The Movember edition of The Man magazine of 2014 carried a feature that earned me money to grow a beard. Ta-da!
In a session of drunken introspection at a nondescript Gurgaon bar, after a few shots of throat incinerating funky fluids, my editor struck upon an idea for me to grow a beard and write a story about it. I would have objected had it not been for the fact that I was too drunk to object and I thought he was too drunk to remember. As it turned out, I was wrong on both counts.
As a malayali teenager growing up in Kolkata, my visits to Kerala would feel like a curious exercise of looking at, and then laughing at myself from the outside. My terrible pronunciation of what few words in Malayalam I knew would be cause of great curiosity to my siblings. My three quarter pants, my makkhan jeans, my ‘mushroom’ cut and my disgust for tea (which is a story for a different day) would draw fascinated questions at the beginning of my trip and by the end of it would be the butt end of all jokes. But there was nothing that fascinated my relatives as much as my complete lack of motivation to grow facial hair, considering I was a thoroughbred from the land of Mamooty, Mohanlal and meeshas. Inadvertently all conversations would lead to this turnstile because their knowledge of a little secret of mine, worked like a cheat code insertion in our idiotic tiffs, giving them instant and infallible victory over their city bred sibling – I couldn’t grow facial hair even if I wanted to.
So there I was midway into November, on familiar turf with some hair on my face, because as bad as things might have been during my teenage years, in all the time hence, it was not like I hadn’t tried my hand at getting some facial fur. Over the years, a consistent use of the razor on barren patches had ploughed the land and made it more fertile. But I was into my second week of scruffiness and a familiar sight reappeared; of my beard resembling the leftover bristles of an overused toothbrush – wretched and distraught, as if in the midst of an existential crisis – ‘Why do we exist?’
I had reached the point where my resolve had caved. I needed to get all that damn hair off of me. A game of football in the morning stayed my hand for a few hours, for the beard would protect me from a tan. But that was as much time I was giving the wiry suckers.
During the game however, a gash opened up on my left toe which required a few stitches and bed rest for a week. A week which I spent working from home, never really venturing too far from my bed. Showers were a tedious affair and a shave was the last thing on my mind. But every time I’d look in the mirror, the beard had improved. It was growing denser. It had earned my patience. As the week came to an end, my subsequent Monday morning blues were somewhat watered down because the beard had grown greater lustre and concealed more of my undignified face, making my extremely average self, look better than it has in its entire life. Even if I say so myself.
The owner of the pan shop at the foot of my building knew me well. We are used to each other’s movements. He passes me a pack of cigarettes, I pay him money, we acknowledge each other with a simple nod. Thank you very much and we are on our way. But that Monday, the man acknowledged me with a “Good morning sir”, his eyes widening – the double take of an intelligent man.
“Good morning I nodded back” while my mind cried “What was that Bartholomew?” for his name in fact is Bartholomew Reddy, “Sir? Me? Why I am glad you noticed my stature finally, good man.” The usual transaction done with a spoonful of lightly flavoured pride, I was on my way.
Many such happy interruptions have punctuated my days for the past few months. I have been mistaken for a documentary filmmaker on a day I had to return my friend’s camera and tripod, a pedlar by some over enthusiastic white people and for a handsome man behind all that hair by some lovely girl who bought me a drink at the bar while I waited for my wife to arrive. And while not all of these interactions are flattering, there is a distinct interesting-ness, for want of a better word, that the beard has brought to my otherwise flat personality. My uncle with little sensitivity but devoid of racial malice referred to me with a “balle balle sardarji” comment on a Facebook profile pic. Its the first interaction we’ve had in a decade.
The way I see it, a beard may or may not enhance your looks. But it definitely becomes a companion that draws attention. Like a pair of really cool sunglasses. Except, you don’t look like an idiot if you were to wear your beard indoors or at night. Its been a little over two months now since I last shaved or trimmed. I think I am gonna let it grow for a while longer. Atleast.