CUTTACK: Inside the Laxmi Nrusingha gents parlour, Sasmita Barik aka Kali skilfully wields a scissor and the comb to finish a haircut within 10 minutes.
As customers step out happy with their makeovers, they vouch for the skills of the 25-year-old woman who has successfully created a space for herself in a field that has hitherto remained male-dominated apart from the domain of exclusive beauty salons.
Dressed in jeans and shirt, Sasmita of nearby Bania Sahi under Salepur block is an expert in hairdressing, shaving, moustache styling, facials, bleach, spa and face wash.
Youngest among three sisters, she started the saloon eight years back along the Cuttack-Kendrapara State Highway in Bahugram Bazar to extend a helping hand to her family in making ends meet.
For her 55-year-old father Narayan Barik and 80-year-old ailing grandmother Sumitra, Sasmita is the son of the family. She not only helped Narayan in meeting the wedding expenses of her sisters but also takes care of the family now.
After matriculation, she could not pursue further studies due to financial crunch. With no male sibling, she was compelled to adopt her family’s hereditary vocation for bartan, an annual contractual payment in kind of paddy towards the service.
“My mother Pramila Barik died 10 years back and then my grandfather Baidhar Barik passed away. I had to step in to supplement the family income”, she said.
Sasmita said, initially her father used to cut hair and nails of men and she used to cut nails of women during death rituals. But when her father was unable to work anymore, she had to take up both the jobs.
The initial phase was difficult. “I was ashamed of cutting hair and nails of men in the beginning but with I got over that very soon”, she said.
Sasmita, however, belongs to a family which has a connection with the freedom struggle. Her great-grandmother Nakhi Barik had cut the beard and nails of Mahtama Gandhi when he took rest at Dussehra Padia near the village while touring Odisha during his Harijan Padayatra on May 23 in 1934.
After finding it difficult to maintain the family with the meager income raised from the annual bartan, she decided to open a barber shop at the market near her village.
She took the help of her cousin Tapan Barik of the adjacent Sighamapur village who taught her different styles of haircut, shaving and moustache styling.
During the shutdown, Sasmita helped a family in a neighbouring village in performing the obsequies of a patient who was suspected to have been infected by coronavirus, when local barbers refused to perform the work. And what about her own wedding? “Who will look after my family and saloon if I get married”, she answers with a smile.