Dr M’s barber shares the secrets of the chair

Mohan Muthupandithan with his long-time customer, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

KUALA LUMPUR: Not many people can boast they have stroked Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s hair.

Every month, Mohan Muthupandithan deploys his scissor skills to snip and style Mahathir’s hair, as he has been doing since 1995.

And not only Mahathir. Mohan’s customer list reads like a who’s who of Malaysia, including former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, former armed forces chiefs, former mayors, sportsmen and corporate figures.

It all started 24 years ago when he noticed a man peering into his barbershop, the Morning Star Hair Dressing Salon, at the Royal Lake Club, Kuala Lumpur.

The next day, the man came back and did the same thing again.

“I asked him why he was looking into my shop without coming in. He said he was Mahathir’s aide and was checking out the shop and seeing how I cut hair,” Mohan told FMT.

Mohan, now 62, began cutting hair at the age of 13.

The next day, the phone rang. It was the prime minister’s residence, asking Mohan to come with his scissors and razor. Mahathir had his own red barber chair at the residence, so everything was set.

This is how his monthly sessions with Mahathir began.

Recalling their first meeting, Mohan said the first thing he noticed was Mahathir’s famous smile.

So what did they chat about while the prime minister sat in the red chair?

“He asked me about my family and kids and other general chit-chat. We never discussed politics, then or now.”

Mohan, originally from Lukut, Negeri Sembilan, has two children. Mahathir always asks after them.

As he plied his scissors, Mohan said, he noted Mahathir’s parting on the left and layered cut, a style known among barbers as the gentleman’s haircut.

Mohan ready for work at his salon at the Royal Lake Club.

“The cut and blow dry costs RM12. But the prime minister is a generous man and he always gives me RM50.”

Mohan said Mahathir is one of his easiest customers. “He never complains. Sometimes, he tells me to cut his hair shorter. That’s all. Other than that, he’s never rude or demanding. Always very easy-going and humble.”

Mohan, now 62, is a lifetime barber. He started cutting hair in Lukut at the age of 13.

He moved to Sentul and ran a barbershop there until 1995, when he relocated to the Lake Club and opened his now-famous shop.

After retiring in 2003, and as his own red barber’s chair was now in a museum, Mahathir started driving to Mohan’s shop to have his regular haircut.

“Every month without fail, he came to my shop. He looked relaxed and happy. We always spoke but if nobody else was in the shop he would be chattier with me.”

In 2018, after becoming prime minister for the second time, Mahathir told Mohan he would still come to him for his haircuts.

Mohan is impressed by the prime minister’s good health. “He still walks up the stairs to my shop without holding the handrails. It’s hard to believe he’ll soon be 94.”

Since he regained power, however, Mahathir does not come as regularly as before.

Mohan with another famous customer, former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

“Sometimes, it’s almost two months before I see him. He looks more tired now. Well, he’s working harder and longer hours.

“But no matter how tired he is, he still smiles. He still asks after my children.”

He also spoke of Badawi, who has been his regular customer since 1995.

“He is really friendly, loves to chat, and loves talking about children,” said Mohan.

“He puts his hand on my shoulder and asks how I am. A fine gentleman who has never been fussy about hairstyles.”

Mohan, who has no plans to retire, says he is blessed to have the trust of the two prime ministers and other VIPs who regularly allow him to style their hair.

“I am blessed,” he says with a wide beaming smile as he folds away his 20-year-old barber’s cape, sewn by his wife and kept exclusively for his two most illustrious clients.