His father, Nazir Ahmed, was the personal hair stylist of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and the last British Governor General, Lord Mountbatten, which took the family to what is now Rashtrapati Bhavan. One fine day Habib Ahmed opened his academy-cum-salon in Lodhi Hotel and the rest is history.
Hritu Pawar, who has penned Habib’s biography “Habib: The man who built an empire” (Vitasta Publishing; 168 pp; Rs 399) says Habib, who is often described as the first man of the Indian hair industry, uplifted the “low profile profession to a high profile fashion”.
Almost certain that “Habib” is probably the only book in the world which is a biography of a hairdresser, Pawar believes the story she has penned will play a crucial role in the industry, which is forever growing.
“I thought this story would play a very important and significant role in the industry. The book has covered a lot of aspects. It has covered the history of barbers, the social stigma and how barbers were treated years back in the society,” Pawar told IANS.
“The book talks about (Habib) sir’s story, ancient history which covers the hairstyles existing from the time of Ajanta, Ellora… the role of barbers then and after and how Habib sir has uplifted the low profile profession to a high profile fashion,” she added.
Pawar pointed out that most of younger generation may not realise but earlier barbers were considered to be of low caste and were not given the importance they have today.
“‘Habib’ explores the role of a barber in the society earlier and the fact that they were considered as a lower caste. Barbers earlier could not cut the hair of a dalit with the same instrument and same is for upper caste in reference to the caste system which existed earlier. However, no matter what caste, barbers had a very important role as that of matchmakers besides uplifting the personality of the person whose hair they cut. The first surgeons were barbers too as they knew how to use a scissor and a knife perhaps,” she said.
Talking about how the idea of penning Habib’s life journey came about, Pawar says the 76-year-old always wished his story was known to the world.
“I have been associated with Habib sir for quite a long time. During conversations he expressed that he too wants his life story to come out and be known to the world. He often said: ‘I have contributed so much to the society. The book should be there…’, but he was clueless on how to go about it. That is when I jumped onto the wagon and said that ‘I would like to pen it for you and that we could start now and go with the flow and see how it goes’. That is when he agreed and the wheels started moving.
“Then slowly we started moving forward and he told us how he started his own salon because he was working at the Oberoi’s before that. He always wanted to have his own salon and start something of his own and how different ideas came up, some people helped him… I thought the story of his life if very interesting and people should know about his journey,” she added.
Habib’s legacy goes long back with all three generations involved. Asked if she faced any challenges while documenting the episodes of the legendary man’s life’
“It was difficult… there was no documentation as such, photographs were lacking. We did research a lot, went digging for some. Then I searched the internet, went to look for the oldest newspapers of the 60’s which luckily sir had preserved from his years of the past. We put together few paper cuttings that sir had saved in a file. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru too had once spoken about sir’s father, which we scanned and included in the book,” Pawar said.
“This book, was a big challenge at certain moments as sir sometimes forgot few points, sometimes repeated the episodes…when I was taking the dictation from him. There was no documentation of the episodes in his life. But in the end I in my heart wanted people to know about the struggle and the rise of Habib the brand and the person behind it,” she added.
This being her first book, Pawar an image consultant, has designed communication campaigns for “EK Tha Rusty” (the TV series based on Ruskin Bond Stories) and is a consultant to the Madhya pradesh Ministry of Culture.
She takes care of the ministry’s “branding, strategy and coverage” and has taken care of prestigious cultural festivals like Khajuraho Dance Festival, Tansen Music Festival, among others.
(Kishori Sud can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Kishori Sud