The task of keeping Kashmiri men well-groomed was left to barbers from Bijnore for the longest time, but many have now returned home with the recent tensions in the Valley and locals who had abandoned the profession are back -- and making a fortune. According to Kashmir Hairdressers Association, at least 20,000 shops run by barbers from outside Kashmir have been shut as they fled the Valley post August 5 after the Centre abrogated Article 370, ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and reorganised the state into two union territories.
Mushtaq Ahmad, one of the few local barbers who continued his trade even after the barbers from Bijnore in Uttar Pradesh took over the business 25 years ago, said he has been operating from his home.
"Although the shops are shut across Kashmir even after 17 days, there is a huge demand for barbers here. Most of the non-local barbers have fled and their patrons are looking for alternatives," Ahmad said. There has been manifold increase in my earnings over the past 10 days, he said.
"Most Kashmiris avoid haircuts, shaving or trimming beards 10 days before Eidul Azha due to religious reasons associated with sacrificing animals that day. This has resulted in sudden rush of customers, who have been even coming to my home at the break of dawn due to restrictions during the daytime," he added.
Ghulam Mohammad Hajam, who would visit the homes of his regular clients over the past three decades, is now planning to rent a shop as and when the situation here normalises.
"The younger generation was enamoured with barbers from Bijnore and avoided Kashmiri barbers. My clients are generally the elderly people like me. However, with shortage of barbers, I think there is scope for youngsters to take this profession again," Hajam said.
However, many Kashmiris are trying their hands at using scissors, clippers and trimmers to avoid unkempt looks in view of the prolonged shutdown and restrictions.
"I cannot do my own haircut but I can do it for my friends and relatives and someone among them can do it for me. Trimming beards and shaving is much easier and should not require a visit to the salon," Mohammad Shoaib, an engineering consultant, said.
Shoaib said he has already made a beginning by giving a haircut to his two-year-old son. "I don't think I am too bad a barber. I guess I will improve with practice," the 32-year-old said with a sheepish smile.
With more than 3,00,000 skilled and unskilled labourers fleeing the Valley, people in Kashmir have taken to DIY or 'Do It Yourself' for more things than just a haircut or a shave.