City Landmark – Muhammed Rafi’s Shaving Stall, Ajmeri Gate
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Look at this monument. It has been standing on this spot for years and years.
An unsuspecting person will naturally mistake the monument in question for Ajmeri Gate, one of the four surviving gateways of Old Delhi’s vanished city wall. But the particular monument one is talking of here is actually positioned beside Ajmeri Gate. It’s not made of stones. It is a longstanding pavement stall, predates its current owner, and memorialises the tenacity of a furniture-less landmark that is so fragile but has been existing for so long.
The venerable Muhammed Rafi has been managing this barber’s establishment beside Ajmeri Gate for 50 years. This afternoon, he is in the midst of shaving a customer’s days-old stubble. Both are sitting cross-legged on the pave. “Before me, my father, Abdul Wahab, used to sit here. Before him, his father, Ibrahim, sat here.” His hand pausing on the customer’s right cheek, Muhammed Rafi thoughtfully looks up at the sky. His lips murmur silently, as if he were calculating a mathematical equation. “This shaving adda must be a hundred years old.” He brings down his gaze from the sky, continues to shave the customer’s face, looking serious.
Suddenly, the customer makes a joke, and Muhammed Rafi’s face breaks into a smile. Some of the passers-by happen to see his smile and break into a smile themselves.
“When I first started sitting here, I would charge ek ana for a shave,” Muhammed Rafi says, his expressions becoming grave—perhaps because his razor is now navigating the delicate area between the customer’s nose and his lips. As years passed, he hiked the charges for shaving to two anas, then to two rupees, and presently he charges 20 rupees.
The establishment comprises a shaving brush, a small hand mirror, a towel, and a small plastic bag filled with lather, razors and also hair. “For both shaving and haircut, I charge 50 rupees.”
Although his home is nearby in “zila Ghaziabad,” he has an understanding with a shopkeeper in the vicinity, who lets him sleep inside the shop after it shutters for the day.
“I have many sons,” Muhammed Rafi says. He didn’t encourage them to follow his profession. “This stall will be buried with me.” Out of the two monuments, only Ajmeri Gate might survive.