Like the thousands of salons found in every nook and cranny of a city, Thoothukudi’s Sushil Kumar Beauty Hair salon offers a wide variety of grooming services for men, including haircuts and massages. But two things make it different from the rest.
One, the customers are not allowed to use their phones once they enter the salon, and in case they want to, they need to step out. Two, they can earn a discount—by reviewing a book!
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Yes, you read that right.
Ponmariappan, the owner of the salon, has installed a shelf full of books, in the hope that instead of constantly staring at the screen while waiting, customers will read them.
The quirky attempt has certainly not gone unnoticed—prominent personalities like former cricketer Harsha Bhogle and author S Ramakrishnan, have taken note and heaped praises on the 37-year-old!
My feel good story today. Ponmariappan, a hairdresser in Tuticorin, gives customers 30% off if they read books while waiting their turn. Couldn’t study beyond the 8th standard so he wants more people to read. But: you have to write the gist of what you read in a small book first!
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) December 27, 2019
Impressed by the collection and Ponmariappan’s motives, an MP from Kanimozhi district even donated 50 books.
But what prompted Ponmariappan to do this?
In a conversation with The Better India, he explains it all.
“I have always thought that being a well-educated person is of prime importance. It was my dream to work in a corporate office. But due to financial issues, I had to drop out of school and forgo my aspirations. Once I established my salon, I decided to look for ways to somehow integrate my passion for education with this job, and that is how the idea came about.”
Six years ago, he started collecting books from stores and scrap dealers. At the end of every month, he would save some money from his income and purchase them.
Today, the salon has a collection of 900 books, and Ponmariappan has ensured a varied selection—from autobiographies to fiction, and even self-help books—in both Tamil and English.
Another reason behind keeping the book rack was to help people move away from their smartphones.
“Smartphones are more common than books now, especially with the youth. Giving a discount was a sure-shot way to get them to read and stop spending all their time staring at a phone screen. The idea worked, and today, most of my customers end up reading a book, even if it is for five minutes. I may not be a professor or an expert, but I am happy I can make people invest time in reading,” says Ponmariappan.
An interesting way to know if the customers have read the book is to ask them for feedback. So, to receive a discount, the customer has to write something about the material they read. It need not be critical analysis, just writing a small paragraph does the trick.
Anticipating that there would be the odd customer who detests the idea of reading, Ponmariappan plays audiotapes of orators like Nellai Kanna and Bharati Bhaskar, so that no one leaves the salon without learning something new.
However, his reading initiative has proved to be a hit, and in 2020, he wants to extend the idea beyond the confines of a salon and lend books to school and college students.
“The concept is on lines of a library where people can do both, read and lend books. Initially, it will be open to only students, and depending on the success, I will take the concept forward,” he signs off.
Featured image source: Hemant/Twitter
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)