Indian origin barber's journey to dress hair of Ethiopian rulers

Lookalike of a famous Indian cine star, barber Asharam’s salon looks like a mini-Indian island deep inside Ethiopia

Addis Getachew Tadesse   | 02.04.2022
Indian origin barber's journey to dress hair of Ethiopian rulers Barber, Bachu Asharam, 72

HARAR, Ethiopia 

Far away from India, in the eastern Ethiopian city of Harar, the uncanny similarities between Bachu Asharam, 72, a barber, and veteran Indian cine actor Amitabh Bachchan, leaves passersby and his customers awestruck. 

The Indian-origin barber, hailing from Gujarat, the same province from which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs, had arrived in Ethiopia more than six decades ago with his father in search of greener pastures.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Asharam claims that his saloon set up by his father has hosted high-profile customers like Teferi Mekonnen, who ruled the country in the Horn of Africa from 1930 to 1974, and later Mengistu Haile Mariam, former army officer, and politician who headed the government from 1977 to 1991.

“My father would return home with 150 Ethiopian dollars, a handsome amount because then an Ethiopian dollar was equal to US dollar, after cutting the hair of the king,” said Asharam, while dressing the hair of a customer with an electric shaver.

He also keeps his traditional tools like clippers, scissors, and blades from the good old days in his locker, which have treated the hair of high-profile customers in the good old days.

Plastered with the pictures and posters of Indian movie icon Bachchan along with Indian political leaders like freedom icon Mahatma Gandhi and past prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, the saloon looks like an Indian island deep inside Ethiopia’s UNESCO heritage Harar city, known for its mazelike alleys and traditional houses decorated inside with flat hanging baskets.

“Mengistu used to come to my salon,” said Asharam. Pointing towards a light brown, fixed ebony chair in his shop, he recalled that Mengistu – now in exile in Zimbabwe – used to sit on this chair to get his hair trimmed.

“My father came to Ethiopia through the Somalian port city of Zeila. He first established himself in Jigjiga where he lived and worked for some years before coming to the city of Harar,” he said.

After completing school in Harar, Asharam joined his father in the saloon to learn tricks of trimming hair.

Asharam said he visited India a couple of times but never wanted to stay there because of his deep affinity with Ethiopia and Harar.

“I only regret that I have not been granted Ethiopian citizenship. But I never applied for it,” he said while blinking his eyes.

The polyglot barber, who speaks Amharic, Harari, and Afan Oromo languages has made a social mark in the city, where people throng his salon and learn about India and its films and cine stars. Among his Ethiopian employees, Ashenafi Gudissa said he has learned not only the art of trimming hair from Asharam but also the skills to connect with society.

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