City Landmark – Plaza Saloon, Connaught Place
Like a monument.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
With dark wood panelling and window display of stately wigs, its exterior inflicts awe. Must be one of those high-end hairdressing places where the welcoming stylists just cannot trim down the dread triggered by their establishment’s opulent decor and English-speaking clientele exuding privilege and imperiousness.
The prejudice is unfounded. Everyone is friendly, easy-going, and Hindi-speaking. The facilities and upholstery are comfortable and plush, but not pretentious to make one feel out of place.
Plaza Saloon has been existing on this site in colonial-era Connaught Place (CP) since 1940. It takes its name from the adjacent Plaza Cinema, which opened in 1933, the year CP’s construction ended.
The cinema doesn’t betray its old age. The giant posters of the new releases makes it too much a part of today. But Plaza Saloon is marinated in an accumulation of yesterdays (except for a 2022 “Jain Book Depot” calendar). It has all the essentials of a well-endowed barber shop and yet looks elegantly sparse, like venerable rooms in British-built PWD dak bungalows littering the countryside. This afternoon, Vinod, who has been an employee for 20 years, is dyeing the hair of a saloon loyalist, who has been coming here for 25 years. The other customer is being attended by Jaipal Singh; he has been here for more than 30 years. The unassuming owner is sitting quietly at the counter, under a picaresque staircase. “We never tell our staff to quit… inka be guzara, hamara bhi guzara.” On hearing the boss speak, Jaipal Singh pauses at mid-cutting, peeps out of the corner of his eye, over his glasses, and nods thoughtfully.
In his 60s, Pradeep Kumar observes that “my time is over” in terms of active work. He now acts in a “supervising role.” Recalling the shop’s origins, the mild-mannered man talks of his late grandfather Bishambhar Dayal, a Gurugram native, who founded the saloon. It passed down to his father, Shri Ram, who died in 2004. Pradeep Kumar has been a part of the shop since 1973. One of the changes he brought to the legacy landmark that year was to launch a section for ladies, up the stairs.
Suddenly, the door flaps opens. A tea vendor enters with a kettle. With him rushes in CP’s lively hubbub, along with the monsoon breeze. He pours down the evening chai into paper cups, and storms out as swiftly. The place instantly reclaims its silence and slow time. Seriously, we could be in 1940. The shop opens daily from 9am to 8pm.
CP’s living history