Knights of the Knives

This photoessay was published in Dazed Magazine in July 2021

When the pandemic hit, daily wage workers in Indian cities – street side barbers, food stall owners, parking ticket collectors and cart pullers – were left to fend for themselves. Conditions became dire for many.

One year on, India’s street side bustle had somewhat returned. The street side barbers, or nais (pronounced na-ee), were once again carrying out the daily shave or occasional trim for their customers.

Cuts are no-nonsense, quick and cheap.

Commonly seen stationed near residential blocks, the barbers have a roster of regulars – almost always males. With this institution, loyalty is everything.

The curbside barbers are an integral part of the city’s fibre, but they are always fighting to survive. Notorious monsoon floods in Mumbai, for example, are a constant threat.

Yet, there is a resilience that keeps them afloat no matter the calamity. Something constant, despite ongoing urban development, riots or even a global pandemic. Overlooked maybe, but these everyday Indian heroes are never forgotten.

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