Oberoi Palaniswamy - The Hairdresser of Coimbatore

"My old clients continue to seek my services. I am happy to serve them. My clients have given me an identity, " smiled septuagenarian Palaniswamy , the Founder of Oberoi - An old saloon in Coimbatore. Palaniswamy was born to Arumugam and Kaliammal of Kandappakoundanvalasu near Palani. His siblings are Ramalingam, Vadivelu, Manickkam , Amaravathi and Dr. Ilanjiyam. He belongs to the Venduvankulam and his family deity happens to be Ugrakaliamman of Kongoor. This place witnesses the union of Shanmuganathi and Amaravathi (two rivers in Tamilnadu).

Palaniswamy had done his third standard those days. " Chief Minister K.Kamaraj helped the society by bringing in free education and many of us benefited due to his initiative. I can proudly state that my third standard is Kamarajar Kaalathu third standard ( third standard from the Kamaraj period ). Situation made me move over to Kodaikanal. I got trained as a barber under my relative Muthukaruppan. Coimbatore beckoned me and I moved over to this business city in 1964. I still remember the date, it was 27/5/1964. C.N.Annadurai had visited Coimbatore for the first time on the same day. I settled down near Rajalakshmi Mills and began my work. Time moved by and one more establishment happened in R.G Street. Finally the Rajalakshmi Mills shop was given to my brother Vadivelu and the R.G Street shop was given to my sister Amaravathi's husband Dhandapani. I went to Palani thereafter but the place did not suit me, therefore I came back to Coimbatore, " added the veteran.

The veteran had moved to Cheran Palace in Gopalapuram by October of 1975. He ran his saloon from this place but his facility was nameless for some time. " I must definitely thank Ramkumar Giri, Annapoorna D.Srinivasan, Premier Motors Ramesh and Radha & Co Senthil for their patronage. It was because of Ramkumar Giri that I got to offer my services to Madampatti Sivakumar, Udumalpet Sridhar and actor Sathyaraj those days. Karthik, the son of Mohan Kandaswamy was my client too and he brought in a huge number of friends. He was responsible for bringing in a number of youngsters. A large number of landlords, mill owners, jewelers and businessmen became my customers. I still remember serving L.G.Varadaraj, Ravisam of Coimbatore and other regulars from Tirupur who included people who managed Eastman, Shanmughavel and Chola. Chairman Kandaswamy , Viking Easwaran and Ditty Balu were my important clients. The list is very long and I can go on and on, " added Palaniswamy. His current outlet is at The Grand Regent on Avinashi Road. Palaniswamy had begun to call his facility ' OBEROI ' from his Cheran Palace days.

Palaniswamy remembers clients asking him to style their hair like Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery and Steve Mcqueen those days. He was among the earliest to charge Rs.10 per haircut. The veteran would use the scissors only and he would never use a comb. This was a very unique practice. Oberoi hairdressers would just offer haircuts and if clients wanted to have a shave, they had to do it themselves. Palaniswamy offered a unique style. He would advise his clients to come back for a hair cut after 21 days. One of the top vernacular magazines had listed Oberoi Palaniswamy amongst the Top 10 of Coimbatore.

"I was particular to ensure that my clients hairstyle looked decent at all times. The style would not get affected throughout the day for it would look the same even if disturbed or tossed. I moved to Hotel Surya International on 11/5/1984 and was there until it existed in its original form. Rajendra Textiles family, Shobha Cloth Centre family, K.R & Sons family and several others used to patronize me. Naveen Mandradiar of Palayakottai, Uthukuli Zamindar family and many more like them have been my long term clients. Dr.G.Bhaktavatsalam of KG Hospital would be cheerful while visiting our place. The Founder of Pricol Vijaymohan and his wife Vanitha Mohan are in my list of important clients. I can never forget industrialist L.G.Varadaraj. His recommendation helped me to get to my current location. The other clients include Dr.Rajashekhar of Ganga Hospital, Dr.Palanivelu of Gem Hospital, Dr. Nalla G Palaniswamy of KMCH and cardiologist Dr. Muralidaran.

Palaniswamy had his saloon air conditioned many years ago and he was the first in the Coimbatore region to do so. His fame had taken him places. Dr. Krishnaswamy of Puthiya Tamizhagam ( political party ) had spoken about Oberoi Palaniswamy when queried by a journalist about his unique hairstyle. Palaniswamy had believed in personalized service and he earned goodwill due to this approach. His facility was considered to be premium and his service was much regarded. " This satisfaction made me feel positive about my work. Success backed by contentment ensured that I did not run after money. I could have established many branches but my personalized approach and attention would not have been possible. It was because of this relationship based approach that my life became successful. Even my house was bought because of the initiative and support of Annapoorna D. Srinivasan. It was a house in the Bharathi Park Road area. I am perhaps the first from my fraternity to live in a posh area. I am grateful to the family of Meenakshisundaram Sastriar for their support. Their legal inputs and guidance was of great help while acquiring my house, " stated the content Palaniswamy.

The Founder of Oberoi has been an Income Tax assessee from 1991. Auditor N.R.Doraiswamy had initiated him into filing returns and paying taxes. Again, his contact made a number of Income Tax officials to become the clients of Oberoi. Those days, it was Oberoi Palaniswamy who brought in ' hair cut by appointment '. Palaniswamy is happily married to Muthulakshmi and they are blessed with a son and daughter - P. Kathiravan and P.Suseela ( lives in the USA ). The couple are blessed with 3 grandchildren. The favorite deity happens to be Shirdi Baba and they visit the Nagasai Temple often.

Palaniswamy used to begin his day by 7 AM and continued until 11 PM in the night. Nowadays he works along with his assistants. The saloon opens by 9 AM and services are offered until 9 PM. His key person now is his sister in law's son Dha Dha Kumar. Palaniswamy continues to remember Actor Raghuvaran and he spoke about the hairstyle created at Oberoi for him.

" While I offered the best I wanted to ensure that I purchased items from iconic people. My first ornament was therefore purchased at Sri Gayathri Jewellers on Big Bazaar Street in Coimbatore. This was founded by the family of P.A.Raju Chettiar those days. I continue to remember the offices of Erode Pictures Circuit ( belonging to V.M.Kailasa Gounder ) and the huge car that was used by P.A.R.Viswanathan Chettiar of Chandra Prabha Pictures. I was fortunate to be in touch with very many great and nice people, " recalled Palaniswamy, the man who added to the respect for the people who were managing hair cutting saloons.

The work of hairdressers like Oberoi Palaniswamy have created many ventures in this vertical. Today the parlor activity is a multi crore business.

Mr. Rajesh Govindarajulu is one of the founding members of The Verandah Club Pvt. Ltd. He is a leading columnist, historian, jeweler, entrepreneur, and a heritage enthusiast who is earnestly working to revive the past in the light of the present. Experiential learning about the history of Coimbatore is his main course of interest and he is also a panel member of many colleges in the city.

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