Beard (v. English)
To resolutely confront a fearsome opponent, such as a lion in his den.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has brought down the gavel on a strange drama concerning beards and identity that’s been playing at the Indian Air Force for three years. In 2005, a Muslim aircraft loader who was denied permission to grow a beard, went home in a huff and returned with a beard. The matter went to court, which has ruled that a beard is not intrinsic to Muslim identity. Only Sikhs are compulsorily bearded because of their faith.
The armed forces are the last outpost of secular India, which communal and caste identities have failed to divide. It’s difficult to believe this is the very force which was strictly divided according to region, religion and caste under the Raj. Enlisted men even ate apart by community, rather than in the traditional mess. They were kept divided so that they could be set against each other in the event of another Mutiny. In that light, we must support this ruling in the national interest.
But personally, I am pro-beard. I am appalled at the sinister international plot against people with beards. I can assure you that racial profiling has been standard police procedure from long before 9/11, and any profile containing a beard has always cast a long shadow of doubt. Trust me. I had a beard. I walked the razor’s edge.
The police of every world capital were falling over each other to interview me. I was closely examined by machine gun-toting gendarmes at one Paris Metro station minutes after an Algerian bombed another station far away. That was way back in 1994 and, thereafter, it steadily got worse.
I have been told to come quietly at so many airports they’ve become a blur. My luggage has been sniffed by a customs officer. A dog, I would have understood. But the luggage of a bearded guy was deemed so fearsome a man had to sniff it. I have been bristled at by smooth-shaven, pasty-faced men in Oxford. Yes, Oxford. A self-respecting terrorist would commit hara-kiri for shame if he bombed Oxford, a city known only for obscure dons and the famous Mini. Eventually, I shaved for world peace.
Now, beards raise suspicions even in India. I don’t mean the IAF matter, which is a special case. But the general public has started fearing, like the white man, that the beard is a battle standard in the mythical clash of civilisations. They forget that it was poets like Ghalib and Tagore who wore beards. And Abu Nidal, the father of terrorism on whose shoulders Osama bin Laden stands, had a face as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
Pratik Kanjilal is Publisher, The Little Magazine