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Childhood Memories: Part 00 – Demise of the Indian Barber Shop

Indian Barber

Don’t think any Malaysians from my generation had not been to an Indian barber in the neighbourhood. Image (Source)

My first experience of going to a barber was back in the old neighbourhood where the barber was actually the neighbour who lived in the same row of houses like us. Being a good friend of my dad, he often cut our hair as short as possible even though we tried our best to get him to cut in the latest styles.

He was also very strict when it comes to education and he will often ask us about school, homework and the marks that we got in the last exam – often we got an earful from him if we got low marks (mind you, “low” marks back then was 90% & above). Whenever we lack good marks in the exams, he will arrange for quick revision classes by his kids to us – it is his way of ensuring the neighbourhood kids did our best in our education.

At one point when I was in Form 4 – 6, I opt instead for a haircut at Chinese hair saloons in Kota Raya – not because I decided to change my style but rather because they only charged RM1 for student cuts. My classmate was the one who introduced this cheap service to me – besides he needed a friend to tag along when he wanted a haircut.

“Student” does not refer to us students who wanted the haircut but rather students who were learning how to cut hair. So effectively we were guinea pigs and we were taking risks – but in the end, we did not have any weird hair cuts because the saloon owner who is also the teacher would keep very close eyes on the cutting done.

Then later when I started to work – I often drop by the Indian barber in KL and also one of the two barber shops near our rented house. All three barbers have long closed when their workers decided to go back to India.

Then I found another near to my house – a young barber who not only how to cut with the latest styles (he remembers his customers so he knows what we wanted), speaks good Bahasa but also gave a good oil head massages once he is done. He had an older assistant who sometimes will come in when he had too many customers waiting.

From my chat with him & overhearing his chats with other customers, I know both he and his assistant were from India. The shop was owned by a Malaysian who rented the shop lot to him for the hair salon. He, on the other hand, sub-rented half of the shop lot to a tailor from India & dry cleaning to an Indonesian lady.

Before I decided to get an electric shaver for that close shave (and do one for the environment), I often using the disposable plastic shavers but because it is one of the cheap shavers, it never felt so clean. So once in a while, I will opt for a proper shaving by a barber – the price was reasonable and it seemed clean if it is done by a barber.

So it is certainly a worry when the Government decided to stop hiring of barbers from overseas to allow local barbers to take up the vacancies instead:-

The new ruling to restrict the hiring of barbers from India will affect the iconic Indian barber shops, says Malaysian Indian Hair Dressing Salon Owners Association.

“We have been part of the nation’s landscape for over 100 years, with some shops existing for three generations.

“Our members are concerned that the new policy may force many barber shops to close, owing to lack of Indian barbers,” said its deputy chairman M. Ganathiban in an interview.

Last month, the government announced a gradual discontinuation in hiring of foreign workers in laundry, textile, hair dressing and goldsmith businesses.

This would be done in stages from now till 2021 in a move to prioritize the hiring of locals.



Selvan said he hoped the government would consider allowing the recruitment of 2,000 foreign workers in the industry because locals were not keen on working in the sector.

“In 2015, the government gave a RM1.2 million grant to train 100 Indian youths from the B40 income group. We have trained 97 students. I even employed four of them.

“However, after working for six months, they left to set up their own businesses. Now, they are also in need of workers.”


It is a good plan – it reduces the dependency on foreign workers and gives more opportunity to the locals. But will it lead to the demise of the local Indian barbers if there are no locals willing to take up the vacancies? And it appears like it is happening so and foreigners are still running the show.

When I came back from overseas, my hair was long & untidy – more so because I did not visit any barber when I was in Cape Verde (the hotel staff advised us from visiting any barbers as they are not familiar with “Asian” hairs”.

I quickly headed to my usual barber but it was closed. At first, I thought the barber was closed for his break but later checking revealed that the immigration did a raid and apparently took away the foreign barbers who did not any permit.

Good and true but the problem is – the Indian barbershop was closed but interestingly 2 other barber shops run by Bangladeshis at the same row with this Indian barber is still opened (one was hidden inside a Telco shop run by Bangladeshis as well.

Now within the vicinity of the neighbourhood, there is no more Indian barber but instead, there are 3 Bangladesh barbershops.

Just wondering if the new law by Government to push greater participation by the locals & reduce the reliance of foreign worker is actually backfiring by killing the competition among the foreign workers instead.

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