lot of money. Even if he clips eight customers an hour, a very liberal estimate, he’ll only bring in $4.40. That’s a high salary by Indian standards (minimum wage for skilled labor in Rajasthan is $3.43 per day), but much of it will go back into the shop. With scissors, hair products, rent, and that heated shaving cream that only barbers seem to have, the costs add up.
Of course, Ketaram can make due with fairly little income. Although not everything in India is as relatively inexpensive as a haircut, prices are pretty low. It’s easy to prepare a meal for an entire family for less than two dollars, and a three-bedroom apartment can cost less than $200 per month. But even with that in mind, a 55-cent haircut still seems ridiculous.
On Sunday, I got what was probably my last haircut at Kohinoor Gents Parlour. I’ll be leaving India exactly one month from today, so the next few weeks will involve plenty of other “lasts” as well. During these final days, I’ve resolved to appreciate the details of this city, the little things that I won’t be able to find anywhere else and that ultimately I’ll miss the most. That’s why I’m writing about my barbershop. Back in the States, as hair gradually elongates from my scalp and begins to droop over my eyes, I’ll pine for the days when I could get it trimmed for just 55 cents. And that green door will be a world away.