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'Life as we know it will be on the mend soon'

By ARCHANA MASIH
March 31, 2020 09:00 IST
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'Times will be tough, but we will get by and by the grace of Lord Balaji.'

The deserted Bandra-Worli sea link, March 22, 2020. Photograph: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

IMAGE: The deserted Bandra-Worli sea link, March 22, 2020. Photograph: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters
 

Adil Khan is a hair dresser at a small ladies salon in Mumbai. Ten days ago, the salon sent a WhatsApp to its clients that it was shutting down till the government lifts the lockdown. Adil, along with the ten-member staff, were asked to stay home and be safe.

It is the month-end and they do not know as yet whether their boss will pay them their full salaries.

"The rent has to be paid, irrespective of the salon being shut or open and you know how steep Mumbai rents are," Kamiya, the manager of the salon, tells Archana Masih/Rediff.com.

"In small businesses, salaries are paid from what is earned from clients. This month, we may get paid, but I am not sure about next month," Kamiya says as she waits to hear about the salary decision from the salon's owner.

The salon was seeing a healthy flow of clients till March 18, a day before it shut down. Adil, a hairdresser for nearly 20 years, has never stayed home. Every morning he has taken the Mumbai suburban train to get to the salon and returned home.

For the past week, he is doing something he hasn't had much time before -- spending time with his children. "I play and read to them. I go out in the morning to get the daily provisions," he says, explaining how he has stopped carrying a wallet and keeps the rupee notes separately.

He has kept aside a pair of clothes for the shopping. On returning home, he washes the vegetables, goes for a bath, washes his clothes and wears a fresh set.

Adil has kept aside some savings that will help him through the weeks ahead. He feels business will certainly be hit, but he is confident that it will pick up.

"The economy was already pretty bad. We can only get better from the worst now. I feel people will still want a haircut, pedicure or manicure before they resume offices, colleges etc after the lockdown ends," he says.

"People need to feel good so they will want to groom themselves before they resume with life and work," Adil adds.

"But it will take at least 3 to 6 months for business to pick up. I also feel that social distancing will become a way of life for many."

Kamiya, who has managed salons for over two decades, is also confident that clients will return. Though the fear of the virus will make them careful and salons will also have to enforce stricter cleanliness protocols.

But she is worried for the cleaning staff and pedicurists who survive on their monthly income and do not save. The staff has been loyal to the salon and she had always advised them to save.

"I used to tell them even if it is Rs 1,000, you must save something every month, but young people don't listen," she says.

"Just as the government has waived home loan EMIs for three months, they should do the same for other utilities like electricity, gas etc," she adds.

Times are difficult, but Adil feels the pedicurists will get through. "They are a small, united community. They have that support which will sustain them during this time."

Shama, a beauty therapist at the salon with 15 years experience, is not too worried at the moment. She and her husband, who works as an assistant in a car showroom, can get by for a couple of months comfortably if they spend wisely.

Since they live in a joint family with their toddler, they find the family set-up up supportive, especially in these difficult times.

"We are holding onto our savings so that it can last if this lockdown continues. This has given me time to spend with my daughter otherwise I only used to get two separate days with her over a week," says Shama who has not stepped out of the house in a week.

The young salon staff is upbeat that things and life as they have known at the salon for over 10 years will not change much, and their clients will be back by and by.

The ladies who have come regularly for beauty services are the women they have come to know so well. They know their tea, coffee preferences, their families back home and how tepid or warm they like their water when they soak their feet for a pedicure.

"Times will be tough, but we will get by and by the grace of Lord Balaji, we will be on the mend soon," says Nikesh, the pedicurist who makes a pilgrimage to Tirupati every year.

All names in the feature have been changed at the interviewees's requests.

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ARCHANA MASIH / Rediff.com
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