Ajay Gautam, a two year senior, BioTech, Kharagpur said long back, “Ladka apne baap ko dekh kar dadhi banana seekhta hai.” A boy learns shaving, watching his dad.
It stuck. Not because it was extraordinarily profound. But somethings just stick.
And I had seen my dad shave. All through my childhood and teen days (latter, silently fearing what if I never got his full face of beard). The man shaved like making art. Working out a luscious lather for fifteen minutes with that brush and shaving cream, checking and rechecking it, tilting his face in front of the mirror at thousand angles. (Yes, it is possible.)
And then, he would take his razor. Those single blade, three piece ones – you rotate the top and it opens into a base, blade and the top. And then, art phase 2 would start. Short, measured strokes. Dipping the razor head in the mug after each stroke. And then another – getting the angle perfect, getting the touch right, swish and stop. A mug bath again. And repeat.
Lifting skin on the cheek. Changing angles of the swipe. Changing the pressure of the stroke. Holding the skin between index finger and thumb to get that close, intimate swipe. Pure art. I could watch him shave to eternity and won’t feel the time.
And repeat. Yes, real men shave twice.
And, second round would be more functional. Quick lather. Less considered swipes. More like, rounding off the rough edges. Or, final proof-reading.
And then, he would splash Old Spice (Not always though, guess only the days he would feel super extravagant.)
Never had a heart to heart on the art and nuances of shaving. The old lawyer didn’t talk much. He doesn’t even now. Unless it is some new technology he is fighting with. To master it.
But he did tell me two things about shaving. That alum was an antiseptic and that his beard grew fast so, the next day, he would have a nice harvest. Translated – I must shave daily.
But, this isn’t about the old lawyer.
I took the love for a single blade razor from him. Didn’t fall for Gillette Mach 3, even when the ads screamed – “The best a man can get”. And even when I, hyper excited about landing in Delhi with my own money, total freedom and the prospect of felling pretty Delhi women left right and center, revamped my wardrobe, stocked up on after shave and cologne, and shoes and jeans. No. Real men shaved the old fashioned way. Didn’t budge even when the kid brother debuted shaving with a Mach 3.
Cut to last week. Decided to shave my head. Jason Statham. Vin Diesel. The Rock. Bruce Willis. Here I come.
A couple rounds to saloon told me it takes too long. Can’t be done daily. Need a home solution.
And that’s when, the great citadel fell. I finally bought a Gillette Fusion. True, had a valid reason. Shaving the head at home needs a razor with a movable head. The head (mine, this time) isn’t as well behaved as the face and half of it, I don’t even see.
True, I held fort for long. Even when every monkey on the planet had moved on to sleek, half plastic half metal, edgeless, curvy pieces that looked like a cross between a razor and a sex toy.
But, I feel like a sellout. Fuck, I hope the gods of old school, tough masculinity forgive me. I hope the gods of clean straight metallic edges don’t abandon me. Hopes. And prayers.
In a small town there lived a rich merchant. He had two employees – one, a highly educated one and the other uneducated, perhaps even illiterate.
However, the ding was that the uneducated one drew a much higher salary than the educated one. Now, like all educated folks out there, he felt bad about it. Initially, like a nice educated person, he tried to keep it to himself but then, the angst took over him. He confronted the merchant.
The merchant listened to him and said, “I’ll answer this at the right time.” The educated employee left.
Then one day, a cart passed by the merchant’s door. Merchant called the educated guy and asked him to see what was in the cart. The man left, asked the cart rider and came back, “Sir, he is carrying cotton.”
The merchant said, “Ok. Where is he taking it?”
The educated employee left, the cart had travelled farther by some distance so he went up to him and asked and again came back. “Sir, he is going to Sumerpur.”
“Ok,” said the merchant, “is it for sale?”
The educated guy went out again. The cart had gone further away, so he ran to the cart and asked him and came back.
“Yes sir, it is for sale.”
The educated guy looked at the merchant and then bolted out the door, ran again to the cart that had almost reached the next village and then came back, panting for breath. “Ten Rupees for the entire cart.”
The merchant thought for a while, and said, “Will he give it for seven?”
The educated guy ran again. The cart had crossed the next village. After an hour, he came back. “Sir, the best he will do is eight.”
The merchant thought for a moment and then said, “Never mind.”
After a while another cart passed by. The merchant called his uneducated employee and asked him, “See what is in there.”
The uneducated guy went out and came back, “Sir, he is carrying wheat. He is going to Gopalpur market to sell it. He says it is twelve Rupees for the entire cart but he will give it here for eight.”
The merchant looked at the educated guy and said, “Now you know why I pay him the higher salary?”
This story again was left without clear interpretations. With so much focus on education at my granddad’s place, I knew the message was not anti-education. This story, again, I have heard many times from granddad and mom.
This is a story my maternal granddad told me years ago, and it was repeated to me quite a few times by mom as well, once, when as a little boy, I asked her if ghosts are real.
The story goes like this. A man was building a thatched roof for his house. Now, thatched roofs, chhappar in Hindi, are roofs made of dry grass, long strands of which are tied together on a criss cross skeleton of bamboo staffs tied together, held in place through strings. The stuff used is the long grass and bamboo readily available in villages and even the rope used is made by winding together these long blades of grass. (You hardly see chhappars these days).
So, while he was tying grass blades for his chhappar, a sly snake bit our man and slid away somewhere. The tough rustic village guy that our man was, he looked at the wound, winced and dismissed it as a thorn prick and went on building his roof. Finished, he jumped off, hoisted the roof on wooden pillars and lived happily. For a year.
Now, chhappars take all the harsh sun and rain but last some 3-4 years, so next year, it needed repairs. Our man climbed up and saw that one of the strings tying those grass blades together wasn’t a string but a dead snake. His eyebrows curled up as he paused for a second. And then, something hit his chest. He remembered. His jaw dropped, eyes opened wide, mouth dried up and heartbeats raced off. That goddamned thorn prick was not a thorn prick. This bloody snake had bit me! All the horrible images jumped in his mind and within minutes, he had a heart failure and died.
Mom’s answer to the ghost question was that ghosts are people seeing something totally normal and taking it to be dangerous, deadly supernatural, projecting their internal fears on it. Of course, it did not help me back then, especially as 7 year old about to go pissing at night in a toilet located outside the house with a mazaar just across the door under a huge neem tree. Or perhaps it did, but not for more than a couple trips.
Also, they never gave me a cut and dried interpretation, they left it to me. Will do the same now. To each, his own. Interpretation. Peace ho!
1983. Me in class 2. Dad and me. Off to meet mom. Three legs to the journey – Shahjahanpur to Lucknow, Lucknow to Gonda and Gonda to Siddharthanagar (then called Naugarh). We in the middle, Gonda station (or was it Lucknow?). At a puri sabzi stall on the platform. Both eating.
And suddenly, a pack of dogs, 3-4 of them come sniffing (yes, dogs roamed railway stations back then, both Lucknow and Gonda were big stations, that notwithstanding). I cry to Dad. SOS. “Papa, kutte.” Something like that.
He keeps eating. No response. I rush from one side of his leg to the other. I try to hide behind him but the dogs come from the other side. I thought he hadn’t heard. So, I cry out louder. He still doesn’t listen. And it dawns. He is listening. Just not doing anything.
I, scared for my life, scurried here and there, around his legs, holding on to his pants, trying to save myself and my puri sabzi from the dogs. That moment stayed. I don’t remember how I managed to ward them off. Infact, I am sure I didn’t do that – there was no cinematic moment where the hidden tiger in me eventually woke up and roared. Most likely, he eventually stepped in and shooed them away. I know this because I continued fearing the dogs till much later and that combativeness didn’t sprout in me for a long time. That’s not the point.
But that moment – of me frantically crying for help, doing all my little hands and legs could do to save myself and my dad, standing next to me just eating his stuff – unperturbed, nonchalant, chilled out – that never left me.
First reaction was – this is unfair. You are tall, they can’t reach you. And you expect your level of ‘bravery’ from me? The beasts will chomp on my face in just a while.
But even at that tender age, even with that initial resentment (how could you just leave me to fight the dogs on my own?), and even with my continued fear of dogs – it felt good. That he trusted me to be able to fight my own fight.
We never talked about it. Am sure he doesn’t even remember it. I know for sure he never studied psychology books on parenting. But it impacted me deeply. He trusted me to fight my own battles. Howsoever little I was. That somehow got embedded deep within. This when the money shot – “Come dogs, me the little warrior will kick your lily asses now” – never happened.
He trusted me. He thought I could fight and beat those dogs. I couldn’t, but that didn’t matter. He felt I could.
It was instinctive for him, but it was too fucking smart. Guess the best form of protecting – no matter who it is. Step back. Let them go out in the world. Let them explore. Make mistakes. Mess with danger. Just be within range. Step in only when the shit really hits the fan.
Circa 1983. Me and Dad. Me in class 2. Shahjahanpur. DM Colony. Quarter no.81.
He would get up early everyday and go out running. He would take me along, a kilometer away was a college ground where he would complete a couple of rounds and then we would walk around the city and reach home from the other side. A railway line which went very close to our place, crossed the road midway, So, in the entire morning walk routine, we would cross that railway line twice. Imagine a straight line cutting a circle midway.
So, we are at the far end, where the railway line crosses the road. A long goods train, approaching fast. And a dog on the tracks. The train hoots, the dog busy eating. Doesn’t listen. The train resigns. The dog has to die.
We are on the other track some 30 meters away from the train. The train chugs along, the dog doesn’t hear it and in a minute, the train is over him. Over. The dog, smarter than I thought, lies low, in between the rails, between the marauding iron wheels of the train. I smile. The bugger will live. Coaches after coaches of the train pass over the dog. And he lies still, between the wheels. And then, he panics. Something stirs in him. Perhaps the long time the train has been over him gets to him. He moves on his legs and tries to creep out across one side. And, the next approaching wheel severs its head. Sadder still, it was the last coach. The gloom haunted me for days.
We came back home. But the incident didn’t leave me. Not the grotesque sight of a severed dog head. But that the incident had something more to it. The dog had almost survived the calamity. A fast approaching train was certain death. And he had averted that. And then he panicked. Didn’t keep the faith. Thought he had to do something. Messing with a working system trying to better it – Taleb would be angry.
But we all do that. Well intentioned interventions that destroy fill the history pages. Why do we lose faith midway? Why do we feel the need to do something? Anything. Kuch karna hai. Perhaps the lure of instantaneous results. Or the desire to control. Or perhaps the chaotic nature of the world where we flail dealing with the uncertainty.
The dog didn’t have to die. He had survived 19 out of 20 coaches.