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Bearded & proud

This winter I grew a beard. It?s mostly grey-black, with streaks of blonde. It?s natural. No artificial dyes, writes Palash Krishna Mehrotra.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2007, 01:13 IST
off track | Palash Krishna Mehrotra
off track | Palash Krishna Mehrotra

This winter I grew a beard. It’s mostly grey-black, with streaks of blonde. It’s natural. No  artificial dyes. I grew it in Allahabad where staring is an Olympic sport. But no Allahabadi threw even as much as a casual glance at it. You can imagine my surprise when, on my return to my workplace in progressive Dehra Dun, I found myself at the heart of a full-blown controversy.

My colleagues gathered around me as if I was a wolf-child rescued from the Rajaji National Park. They said I looked like a terrorist, a mad professor, an actor from the movie Castaway, Osama bin Laden. A former beer buddy threw a suspicious sideways look before disappearing down a patli galli. During tea-break, cups trembled at the first signs of my approach. To be fair, no one asked me to shave it off and, as of yet, I haven’t been fired.

I was deeply unsettled and, I must admit, a little unhappy at the response my beard had evoked. While my personality might contain elements of all the names I was called, I would like to think that it is too vibrant and multi-faceted to be reduced to any single one of them. I felt provoked enough to Skype my friend Rory in Dublin. Rory, a barrister, is bourgeois and utterly normal. I wanted to know what middle-class Europe thought of beards.

Post-9/11, Rory explained to me, beards were dodgy. In fact anything that covered a part of your body was considered dubious — beards, veils falling into that category. A beard was seen as a sign that you had something to hide. Having been trained in Aristotelian logic at St. Stephen’s, I tried to take this argument to its logical conclusion. Lipsticks hide the true colour of lips, shoes cover one’s feet, brassieres cover… So shouldn’t all these also go?
Getting into beard-trouble runs in the family.

In January 1993, days before the second round of rioting engulfed Bombay, my father (his beard really flows) found himself surrounded by two men, one brandishing a knife: “Maaro saale ko, mulla hai saala”. This happened in the Shiv Sena stronghold of Prabhadevi.

In 2003, he was detained at Houston airport for hours. He missed his flight to Austin. The young, bald hulk at immigration grounded him because his passport gave his birthplace as Lahore. That and the beard could mean only one thing: the poet was planning an assault on the White House. “You got a hangout in Peshawar, man?” he queried, while my father shook his head sagely.
My beard, like the Indian economy, continues to grow. And my girlfriend, Navika, finds it very, very sexy. In the final run, that’s what really counts.

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