Hair He Draws A Line…
Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India, used to bow to only two people in his life. One was the British Queen—Queen Elizabeth, the second person was none other than Habib’s father Nazir Ahmed, a renowned hairstylist of his time. Another prized client was India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Getting your hair done at Habib’s spells the message loud and clear that you’re in tune with the times, above all a status symbol. They’ve been hairstylists to India’s prime ministers, presidents and now celebs and film stars. At the age of 15, when Habib Ahmad first snipped the hair of former Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, his fingers trembled.
Snipping tresses may be kid’s play but designing them according to one’s profile is Habib’s play. “We just see the profile but above all the face cut, the cheek bone whether the face is oval, long, round etc,” said Habib Ahmed, a man behind taking this profession to those lofty heights where he has been snipping the locks of the high and mighty. And yes those getting a hair cut from this legend feel on cloud nine and boast truckloads till the high they have on their heads peters out. He has taken this hair line segment across the country basking in the warmth of these glorious snippets. His three sons Jawed, Amjad and Parvez are doing awesomely great but Jawed Habib the eldest has carved himself a niche on a global dais. Habib Ahmed, founder of the salon chain Habib’s designed former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s hairdo. Habib had known Mrs Gandhi since his school days. Born on October 2, 1940, in Delhi, they come from Muzaffarnagar, UP. He has three brothers and six sisters. Though he was not very good at studies, he was an excellent footballer. His father Nazir Ahmed, a hairdresser to viceroys of British India, including Lords Linlithgow and Mountbatten, and Indian heavyweights such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Rajendra Prasad.
Habib refreshes those old knots when he thought of settling abroad but he had to drop the idea for a word he gave to Lord Mountbatten. When his father Nazir Ahmed was asked if he would be willing to go to Pakistan, he declined saying that he was born in India and would die here in this soil. Mountbatten helped Habib get trained in the west under the best hair dressers. ‘Go back to our country and help it in whatever way you can.’ Still chime these words spoken by Lord Mountbatten. Habib seemed to slipped back into the 60s as in the background were those soft hits like Zindgi ke safar mein guzar jate hain jo muqam; main zindgi ka sath nibhata chala gaya etc…
He sent Habib to England to study hair designing. He did not know how to react to this decision that came out of the blue from his father, and to this he could not say ‘No’. He went to the UK in the 70s by then his first love football distanced away from him. He studied years and returned with a new definition to the barber’s profession.
He is an early bird, up with tea in hand. He does a bit of yoga in front of his NFC (New Friend’s Colony) residence. At 71 he feels young enough and runs on the work treadmill for 16 hours, as the age does not come in the way. On the go and on the run, his stamina does not flag down, not only does he visit all his salon outlets within Delhi but also he makes it for his grooming school at Sainik Farms, Delhi where he shares the subtleties and nuances of hair texture, cosmetology and hair cutting he has treasured in the time span of more than 50 years.
“I still remember, I had to go in place of my father when he was taken ill. Panditji thought that I did not know much as I was too little that time, so he would fold his ears lest I cut them by mistake. Cutting his hair was an ordeal.” Habib reminisces.
Mrs Gandhi got her hair cut from the crème de la crème coiffures in Paris. She wore her hair short a little above from the nape. Habib just preserved that look. Few things about big wigs only the dresser knows. As years rolled on the calendar, her hair silvered but Habib carried a German dye to her Safdarjung Road residence. She insisted that Habib carried the dye for her, he did but did not charge for that but pocketed rupees 25 so that she did not feel offended.
Habib had a tough time doing her hair as he was more concerned with her elegant look to gel well with her hairstyle. He then thought that the grey part in front should be left without the dye to add to her elegance. He would be summoned by Mrs Gandhi before a press conference, as one of her colleagues spotted a standing strand of her hair that looked rather odd on camera.
Grey & hair loss
Losing and graying of hair concerns every one of all strata of society, though it’s an ageing process and comes with time. If it’s premature, healthy diets can prevent it from shedding and turning grey. ‘I do not recommend colouring or any chemical for grey hair as this weakens the roots and the scalp gets itchy that leads to falling hair after some time but you can use mehndi (henna) with some herbs. I would like to add that the concept of using oil must be discarded for its greasy properties. Taking anti-biotic for long may perish the hair growth and its culture. Don’t rinse your hair too hard or get your head massaged, the barber at the end of your street may rub violently and you will lose many strands there only,’ the maestro averred. Ahmed votes against shampooing every day. Wash gently and let a bit of the conditioner stay in the hair so as to retain its soft texture and it looks silky. ‘Once in a while you can use only herbal oil or olive, apply gently with the tip of your fingers rather than rub them, but wash it out gently in four-six hours. Don’t keep your hair exposed to the sun for too long, if it remains open to the dust for some time, wash them with plain water, use a piece of cotton cloth under the helmet,’ Habib draws a hairline difference. ‘The fungus is common and conspicuous that eats into the roots.’
Habib has a tall list of who’s who as his clients that includes former Presidents Kalam, VV Giri and Dr Zakir Hussain. Cutting Giri’s hair brought him to the President’s family especially his daughter Mohini Giri. He ever longed for respect and recognition in society where he thought he somewhat lacked and the worst came when he went to meet Mohini Giri at Rashtrapati Bhawan, and her attendant called out saying, “Nai aya hai.” This tasted bitter to him. He decided to train himself to the higher degree so as to rid of this ‘lowly’ tag. In 1970, he flew off to London, for a course at Vidal Sasoon’s salon. Two years later, Indira got the first London-trained hairdresser in Delhi to cut her hair. She jested asking me: ‘Yeh batao, London se kya teer maar kar aye ho?’
After his return from London, he opened a salon at Lodhi Hotel in Delhi where among his steady clientele was Maharani Gayatri Devi. “Gayatri Devi used to get her haircut done at Alexander’s in Paris, and I asked her to facilitate a training stint at that outlet. She not only facilitated my course in Paris, but also paid for it without even letting me know that exact cost of the course. Later on, I found out the cost of the course but was told not to discuss it with the Maharani,” recalls Habib. Once, when the ageing Maharani was getting her haircut at the Lodhi Hotel salon, Habib’s son, the Europe-trained hairstylist Jawed, remarked that his father had given an outdated cut to the Maharani’s hair. At this, Gayatri Devi cast a cold look at Jawed and asked Habib to go on with his job.
“After Jawed had finished, Gayatri Devi brushed the hair off her shoulders and quizzed him of his training in the US. Then she said: Jawed, your father has given me many haircuts. If he puts the scissors to my hair, then please note that it is I who have asked him to cut the hair in this way. He does not style my hair out of his designs; he does it according to my wish,” she retorted.
Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam preferred his hair like that of a philosopher to what the hairdresser wished, as he wore his hair long. I had to take his opinion before picking up the scissors. Once Jawed informed the media about his visit, and a large number of pressmen literally camped outside the hotel. Former President did not like this idea and then stopped coming to the salon. Dr Kalam has frequented the family’s salon for 16 years, long before his rise to political power.
By Syed Wazid Ali From New Delhi