Existence of barbers or professional hair cutters does not feature in any history of Bhutan. I suppose it is safe to assume that such professions did not exist in Bhutan. From the time I remember I saw people cut each other’s hair in the villages. Mothers cut the hair of their children, though the first haircut of a child was always done by the maternal uncle or a big lam, the reason of which I still do not know.
There was no barber shop in the area where our school, a junior high then, was located. Students used to cut each other’s hair. In the early eighties, the students of our school got the chance of a lifetime, to cut hair by a high official of the ministry! He was a“Dasho” to us. I don’t actually remember what he was that time. He visited our school as a joint director and director during my stay in the school. Anyway we got the privilege of a haircut by the dasho, though it was only a half haircut or rather a foundation for one.
On one of his visits to the school, which he made often, we were assembled in the prayer hall, located on the upper floor of the office block of the school. It was raining outside. He was not happy with the length of our hair and the tidiness of the school uniforms we wore. He must have been a very thorough gentleman or else how can a dasho be bothered of such insignificant thing as the length of the hair a student maintained, let alone cut it. Before we realised what was happening, a pair of scissors were handed over to him by our then headmaster. We were quickly pushed and lined up in front of the dasho for our turn of the “grand” haircut. As our turn came, he would lift the scissors, catch hold of a tuft in his left hand, he pulled mine very hard and it was very painful, and cut it off unceremoniously and then you are through. The scene was exactly like a line of devotees and faithful souls waiting to get blessings from a revered lam. Only that it was not the lam we were meeting here and the line of students were not willing devotees. Some of us were a bit reluctant but then how can an army of ants stand against the mighty elephant? It was exactly that.
An expatriate teacher, a Mr Goshal, I don’t remember his first name, must have found the scene quite funny. I saw him smiling and so did the dasho. He berated Mr Goshal on the spot, right in front of the whole school. Dasho’s words, verbatim, were, “Why are you smiling? Do you think I am a joker here?” I saw Mr Goshal go red in the face. His wife was also a teacher in the same school.
Similar ugly incident repeated in the same school in the late eighties. This time it was our lopen, my class teacher, who made us, his class, to shave our hair. He personally bought packets of razor blades and distributed to the whole class. One Sunday morning I found him waiting outside our dormitory with razor blades in his hands. As we came out of the dormitory he handed us a blade each and ordered us to shave our heads. He was to check the compliance by that evening. By then we were at the verge of becoming seniors in the school and his orders did not meet with the same level of compliance he expected. He even went physical with some of us for not shaving our heads. Some of us, the chicken hearted ones, gave in to his wishes, while some did not budge an inch. I still do not understand why he did what he did. It was quite weird. May be his marrying a girl from our class that same year did not have anything to do with his weird actions. But if people put two and two together, they would have come up with something. The school authorities did not do anything.
In my high school days too something similar happened. The school regulations mandated us to maintain a certain length or shorter hair, which some of us used to defy. In order to hide our “illegally reared” prized possessions, we would apply all sorts of hair fixtures. One day I was caught and my prized possession cut, during the morning assembly, in front of the whole school. This time it was the principal of the school who did the favour for me. The principal being a lady, I suppose ladies are sensitive and careful, cut only that length of my hair that was illegal. That evening I shaved off my head. The principal did not like it and thought me a rebellious character. Keep it long and you are on the wrong side of the rules and regulations and shave it off and you are a rebellious character. A catch 22 situation! Life isn’t fair. But nobody said so.