His name was Kudo Thakur. A barber by caste, he had been so all his life. From age 15 to age 70. In his own words - “From when my hands learnt the trade to the time when the same hands started shaking when I picked up the scissors.”
But he was a very old man now. He said he thought he was something like 80, but he looked more like 120 to me. Most of his teeth were gone. And it seemed that the ones which were still there were so only out of goodwill and respect for the man. All of them jutted out, irrespective of whether he was smiling or frowning. All that was left of the face were those sagging wrinkles. If there was a competition for the World’s Most Wrinkled Man, Kudo Thakur would have bagged the first prize for sure. The hands and legs were as thin as thin can be, you could easily circle his legs with your palm, and make your thumb and index finger meet, like they do with their hands at the pillar near Qutab Minar.
Surprisingly, he wasn’t bald. Not by a long way. Specks of white on his head shone in the sun and I think I even spotted some which were still black. This for a man who had almost lived the entire last century ! He carried a stick with him, a piece of wood really, pieces peeling off the surface all over. I couldn’t help noticing that his stick was as thick as his two legs, so that if you saw his silhouette, you might just be deceived into thinking that he had three of them, three legs or three sticks to stand on.
Everyday, while I was there in the village, he would come early morning and evening, and sit there on the bench in the veranda, gazing at everything around him. I found his stare somewhat uncomfortable at times, his head always positioned slightly forward, aggressively, as if he was a teacher, asking you why the homework for the weekend wasn’t complete. He had a constant expression on his face, what I would regard now as a cross between a jovial smile and a disgusted frown. I remember thinking to myself that if Kudo Thakur had to laugh or cry at something, the expression on his face would remain exactly the same. One face for all emotions. One expression to express all expressions.
“I have shaved your Nanaji’s head too, once, when he was even younger than you are”, he told me one day. I gave him an as-if-I-believe-you look. For me, small that I was, the image of Kudo Thakur shaving my Nanaji’s head, with a pair of scissors in his hand and the mirror in front, was not that easy to imagine. He was the oldest man in the village, one person who had watched everyone else grow and many perish before him. He was conscious of this fact, he seemed proud of it.
I took his presence in the village home as granted. So when, a few years back, I hadn’t seen him since I had arrived in the village, I asked my grandfather where he was.
He was dead. No one knows whether he completed the century, or just failed to do so by a year or two. Even Kudo Thakur himself wouldn’t have known, I imagine.