This is an excerpt from the book I hope I one day write This is NOT History, a collection of historical events with historical figures that totally did not happen. But it would have been nice had it happened like this. Also, I don’t want to find out what really happened, waste my youth pirating academic documents, only to get told that it offends a group of people whose idea of Mahatma Gandhi is derived from his stunning biography – the 2000 rupee note (the 10 rupee notes are the cheap paper cousins). And maybe get a death threat or two because I questioned the “non” in nonviolence!
On the 31st of every March, the editors of all the leading national dailies meet up in their secret cabins to discuss the big prank of the following day. In the year of 1952, the first general election was held and all the editors believed they needed one big joke to keep them interested in covering the monstrous elections that were to come. So, one leading daily (rhyming with Sindhustan Crimes) asked Feroze Naaiwalla, the lifelong barber of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to contribute to their editorial the following day.
Unbeknownst to the Editor, Feroze Naaiwalla replied with great enthusiasm and poured his vocabulary and knowledge onto paper. A lasting document of his legacy, for in his final years he rued that his remaining legacy on this planet was hair that nobody wanted. An anti-artist if you will.
Feroze Naaiwalla, a man taking great pride in his command over the language, his knowledge of Nehru and the reasons why he may have become a bald man, replied enthusiastically.
The Editor of the paper (rhymes with Sindhustan Crimes), kept the original copy to amuse himself at times of distress.
Nobody knows what happened to Feroze Naaiwalla – the barber artist of Teen Murti Building where Nehru lived.
Dickens worked in a factory, Kafka was a mere clerk, and Valmiki was a hunter! So, it shouldn’t surprise my reader that I, Feroze Naaiwalla, am a barber! A barber to no less than the most powerful and respected man in the subcontinent – Jawaharlal Nehru – or as I call him fondly, JN. I knew JN since the time he was a young child parting his hair in the middle like a malnourished Pathan youth. He wouldn’t listen to his father Motilalji. No, sir! He would listen only to me. And that’s when I knew right away. Like Alexander tamed Bucephalus, I too must tame JN’s hair – for the follicular future of the subcontinent lay in my hands and that is not an easy task.
Now for the unacquainted reader, the idea of a barber might conjure the image of a frazzled, untidy man surrounded by the hair of ordinary men. Well, I am no ordinary barber, as my great late1 late great father used to say we are the “sculptors of skull”! I was trained in 19 languages (technically 20 but who doesn’t know that Portugese is just another dialect of Spanish). I had great mastery over Shakespeare, the great Bard or should I say the great Bald? I inherit my penchant for puns from my late great father. Please forgive me, dear reader, for it runs in my genes!
Impressed by my command over Shakespeare and Dickens and Dostoevsky and Jean Paul Sartre, JN chose me as his personal barber! Of course, over my barbery too, but a way to man’s heart is through his stomach and way to JN’s head is through a good dose of existential angst!
Since he was a young lad, JN looked up to men of stature – Julius Caesar, Napoleon, King Asoka, MK Gandhi, and of course, yours truly. And JN had the remarkable fortune of having me by his side. MK Gandhi too, but as every man knows, haircuts occur more often than congressional meetings. And it is there I can proudly say I groomed the man, pun intended! What’s a royal barber without a p-unny side to him?
But alas, I fear I may have made the lad far too vain! Underneath the tough veneer, lay a primal fear that seals the fate of every man – far more fearsome than the canons of the Imperial forces, slimier than failed secularism, terrifying than totalitarian dictators – dandruff!
Ask a man what his greatest fear is and if the answer is not a resounding “dandruff” or “a receding hairline”, there is a man who will pray that the myth of Pinocchio is false. And right from his youth began JN’s greatest battle – a fight as old as time, a Man vs Nature contest at its best. Many astute observers have failed to decipher what goes on behind the veiled stately mask JN puts on! They see a man consumed by worldly affairs, but I saw a young boy yelling into the void “Must my hair recede? Must dandruff be white and visible? Is there no God?”
I would tell him not to overthink for that causes dandruff and he would yell back that he was overthinking because he had dandruff.
JN and I tried many things! We tried special ayurvedic oils from the distant land of Kerala. (You think JN did not know about that inept, snob of a V Krishna Menon?). Held the position of a Defence Minister by holding ransom the rightful tonsural services to a Prime Minister in exchange for the position of Defence Minister. Pitiable petty pig!
And yet like the Great Lady Macbeth, how my poor JN suffered! All the oils of Kerala could hardly wash his scalp of the flaky soot that is dandruff!
Off late, I have devised a theory as to why so much dandruff may have plagued JN and cause such proficient hair loss. Let me give you a working hypothesis! Assume there is a certain old, bald, abstinent man – let’s call him ‘Gandhi’! If such a man spent most of his time with an impressionable JN, teaching him everything ranging from civil disobedience to absurdist lessons on how to make the whole world blind – would that exert far too much pressure on JN’s tender hair follicles. Now I am not saying this (clearly) hypothetical Gandhi should be deemed a felon but there must be space allotted in the constitution that takes into account such keratinous crimes!
Anyway, I can’t claim to know him anymore. Distance has grown inversely proportional to the amount of hair left in his head. He comes for a haircut once a general election. He spends far more time with the other Man – for the sake of the hypothesis let’s call the other man, Mohandas! When JN greets me now, it’s not the embrace of comrade but that has been replaced by feeble handshake of a typhoidal midget! They say that he has been seen at the Mountbatten residence often. The young lad dearly overworks himself!
Last I heard, JN had made peace with himself, by wearing a cap and rebranding it to the nation as ‘Nehru Cap’. That boy is charismatic and the nation shall follow him in any path he wants to – even if he declares Emergency, I am sure the nation will understand.
1To clarify, my father did not become great after he became ‘late’, he was always, as he used to say “great”!
In the next post, we get to read a letter written by Samprati Devavarman to Asoka the Great about certain idea the emperor has about planting trees across the country. Samprati is extremely angry about being put in charge of this scheme.