I went to En Sahar Baharuddin, his barber at Jalan Sultanah. The shop, started by his father in 1959, is still the same. Nothing much has changed except for the additon of an air-conditioning unit and two potted banzai plants outside the shop. The interior encompassed by huge mirrors on the walls, contains all the paraphernalia of a barber shop. Two ancient upholstered leather chairs occupy much of the shop’s limited space. En Sahar, at 45, and a graduate from High School Batu Pahat in 1978 has been in the business for twenty years. He charges 7 ringgit per hair cut and he has an average of 15 customers a day. He works from 8.30am to 8.30pm.
The bulk of his multiracial customers comes from mostly those in their thirties and senior citizens. His radio which is continuously on plays English sentimental songs of the sixties and seventies. He speaks very good English and he is none the worst for it. I was struck by his depth of command of the language of 'orang putih' as the language is sometimes derisively called. I wondered if he was ever asked by his Malay customers why he was so fond of English songs.
As he trims your hair, he moves to different angles, and like a painter , surveys his work before he continues to trim and shape to his satisfaction. He does not allow the waiting queue to distract him as he goes about patiently snipping and shaping. The job is done only when he is satisfied.
Why did he go into the barber business, I asked him. When his father died someone had to take over the business and since he has had some experience, it seemed natural at that time to take over the business. The main reason however was that he could be his own boss.
Malay magazines and newspapers as well as a Chinese daily are provided to keep customers occupied while he attends to his customer. Sometimes the queue is long, so some customers will sit out side while some go off to come back later. He knows what his customers want from the shape of their hair, unless of course, a customer decides to have a new hair style.
There are now only 5 barber shops left in Batu Pahat, two of which are owned by Malays, two by Indians and one by a Chinese. The younger people prefer a unisex saloon hair stylist to have their hair trimmed, shampooed, and blow-dried. But it is people like En Sahar, the friendly neigbourhood barber who keeps the hair of the middle-aged and the seniors in place. And there are many people like him who work honestly and steadily at their unglamourous jobs to provide a much needed service to the community. And it is only seven ringgit for a haircut. Popular Hair Dressing Saloon is one of those rare multiracial icons left in the country.
At the end of the day, who cuts his hair? I forgot to ask him that.