The person who would be the happiest with the prospect of “No Shave November” or “Movember” is doubtless Mr. Bhavani Shankar, who equates the moustache on a male countenance with an upright character. You would have guessed it right. Yes, we’re talking about Golmal, one of the finest Indian comedies, and a masterpiece by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Utpal Dutt’s enactment of Bhavani Shankar’s character remains a benchmark in comic timing and an epoch in nirmal anand, pure fun, through films. And what remains on the top of everyone’s mind is Dutt’s obsession with moustache. Had Bhavani been a real person, he could have well been the Indian ambassador for “No Shave November” and “Movember”, used mostly interchangeably, which aim at promoting the natural and rustic look of a man, against the artificial well groomed and clean shaven one. It also aims at creating awareness about prostrate cancer, by urging people to love thy “hair”, which many people lose during the various therapies for cancer.
Anything that’s associated with “No” has a sense of defiance, both psychologically and historically. Non-cooperation, Non-violence, fasting (no food), strike (no work) etc. are historical acts of defiance. Likewise, the first thing that “No Shave” brings to mind is perhaps defiance. But upon a bit pondering, it confuses us. What is being defied? What’s that we’re protesting against? Is it the defiance of a conventional “clean” looks? Perhaps not, because at least major religions, Islam and Sikhism, indirectly espouse Bhavani Shankar’s ideology, that “no shave” has something to do with the character of the man. A clean shaven Sikh or a Muslim is indeed a matter of defiance, not otherwise.
Even in the ancient India, the rishis, the sages, can’t be thought of as well shaven people. There was a logistical problem to it. The rishis stayed in hermitages, tucked deep inside the jungles, where a barber is not the very obvious thing. Whenever we think of Rishi Vishwamitra, being seduced by Menaka, we always visualize an old bearded person, sitting in a yogic posture, his eyes closed, and the most beautiful woman of the world dancing to the most popular item number of the time, in front of him. It’s unthinkable to imagine Vishwamitra as a clean shaven dude, and our perception may not be baseless.
In the Rig Veda, the first book written by mankind, and the earliest known record of India and her way of life, Indra, the God of Gods, is always shown as a bearded person. The 17th verse of the 11th hymn of the 2nd book of the Rig Veda talks about a contended and rejoicing Indra, drinking the Soma juice and gleefully shaking his beard, shmashru. Then, the 1st verse of the 23rd hymn of the 10th book says, “Shaking his beard with might, Indra has arisen, casting his weapons forth”. It’s interesting to see how the beard has been effectively used as a prop to visually express both Indra’s joy and anger. The old Rabindranath or Aurobindo, would have shaken their white long beard in the same way in either cases!
The description of Indra, with beard, makes it quite clear that “no shave” was surely not the “in” thing in the ancient times in India. The importance of beard may not be just an oriental matter. Even Jesus can’t be imagined without his beard.
Perhaps, the first Indian personality, who has been very popularly imagined always as well shaven, is Buddha. It may not be a coincidence that Buddha was rather a defiant – he went against the conventional and contemporary “Hindu” or the Indian way of life. So it may not be an extrapolation if we say that “shave”, and not “no shave” is associated with defiance.
The other personality from the ancient world, who was doubtless clean shaven, is Alexander. The House of the Faun in the lost city of Pompeii had a floor mosaic depicting a battle between Alexander and Darius III of Persia. It showed Alexander as clean shaven. He too, defied half of the world and became the sikander.
In the modern corporate world, “clean shaven” has become a part of professional etiquette. A bearded interviewee is considered unprofessional, shabbily presented. It may be a matter of conjecture as to what exactly would have led shaving – apparently an act of defiance –, to be considered as an act of harmony or obedience. Why a rogue character has to be shown as a “not shaven” one, against a clean shaven peace loving person, is perhaps an illogical cliché. In this context, “No Shave November” seems to be a pleasant departure from a monotony. It’s perhaps a clarion call to everyone to stop defying, and get back to the natural self, the bearded self.
The wicked and mean man that I am, the thought of “no shave” brings a totally different perspective to my devil’s mind. Beard is something that differentiates a man from a woman, in a very visible way. Shaving rips a man of this differentiating factor against the fairer sex. Without his beard, a man is closer to a woman, on a level playing field. If that’s true, then isn’t “No Shave” an effort to sabotage the novel and noble concept of equality of man and woman? Do I sound like a Woman Rights activist shouting against the MCP, Male Chauvinistic Pig?
In reality though, “No Shave November” is rather a unisex phenomenon, where even the women don’t shave the hair on their legs. That’s indeed in keeping with the true essence of the movement, that is, to create awareness about cancer and the hair loss associated with it.