A Hairy Tale
Neelam Mathews in her article, A hairy tale, which appeared in The Times of India, Saturday Times, May 3, 1997, displays lack of common sense by trying to find out what prompts men to grow a beard. She should know that no man grows a beard; it comes naturally. The topic can only be : what prompts men to shave or trim, and what are the psychological problems associated with them ? For example, instead of saying that bearded men want to portray as ‘ferocious’, the search should be as to what do clean-shaven men want to portray as ?
The whole article is inane, and is accompanied by a cartoon with an unproportionately lengthy beard that encircles the entire text. Is she not sensitive, like Ms Gita Agarwal, ‘to India’s religious beliefs that do not permit some to cut their hair’ ? Rather, her main object is to ridicule them. One may ask her if Rasputin’s beard enforces his ‘sinfully sexual image’, then what do Christ’s and Father Christmas’ beards enforce ?
For Neelam Mathews’ information :
- The specific tuft of hair on the chin in goats is their characteristic feature. It is a secondary sexual character, and its presence distinguishes the male from the female. Why should goats not have any such character when most of mammals and birds have ? What one could ‘wonder’ instead is that why does a man style his beard to a goatee.
- Beard, of course, is acquired without doing anything. Could the author explain what she did to acquire her eyes, heart, lungs, etc., or her (little) brain for that matter ? And, how come she is unable to grow a beard herself ?
- It is not the bearded men that resist discipline. It is them alone that follow the discipline of Nature.
- As for employees looking better with shaven faces — of course, because a shaven face alone looks servile. A bearded face is majestic and royal.
- Bajaj puts the cost of trimming at Rs. 250/- per week. But why should it be trimmed in the first place ? As for shampooing the beard, the author should have compared this cost with the cost of shaving, which involves, according to Blossom Kochhar, soap, warm water, shaving gel and sharp razor and an electric shaver to take care of the afternoon shadow. And, she has forgotten to mention an aftershave lotion, which is obligatory for the cuts inflicted during shaving.
- Much has been said about the psychological and hygienic factors in the preceding rejoinder. Maintaining a beard in its natural form is the only normal and logical thing to do.
- A natural beard is not a symbol, just as is not a forehead or head. It is when you do something to an organ, like putting saffron marks on the forehead, or retaining a pigtail on the head, that it becomes a symbol. Certainly, one of the essential features of a guru is a natural beard. What can a clean-shaven teach about the creation and the Creator ?
- A beard is a beard is a beard, just as a hand is a hand is a hand. Beard is a part of the priceless body gifted by the Almighty. Just because it feels no pain, can we justify mutilating it in the name of style ? May be, it is a test that God puts man to, to see if we acknowledge His supremacy.
- As for the masks requiring smooth cheeks, it should be possible to design masks to suit bearded faces. But, better still would be that we work on eliminating situations that give rise to the need for masks, as every major city in the world today is a death trap. Let us not advance our technology in a direction in which we are even unable to breathe freely. Or human beings will soon start looking like robots or extraterrestrial creatures.
- Besides, look where Samson’s strength lay !
- I have great sympathy and really feel pity for the men, on whose minds the most pressing issue is that ‘razors just don’t seem to get close enough.’ I suggest, out of great concern for them, that they pray to God, every time they shave, to make them women in their next births.
- Her search has revealed that beard gives an impression of male authority, is all male, and is a symbol of male benevolence, strength and inscrutable enlightenment. But, the only comment she could make in the end is that beard is a wonderful place to store food scraps and small quantities of marijuana.
- It is in bad taste to comment on people’s appearances. It should be possible for all to wear the look they want, without being made fun of. Otherwise, anyone could write an article even about the author herself.
The day is not far when scientists will discover the threats posed by shaving, and the UN will declare a day of the year as ‘No Shaving Day’ on the lines of ‘No Smoking Day’.
(Being a woman myself, I wish to give her credit for the article that discourages men from keeping facial hair. She has done Women’s Liberation Movement a great favour. Let us erase from the face of mankind, whatever little of manhood remains; let us make them look like us; let us absorb their identity; let us demolish the masculine look.)
While on the subject of beard, it is understandable for women to feel embarrassed by growth of moustache or beard on their faces, but one wonders how can men go around with shaven faces, unashamedly !
How useful is the beard ?
(The points in italics are Neelam Mathews’)
- You can stroke it when in deep thought.
Shows a link between a beard and a mind that thinks !
- It keeps your clothes clean as you don’t need a napkin.
And, saves trees !
- It is a compensation when you’re balding.
To look like a man all your life !
- Use it to frighten kids.
Just as Father Christmas does !
- Use it to play with kids.
Reason good enough to keep it !
- Use it to tickle someone.
Another good reason !
- Save on razor and blade costs.
And improve your economy !
- Get rid of the girlfriend who insists you shave it off.
And get a sensible one !
A Hairy Tale
- The most remembered beard, is that of Rasputin’s, the father of the hypnotic stare and an inspiration to many an aspiring cult leader.
- Side whiskers with a luxuriant growth were called ‘mutton chops’ in England.
- Meanwhile, sideburns were named after General Ambrose Burnside of the US, who sported them.
- A pointed tuft of whiskers on the chin was called the ‘Imperial’, in honour of Napoleon III.
- ‘Walrus’, a thick moustache growing downwards looked like the real thing.
- Professionals preferred Van Dyck, popularised by the painter’s portraits of Charles I.
- Ancient Egyptians hennaed and frizzed their beards after the fashion of the times.
- The plant ‘Old-man’s-beard’ was thought to stimulate hair growth.
The luxuriant beard enforced Rasputin’s sinfully sexual image. It also graced the chins of some of the greatest thinkers. Neelam Mathews finds out the attitude behind the beard and what prompts men to grow one.
When my teenage son proclaimed his intention to grow a beard, it was hair-raising for me. Why, in heavens, should a perfectly clean barely-shaven 16-year-old want to look 26 ? Because Prime Minister I.K. Gujral has it ?
This set me pondering on the subject of beards. Let’s face it, the beard is a largely ignored, sometimes maligned and little understood symbol of male benevolence. In the past, a bushy, hairy face and head was always a potent symbol of strength in a man. A healthy beard was a pre-requisite if a man wanted to give the impression of male authority. No-one trusted a beardless king. Besides, look what happened to Samson when he let his guard down !
In the past few decades, the beard has fallen into grim disrepute. Even the remaining faithful propagators of the hippy movement have enjoyed an on-again, off-again relationship with mainstream, multi-national razor-blade companies.
Fortunately, in these times, the beard is a fashion proclamation. From Adam of Genesis and Richard Branson to Kabir Bedi and fashion designer, Ravi Bajaj, they all have their hairy trademark.
In the past, a bushy beard was always considered to be a symbol of strength. Today, one of the 20 most pressing questions on men’s minds, is that razors just don’t seem to get close enough.
Domino’s certainly would have been applauded by the Romans for following its no-beard policy that seems to have got the pizza home-delivery giants into courts and headlines on its home turf in the US. During a case, the judge said, “Sales would be better if employees looked better.”
Though the court concluded that the existence of a beard on a man does not affect his ability to deliver pizza, Domino’s manager, Ms Gita Agarwal, has no hesitation in stating that though the company continues to follow the rule in India, “We have exceptions, as we are sensitive to India’s religious beliefs that do not permit some to cut their hair.” She does add that this rule is by and large followed by most restaurants and hotels for hygienic reasons. A beard certainly seems to resist discipline. A few years ago, Qantas flight attendants were forced to shave after the airline claimed that oxygen masks needed a smooth cheek to stay tight on the face.
A beard is a beard is a beard ? “No way,” admonishes architect Anil Laul. “It’s like saying furniture is furniture is furniture. Not everybody can be put into the same slot. Remember Shakespeare, Orson Welles, Karl Marx — didn’t they sport different styles ?” Designer Ravi Bajaj agrees most vehemently and believes with every ounce of vanity left in him that his beard style which he’s changed recently to a goatee, certainly suits him. He claims his new look is ‘hot’ and ‘trendy.’ Does he think his new look is seductive ? He explains candidly, “While many women have an aversion to social hair, they know a good thing when they see one ! I know it suits me. As for others, I cannot really say...”
Laul first sported a beard in college when he was teased for being chikna (smooth-faced). He grew a beard to prove a point. Decades later, it became part of his life. He adds, “People never took me seriously till I grew the beard. Besides, I feel it looks very distinguishing.” Did he ever try shaving his beard off ? “Yes, but nobody recognised me. And, as for my family who did, they refused to talk to me.” He explains, “I’m not a culture-vulture. So, I do not do it to prove I am a high-funda kind of person. To me, it is just a habit.”
Dr Sanjay Chugh, psychiatrist, who does profess in good humour that psychiatrists do not like to see anybody as ‘normal’, says, “While it does seem to be recognised as all male, sometimes people with recessive chins end up growing beards.”
“Beards”, says Dr Chugh, “are often found in people who are insecure and have low self-esteem. The need to be portrayed as ‘ferocious’ is the image that some desperately seek. But some just have beards because they like to.” Did he ever sport a beard ? Pat comes the reply, “Yes, in college, before my exams. So, I didn’t have to waste time shaving it.”
Looking after a beard, however, is no easy task. Says Bajaj, “It costs me 250/- Rupees every week just to trim it.” Laul shampoos it twice a week. One of the 20 most pressing questions on men’s minds, it was found in a survey recently, was that razors just did not seem to get close enough to keep whiskers down all day.
For those distressed with crestfallen whiskers, this is what Blossom Kochhar, hair and beauty consultant, had to say, “The only practical thing you can do to minimise your afternoon shadow is to give yourself an ultraclose shave every morning. To do this, without irritating your skin, start by lathering your beard with soap and warm water to soften the whiskers. Without rinsing off the soap, spread on a shaving gel, and using a sharp razor, shave in direction of hair growth. Touch up with an electric shaver kept in your desk drawer for afternoon touch-ups.”
Blossom claims she likes men with beards, particularly salt and pepper ones. She adds, “However, when I see unruly beards, I feel like taking them to a saloon and treating the hair to a good conditioner.” She advises those with a round face to go for a goatee and those with a weak chin to sport a rectangular one. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, began his presidency clean-shaven. But, following a letter form a 12-year-old girl from a village, whose opinion was that his narrow jawline and pointed chin could do with some hair, he grew one !
Faith, fashion and flamboyance may all have dictated the shape and size of beards that have been and those to come. Let’s face it. It’s one of the few things in life, which may be acquired by doing nothing. Well, almost nothing ! Remember, a guru is only as good as his beard ! And on a more practical level, a beard is more than just a symbol of inscrutable enlightenment, it’s as wonderful place to store food scraps and small quantities of marijuana ! And while on the subject of beards, in case you are wondering why goats have beards, I do not know !
Resort is had to ridicule
Only when reason is against us.
If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man ?
— William Wordsworth
Nature is a volume of which God is the author.
God has given you one face,
And you make yourselves another.
Guru Nanak’s noble religious ideology
Gave birth to a great Nation of Sikhs,
Whose greatness is reflected in their
Character and face.
— Rabindra Nath Tagore