After a week of his arrival in south Africa, Gandhi had to spend on night in a big city in connection with his legal work. He hired a cab and asked the coachman to take him to the leading hotel. Gandhi saw a manager of the hotel and asked for a room. The white manager eyed him from top to toe and said; " Sorry , we are full the shop of an Indian friend. When he related the incident, the friend asked; " How did you ever expect to get admission in a hotel?" " Why not? " Gandhi asked in surprise. " Well you will come to know everything I time," the friend said. And Gandhi did come to know a lot about the insults borne by the Indians in South Africa. He was slapped, boxed and kicked , was pushed out from a train and footpath, because he was a colored Indian. Still he failed to understand why the whites hated and ill-treated the " blackies". After all, all men were sons of the same God and Christianity was a religion of love.
One day he went to hair- cut. The white barber asked: " What
do you want?" " I want a hair -cut, " said Gandhi.
" Sorry, I can't cut your hair. If I attend a coloured man, I
shall lose my customers."
This insult sank deep in Gandhi's mind. He felt it would not
do to smart in pain or to make written appeals in newspapers. he must be
self-reliant, be able to manage his own affairs. Immediately he bought a pair of
clippers and went home. He started clipping his hair before a mirror. He could
shave himself but to cut one's own hair was an odd job. And it surely was not a
barrister's job! He somehow managed it but spoiled went to the court the next
day. His clownish hair-cut made his friends shake with laughter. One asked in
jest; "Gandhi , what's wrong with your hair? Rats have nibbled at it last night?
" Gandhi replied in earnest; " No. The white barber refused to touch the black
hair of black man, so I decided to cut it myself, no matter how badly."
This was Gandhi's first attempt in hair-cutting at the age of
28. Afterwards he often used the scissors and the clippers. In his ashrams, a
hired barber's service was taboo. The ashramites cut the hair of one another by
turn. Gandhi waned the students of ashram to lead a simple Spartan life. No
fashion , no fine dress or tasty dishes were allowed there. One Sunday morning ,
the boys were going for a bath. Gandhi called them one by one and cropped their
hair. They were very unhappy to get their hair trimmed to the scalp. Gandhi once
cut the long hair of two ashrams girls.
No combs were given in South African prisons and every
prisoner convicted for two months or more had his hair cropped close and his
moustaches shaved. Gandhi and his party were exempted from this practice. But
Gandhi wanted to go through all the jai experiences. When he said in writing
that he wanted to get his hair cropped, the chief warder gave him clippers and a
pair of scissors. Gandhi and one or two co-prisoners each day spent two hours in
doing the barber's job.
When he was imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace, with him was a
lady ashramite. Dandruff was troubling her. IN an unguarded moment , she asked;
' Bapu , shall I cut my hair and put some medicine to kill the dandruff? " Quick
came Gandhi's reply; " Yes, do it right now. Bring the scissors." Scissors were
brought and off fell the locks of the lady . Mahatma barber was then 75.
During the Swadeshi movement, Gandhi discarded foreign razors
and took to country-made ones. slowly he learnt its proper use and could shave
without mirror, soap or brush. He must have thought it was a marked improvement
in the art of shaving and gave this certificate to a barber; " Munnilal has
given me a fine shave with devotion. His razor is country-made and he shaves
without soap." Some of his followers were infected with this fan fond it made
shaving less disagreeable. Gandhi knew how the village barbers acted as surgeons
and were expert in opening a boil or taking out a thorn but found it trying to
put with their dirty clothes and unclean instruments.
Once a Harijan attendant at Sevagram said; " I want to go to
Wardha." When asked why, he said; " For shaving."
"You can't get it done in this village?"
" Savarna barbers will not shave me and there is no Harijan
barber here" he replied.
"Then how can I get myself ever shaved by that barber," said
Gandhi. He stopped taking service from that barber. When he traveled from
village to village every day, he could not find time for a shave and and at
times needed a barber's help.
During the khadi tour, he wanted to be shaved by a khadi-clad
barber. Volunteers ran hither and thither to find one. Gandhi told them; " We
shall have to make the washermen and barbers co-sharers of our swadeshi vow.
Barbers are good at gossiping. they can spread there message of Swadeshi." On
another occasion, Gandhi was waiting for a barber in Orissa. He saw a woman come
with shaving tackle all complete. She wore heavy ear-rings, nose-ring, necklace,
anklets and laquer bangles. Gandhi asked; " So you are going to shave me?' She
nodded with a smile and went on sharpening the razor. Gandhi again asked; " Why
are you wearing these heavy ornaments? they don't make you beautiful. They are
ugly and full of dirt." With tearful eyes she said; " Do you know I have
borrowed them today for this special occasion? How could I come to a great man
like you without good ornaments on? After shaving Gandhi's head and chin, she
left her wages at his feet, bowed to him and went away.