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The Wisdom of Shaving

The Wisdom of Shaving

You couldn’t say you wore a beard because you liked a beard. People didn’t like you for telling the truth. You had to say you had a scar so you couldn’t shave.

By Nazarul Islam

In the nineteenth century tale of Snow White…of the Seven Dwarfs, the only one who shaved was Dopey. That should tell us something about the wisdom of shaving.

Ten years ago shaving was fashionable. At least the razor ads said so! A man with a beard was always a little suspect anyway. You couldn’t say you wore a beard because you liked a beard. People didn’t like you for telling the truth. You had to say you had a scar so you couldn’t shave.

Rousseau’s observation that “man is born free but he is everywhere in chains” rings true when one finds himself unable to satisfy a seemingly innocuous desire. This unfulfilled desire is to enjoy a nice, lazy shave as my late father did in a leisurely manner that set the pace for the rest of his day in those halcyon days when humans ruled over the clock rather than being a slave of the tic tick machine.

Long after my dear father has passed away, I still go back in time to recall his typical morning—that had always appeared in an audio-visual format opening at 5:55 am with the haunting signature tune of Radio Pakistan. I am told— this noisy, low keyed siren was created by Walter Kauffman 68 years ago. Coming alive from a large battery operated valve radio occupying the pride of place in what we had imagined to be the corner of our so called ‘drawing-room’. This low keyed vuuuum, had set my ABBA’s day in motion.

After his first cup of tea, he would pick up the day’s newspaper and remain glued to it till he felt he had received a telepathic message at quarter to eight from the sweet voiced announcer, that Maulana Thanvi would arrive shortly on the air, to narrate Quranic verses with, translation and tafseer.

The wisdom of shavingAnd, that was the time allotted by him to assume a yoga-like posture on a settee and reverently opened his tin shaving box— originally a gift box containing cream cracker biscuits but now Pandora’s Box.

Besides the expected shaving cup, soap, razor and a shaving brush, it also contained other exotic items. Topping the list was a greenish translucent glass cube on whose concave belly razor blades were ground repeatedly to obtain seemingly inexhaustible service extensions like a minister’s favorite bureaucrat.

Added to the contents, was an unpolished nail clipper, a tweezer, to pluck hair from nostrils, thin twisted steel item that resembled a knitting needle but was in fact used to extricate wax from ears, and a pair of small scissors that shaped Abbaji’s moustache.

The incongruous looking Dettol bottle came in years later to replace its modest ancestor— a block of translucent alum.

My Abba would then arrange his gadgets and accessories in a semicircle in front of him as if he was going to give a performance on Jaltarang (a musical instrument comprising water-filled bowls that are struck with wooden sticks to produce melody).

Next came the vigorous sharpening of used 7’0 Clock razor blades to breathe fresh life into them. After this would begin the apparently most gratifying exercise of lathering his face by countless strokes of the shaving brush, its rhythm had been broken only by an occasional dip in the cup soap. Next followed the actual ‘ploughing’ of the shaving razor through the thick creamy foam—which finally came in the end, producing an ingloriously darkened paste, with tiny bits of hair shavings. But then, the end was only a short act after the lengthy preparations.

Abbaji’s thirty minutes shaving drill had ended in perfect synchronization with the end of the Radio’s English and Bangla news bulletins. The shaving regimen that began with the baritone of Jahan Ara Sayeed, announcing “This is Radio Pakistan…” would end in unison with “Here are the headlines again”.

A spectator addition in the viewer’s gallery would sometimes include my niece, Abba’s natini. Today, a gown up woman with her own school going children, she likes to remember; there rose the fascination  she has loved to recall how she had felt as a little girl every time she saw her grandfather shaving: he would sit down, usually around seven in the morning, after his cup of ‘doodh patti’ chai, and with a serious air make up his lather with a very soft brush in a bowl of very hot water, a lather so thick and white and firm that even after more than thirty years— it had still made her mouth water.

Coming back to my story, My loving Abba would in the end, pick up the block of alum and rub it on his cheeks with a sense of satisfaction and achievement that I never get when I hurriedly run my shaver on my face standing in front of the bathroom mirror.

[author title=”Nazarul Islam ” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Nazarul-Islam-2.png”]The Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles. [/author]