Tuesday, 27 November 2012

On The Face Of Him

What differentiates a man from a woman? And a man from a boy? Apart from the soft voice, it is the facial hair. At the onset of puberty, the voice of a boy breaks and loses its softness. Around the same time, seedlings of dark hair sprout above and below a boy’s lips and later, they spread to the cheeks. The area below the temples slowly become hairy and the hair on the head join the growth on the chin. Facial hair marks out adolescent boys from girls.

A bushy, luxuriant set of whiskers is considered as symbol of virility and alpha maleness.

Some men try to clean out this ‘dirt’ from their faces and try to have a pre-puberty look but in vain. Their daily struggle with nature in this regard becomes endless. Even after a clean and close shave, the darkish shade remains on the skin. Some men make a virtue out of this natural growth; they either surrender to nature or try to give this natural gift a shape of their choice. This opens up myriad possibilities and an endless facial hair designs. Some people sport a linear and horizontal or even diagonal growth under the nose and shave off the remaining growth. Some men follow the path laid down by their religion and either shave off the growth blow the nose leaving the remaining crop untouched; some leave the entire growth untouched.

Ancient sages of Indian myths like Valmiki, Vyasadeb or Kanwa Muni had long flowing facial hair. Mention of the name 'Rabindranath Tagore' brings to mind the image of a sage with a luxurious flowing mane.

Talking of facial hair-designs, there is the trade mark Amitabh Bachchan design and that of the Odisha-born Sam Pitroda, who brought about the revolution in Indian telecommunication system when he agreed to be an advisor to Rajiv Gandhi. There is the ‘small triangle’ design just below the lower lip. There are ‘butterfly moustaches’ and ‘goaty beards’. These are only a few of the numerous designs and designing male facial hair designs has become a thriving industry!

The moustache on the male face symbolises honour. Some men are not satisfied with the density of their facial hair. There is good news for such people. A new and lucrative field in cosmetic surgery has started growing on male upper lips. Moustache transplant has started in the Middle East. A Turkish plastic surgeon performs about 60 such corrections in a month. A French surgeon is providing moustache transplants to a number of patients from the Middle East who travel to Paris as medical tourists.  

Men in the Armed Forces generally prefer to have big moustaches. Big whiskers give them a macho look. We once had a retired Army man with big moustaches as our neighbour. He used to love drinking milk. Whenever he drank milk, a white mark of this healthful liquid would remain on the lower part of his moustache, giving him a funny look. Looking at his huge moustache, my small daughter used to ask me, “While making tea, he would not need to strain it as his moustache would do the job of a strainer while he would be sipping tea!”

While on moustaches and beards, I am reminded of pictures of Akbar in story books. While his facial hair would be perfectly grey indicating his advanced age, his queen would invariably be a young woman. Did he discard his older queens.

Gyani Zail Singh, the former President of India used to dye his hair and moustache and beard jet black. He is reported as having once made a statement, somewhat like this, after being chosen as the Congress candidate for election of President of India, “I would do whatever assignment Madam (Indira Gandhi) gives me; even if she gives me a broom and asks me to sweep the streets, I would gladly do it.” Yet this man came to his own when, after her assassination, Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister and did not treat Zail Singh well. So much so that when the Post Office Bill strongly supported by Rajiv Gandhi and passed by both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha went for assent of the President, Zail Singh killed the Bill by just sitting over it. There is no time limit for the President of India for giving or withholding his/her assent, or sending the Bill back for re-consideration. (If a Bill sent for reconsidered is passed by the two Houses once again, the President has no option but to give assent.) Zail Singh did nothing and so the Bill was ‘killed’.

Facial hair leads one to ‘side burns’, the hair that grows below the temples and near the ears. At one time, having long sideburns became the rage. It is reported that this facial hair style was first sported by one General Sideburns of the U S Army. The style was named after him and called ‘sideburns’.

The latest fashion among the film heroes and heroes on the small screen has been sporting a 2-day old stubble on the face. But in the ads for razor blades, the girl still prefers a clean-shaved chin of her hero.

Talking of facial hair on male body takes me to chest-hair. In several novels and short stories which I have read, the lady, when close to her man, gently draws lines on his chest-hair with her finger-nails or strokes it with her finger.

Hormone imbalance leads to the growth of some facial hair on some girls to different extents. Sometimes, a single hair grows out of a mole on a female face. Many girls wax their hands and legs to remove the unwanted hair. Recently there was a news-item saying that a Sikh girl has facial hair and a mischievous person put this on the net for all to see. This should have embarrassed and enraged any ordinary girl but she is made of better stuff. She took this calmly and explained cogently on the net her belief in the sacredness of the body and why it should not be disturbed. The offender got the point and apologized.

Here I shall let out a secret about my ‘youngish’ look even as I am a senior citizen. I do not wear a moustache or a beard. In later years, I found out a benefit out of this. I have a good crop of dark hair on my top. This darkness has not disappeared lost its sheen with age; only very few strands have become grey but these are so overwhelmingly outnumber by the dark ones that they are hardly noticed. So, most people are unable to guess my age.  In contrast to the crop on the head, a single grey member in moustache stands out and gets noticed as it is on the eye-level of the viewer. Hence even a couple of grey hairs below the nose or below the lower lip of a male’s face indicate that he is past his prime!L(((((  My clean-shaved face serves me well in this regard.:))))))))))))))

And this leads me to the hair on male arms, which helped prevent a fraud in my Bank. A burqua-clad person came to a bank counter and presented a cheque. The bank-employee found that the particular Account belonged to a well-known and valued customer who had kept large sums in the Bank. The employee smelt something fishy, briefly left the counter, came back and told the cheque-presenter that the Branch Manager would like to meet her in his cabin. When the person went to the Branch Manager, the latter politely asked her to sit, placed the cheque on the table and said, “There is a small difference in the signature; please sign once again.” When the person took out ‘her’ hand to sign, the Manager noticed that there was a thick growth of dark hair on the fore-arm. He asked the person, “Are you Mrs. Khan?” The answer was, “Why, yes’ and the voice was a course male one!

It turned out that the son of the customer (a Muslim lady) had stolen a leaf from his mother’s Cheque Book, had forged her signature and was trying to withdraw a large sum from her Account without her knowledge!!!    

The whiskers on a cat’s face serve a good purpose. Before entering through a hole in the door or any other entering point, the cat puts its face through it and ‘measures’ the width of the opening. If its whiskers pass through it easily, it indicates its body can pass through the hole. So the cat enters it. If the whiskers get bent, it means that its body cannot pass through the hole. So it decides against trying to enter it. Nature’s this gift to the cat is made use while making the body of lorries. Two protruding thick spring-like projections are fixed on either side of a truck. While entering a narrow lane, the driver comes to know that if ‘these’ whiskers pass through, the whole truck can pass through.   

Here is poem on theft of moustache, by the the Bengali King of Nonsense Verses Sukumar Ray, father of the more well-known film-maker Satyajit Ray:   

Mustache Thievery
Sukumar Ray
Head Officer Chief Babu was a very peaceful man--
And then he turned mental--who knew how it began?
He sat drowsing in his chair, smiling a happy smile
When suddenly, it seemed, something drove him wild.

He leapt up and flung his arms about, his eyes red as brick,
He shouted out, “I’m lost, I’m lost, do save me quick!”
Some ran for a doctor, some yelled “Police!” with all their might,
Some advised restraint: “Careful, he could bite!”

Everyone was rushing frantic, leaving letters untyped--
Then the Babu cried, “Oh help, my mustache has been swiped.”
Lost his mustache? Incredible! How could it be?
But his handlebars were just the same, plain for all to see.

They tried to explain things, held a mirror to his face:
His whiskers weren’t stolen, that couldn’t be the case.
But angry as fire, an eggplant in hot oil, he sputtered and shook:
“I don’t believe a single man, I know each of you crooks.

Dirty and ragged, an over-used broom--an obvious pretender!--
This kind of mustache was kept by Shyambabu’s milk vendor.
I’ll shoot the whole lot! if you say this mustache is mine.”
And right away he proclaimed for all a rather hefty fine.

Getting hotter by the minute, he wrote and underlined in red:
“Give anyone an inch of rope, they’ll climb up on your head.
These monkeys at the office, with brains of dung and hay--
Where my perfect mustache went, not one of them can say.

I should grab their whiskers and dance them up and down
Or shave their sorry heads with a spade upon their crown.
They claim the mustache is mine--as though it’s something you can own!
The mustache owns the man, my friend--that’s how we all are known.”

© 2003 by Prasenjit Gupta

How true! The moustache owns the man!!!

Do women love their men to sport a moustache? Here, there are as many views as there are women. A ‘sweet young thing’ was once overheard telling her buddy, “Being kissed by a man without a moustache is like having an omelette without salt; it doesn’t tickle.” 
2. It is heartening for whisker-sporting males to know that during a discussion in Indian Parliament on measures for strengthening security at banks and ATMs, one member felt that prominent moustaches can be intimidating enough to become a deterrent against heists.  Banks can train security guards but  they cannot obviously order them to change their facial appearance. Not every man has the means to grow and maintain sufficiently menacing moustaches; probably, providing guards with artificial whiskers of suitably daunting size can be thought of.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Sorrow From Cancer

In my last post ‘Joy of Cancer’, I had narrated about one of my close friends who had been afflicted by blood cancer.

He succumbed to the disease in the night of last Saturday, the 10th November. I received the news the next morning. I calculated that when he was taking one of his last breaths, I was having dinner at the marriage reception of one of my nieces.    

On receiving the news on Sunday morning, I rushed to his house. His body was encased in a frozen state inside a glass casket with ice. The family was waiting for the arrival of his younger daughter and son-in-law from Nigeria. They reached in the morning of Monday and soon after, his body was taken to ‘Swargadwar’ in Puri fror cremation. ‘Swargadwar’ literally means ‘gateway to heaven’. It is located near the temple of Lord Jagannath. In Odisha, it is believed that when a body is cremated in Swargadwar, the soul reaches salvation. I was there to bid him the final ‘goodbye’ when the vehicle carrying his body left his house for the final journey. Fittingly, the words ‘sheshayatra’ (final journey) was written on the rear of the vehicle. I looked on till the vehicle disappeared into the bend of the road.

After death, a person becomes a ‘body’! Talking of body, I am reminded of a scene in a T V Serial in which a accident occurs and several persons die. A man looking for his brother comes and enquires in the hospital where the injured were admitted. The person at the reception checks the list and says, “Your brother’s name is not in the list. Some unidentified bodies are kept in the morgue. Go and check.” The first man gets enraged and shouts, “What do you talk of ‘body’? He is my brother.” One man’s ‘brother’ becomes ‘a body’ for another!

My friend’s problem was detected on the 20th July and he lived exactly for 3 months and 22 days after that.

He was an established writer of short stories. His stories contained delicate and powerful emotions and human relations and were not of the run-of-the-mill ‘boy-meets-girl’ type. For his creative writings, he had received several Awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award. He was in the Jury for selecting books for Sarala Puraskar, an award for excellence in Odia literature, established by a well-known industrial house. He could not attend the function to release his latest collection of short stories as he had just been admitted to the hospital at Vellore. A review of this book was published in a newspaper and I had read it out to him over phone when he was in the hospital-bed.

After our studies, both of us had appeared at the State Civil Services Examination. I stood First in it and he occupied the Second Position. A month after joining this service, I left it to join a Public Sector Bank. When I was leaving, he quipped, “Now I have become Adwitiya (second to none”. He was referring to the fact that he was no longer second in seniority in that batch.

Good bye, dear friend! 

Post Script

I read a piece by Mukul Sharma in the Economic Times of 12.09.2013.  He has quoted from Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "It happens rarely, but there are cases of sel-induced healing... Due to some reason, the tumour starts in the opposite direction, gets smaller, resolves and disappears." The International Noetic Institute found medically-reported cases of spontaneous healing. There is a possibility that the altered state of prayer, religious faith and medication may allow the process of self-repair greater freedom to operate. "Neurotheology, a new field which seeks to discover the neurobiological basis of spirituality and health, tells us that the well being of our body depends almost slowly on the strength of our belief in ourselves.", Mukul Sharma says.   

Thursday, 1 November 2012

'Joy' of Cancer

In my post ‘Death Shall Die II’ of the 30th March, 2012, I have narrated about my visit to a relative dying of blood cancer. He died a few days after our visit. Now I have come face to face with another case of blood cancer. One of my closest friends, a retired senior Govt. officer and reputed short story writer, has got the same affliction. He retired a little earlier than me. His house is close to mine. My house is located near the route of his morning walk. Very often, he would drop in. (I do not need walks as I get enough exercise working in my garden in the mornings and afternoons.) He would straight go to my garden, I used to stop whatever I would be doing and then we would sit and talk about topics from kings to cabbages for about an hour or so and then he would leave. Often I used to give him some flowers and other produce from my garden.
I also used to visit him occasionally.

Suddenly, he stopped coming for what seemed an unusual period. When I telephoned to him, his son received my call and told me that my friend was suffering from fever for quite sometime and was sleeping at that time. During the preceding one month or so, he used to have fever rather frequently. I telephoned to him after a few days. This time, his daughter received the call (on his cell phone) and told me that they were in the hospital at Vellore and he had been diagnosed for blood cancer! I felt crest-fallen. I did not know what to say and only the word “What?” escaped my lips. Our conversation ended after exchanging a few words. My next call was received by his son-in-law, who informed me that my friend had responded well to the initial treatment and that the chances of his recovery were bright. My next call was received by my friend himself and his voice appeared confident. He felt happy talking to me. I felt equally happy.

For the next one month, I called him once a week and things appeared to be reassuring. He used to ask me to read out the headlines in the local Odia newspapers which I did gladly. Once a review of his latest book of short stories appeared in a local newspaper and I read it out for him. He was very happy. After staying at Vellore for about two months, he was advised that he could return to Bhubaneswar and have the follow-up treatment by regular visits to a local hospital. When I called him up the subsequent time, he was in a local hospital. But to my disappointment and apprehension, his voice was weak. His family-members told me that doctors had advised against his having any visitor.

Then he was discharged and the treatment is continuing at home. When I called his home, his son told me that he had been quarantined to avoid any possible infection as the immunity system of his body has become weak. I have been talking to him every week and his voice continues to be weak. Last week, I spoke to his son and told him that I deeply wished to see my friend once, even if for a few minutes. He agreed and so my wife and I went with a heavy heart to meet my friend. We met his wife, son and other members of his family. Then my friend came with a slow gait. The hairs on his head have fallen off due to the effect of chemotherapy. He came wearing a mask covering his mouth and nose to prevent any possible infection. I spoke to him briefly after which he went back inside.    
My friend is a person of joyous nature and always used to talk with a lot of enthusiasm. Those were missing when I met him.

A couple of weeks before meeting him, I had come across an article titled ‘Joy of Cancer’ in an Odia daily. A part of this article was about the book ‘The Joy of Cancer’ by Anup Kumar. I found out some more about this book in the net. It is not only about the emotional and physical  anguish following the diagnosis of cancer but also about the power of human mind and body to turn ‘a death sentence’ around. It is said that the real experts on cancer are only the cancer-patients themselves. The book deals with questions like these:

- How do you accept cancer in your life?
- How do you conquer the fear?
- What are the side effects of chemotherapy? What precautions should you take?

From the net I read about the 10 good things about having cancer listed by Michele R Berman, M D. a cancer-survivor. The author says that the first good thing is finding out that “I was stronger than I was, with God’s help.” Some other good things listed in the book are: finding out what great people you have in your life, discovering your inner control freak or other part of yourself, being able to come up with creative answers when you don’t want to talk about something.

I had lost to cancer another close friend of mine, who succumbed to it at the age slightly above 50 years. He was a bachelor and is survived by his sister, a spinster and elder to him. He had no other sister or brother. She lives in my city and when we meet, we reminisce about him. To end his own suffering and the difficulties of his family-members, my elder brother’s father-in-law committed suicide by jumping before a running train when he realized that he had no escape from the clutches of cancer.

In 2006, there was a small growth at a spot on my body. It was diagnosed as a cyst and after trying oral medicine, my doctor advised a minor surgery to remove it. After the surgery, it was sent for examination to find if the growth was malignant. The test result was negative. I have never seen my wife as happy when she saw the report. She lost no time in telephoning all our relatives and friends to tell them about the test-finding.

In the early 70’s I had watched the film ‘Anand’ starring Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachan. In this, Rajesh Khanna plays the title role and Amitabh plays the role of his doctor. The protagonist, Anand, is a cancer-patient. Fully knowing that he had only a couple of months to live, and as if to justify his name, he spreads joy (anand) and cheer all around him. Here is the film.

I am trying to get and read the book. I am not able to decide whether I should present a copy of the book to my friend or to suggest to him to watch the film ‘Anand’ as both Anup Kumar and the Anand had ultimately succumbed to the life-taking illness.     

I don’t want to lose my friend.

Pray for him.