Pick any bazar in any upazila in the country, and you’ll find a barbershop. For many, it’s a quintessential place to hang out and chitchat about anything and everything while getting a haircut.
But what makes the one at Batiaghata bazar in Khulna unique is that not only can you be groomed by a barber, but also read books while awaiting your turn.
Better yet, if you are in the middle of reading and it’s time to get your haircut, you can just borrow the book and return it at your convenience.
This barbershop combined with a library is the brainchild of one Milon Shil. The 41-year-old resident of Batiaghata upazila’s Hetalbunia village set up the shop in 2010.
The place does not boast much beyond an average tin-roofed room with two chairs, a large mirror and wooden shelf for equipment. There is also a shelf in one corner, filled with books for locals to read or borrow, which more than compensates for the modest décor.
The library has over 400 books, written by many stalwarts of Bangla literature.
On a recent visit to Milon’s barbershop-library, this correspondent saw a group of people reading books while some were getting a haircut or shave.
One such reader was Palash Roy, a school teacher. “This is a commendable initiative. There is no public library in our upazila. As a result, many come here to read.”
“I am a regular at Milon’s -- not only for getting a haircut, but also for the books. I often borrow those for my students,” added the teacher. “He has a nice collection of biographies.”
Meanwhile, Milon just finished with a customer. “My father, Jitendranath Shil, established this barbershop two decades ago,” he said.
But it has not been an easy journey.
Due to financial crisis, Milon had to quit school when he was in fourth grade and started helping his father at the shop. Milon’s father passed away in 2010. “My parents, especially my mother, tried hard so that I could go back to school again, but that did not happen.”
“What I missed about school was the opportunity to read. Luckily, my father used to keep newspaper at the shop and I started reading all of those from start to finish,” he said. “But that could not satiate my thirst for reading.”
An interesting thing happened one day, Milon told this correspondent while opening the bookshelf and handing over a book to a youth.
A customer after a shave left a book -- “Mejdidi” by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, he continued.
“I remember, I finished cleaning up the place quickly then sat in a corner and started reading the book. I finished it in one sitting. I was so amazed by it. And I didn’t want the feeling to go away,” he reminisced.
“I knew then that was it for me… I bought books whenever I had saved up enough money, and slowly started building my own collection.”
At first, Milon kept the books at home. Many started borrowing those and returned at the shop, he said. “So, I shifted the library here.”
Some locals and friends also lent a hand in his endeavour.
“One of my friends, Probhat, gave me a kitchen shelf, which I started using for keeping books. Another friend, Kiran, gifted me 80 books,” Milon added.
This genial man is quite popular in the neighbourhood for his efforts and for being a good barber. In addition to encouraging reading, he arranges quiz competition for readers and offers a prize of Tk 50 to winners, said locals.
Not to mention, Milon offers refreshments such as tea and biscuits to readers, they added cheerily.
Milon said his passion for reading came from his mother, Radha Rani Shil. “She is my inspiration. She is self-educated and an avid reader.”
This correspondent met her on an afternoon at her village home. “I’m proud of my son. Though he couldn’t continue his studies, he never gave up his pursuit of knowledge. Not just that, he is also motivating others,” she said.
“Both of us read books in our leisure time, and discuss about those,” she added. But, Milon jumped in, “She probably has read more books than I have.”
He paused and added, “My dream is to establish a full-fledged library for everyone.”
Contacted, Ahmed Ziaur Rahman, upazila nirbahi officer of Batiaghata, said what Milon is doing is inspiring. “The [upazila] administration will assist him in maintaining the library properly,” the UNO said.