[Martin flanked by James on the right and Matheikal on the left – picture taken in 1988 or ’89]
I never had a beard before I became a social animal. It was in the late 1980s that my hitherto clean shaven face started appearing in public places with gauche stubbles on it. A friend named James had teased me into disfiguring my handsome face. He had made me feel that I looked like a female impersonator without a beard. I had never seen James without his long flowing hair and remarkably unkempt beard that gave him the look of Jesus. Unlike Jesus there was mischief that gleamed constantly in the remote corners of James’s penetrating eyes. It was James who pulled me out of my self-imposed solitary confinement in a remote corner of Shillong.
I was working as a school teacher in Shillong. It was a convent school with only girl students. Neither the nuns nor my female colleagues, let alone the girl students, were attracted to my beard, much against my hopes and dreams. The Khasi tribal people could not sprout a beard even as spartan as mine. Nature was particularly gracious to endow them with faces that always looked clean shaven. Ninety-five percent of my students were Khasis. The remaining five percent were the children of the wealthy Marwari businessmen who would have adored smooth chins more than anything else.
It took months for my beard to gain some respectable shape. I could have paraphrased Bill Walton that mine was the only beard in the history of Eastern civilization which made Bob Dylan’s beard look good. However, the man who inspired my beard soon disappeared from Shillong. James went somewhere saying that he was getting a better job. His friends including me were happy that he was getting a better job until we came to think that he was lost somewhere in the wicked plains of the vast Bharat of men with heavy moustaches of the kind we see on the faces of the villains in Hindi movies, because we never heard from him after he left the lofty peaks of Shillong with its angelic people with no moustaches and beards.
We waited for about three weeks for news of James. There was none. Martin suggested that we go to a priest in Tinsukia who could locate a person if he held his one hand over a map of India and a dress item of the missing person in the other. Tinsukia was in the north-east corner of Assam. Martin and I started our journey to Tinsukia with the only dress item of James that we could get hold of, a voluminous jacket that filled a whole air bag.
After a journey of about 20 hours Martin and I reached the priest who kept his left hand on James’s jacket and the right hand held a dangling chain that moved over a map of India.
“He’s somewhere in or near Ghasipur,” said the priest solemnly.
“Khasipur,” I whispered to Martin. “That must be Shillong or some nearby place.”
“Not Khasipur, you stupid,” said Martin. “It’s Ghasipur in UP.”
We carried James’s jacket back to Shillong in his sacred memory. Later when we got confirmed news that he was safe and sound working as a teacher in a reputed public school far away from Ghasipur, we discarded his jacket.
My beard had grown thick enough in the meanwhile, breathing the warm air of the Assam plains, to look macho. So I decided to keep it.
It did pose many a problem to me as time passed. My luggage was always checked by the CRPF personnel at the Guwahati railway station; my beard made them think that I was an ULFA terrorist. Unfortunately quite many Muslim terrorists too sport a beard raising unnecessary challenges to my beard. Do the Maoists too keep their beard?
Now even if I want to shave it off I can’t because the benevolent nature has fortuitously instilled some allergy in my body to metals. I can save pretty much time in the morning, you see. Moreover my identity will be saved from a crisis, however temporary.
Note 1: What prompted this write-up are the following lines from a post in Raghuram’s blog: Around the same time, I came into contact with a few beard-sporting leftists (are there any other kind among males?) and perhaps just a decade earlier a movement had started in Latin America, from within the church, that sort of suborned The Bible for raising the consciousness of the downtrodden in that land. This movement came to be called Liberation Theology (LT) and dressed up Jesus, of course beard and all that, as the ultimate leftist, due apologies to Karl Marx. [Emphasis added]
Note 2: My write-up has no direct connection with Raghuram’s post. It’s just that Raghuram made me conscious of my beard and its possible leftist associations.