It was a magnificent obsession of British plantation officials in Munnar during the 1960s
To shave or not to shave is strictly a matter of personal choice. However, back in the 1960s, when I worked for a British-owned tea major in Munnar, it wasn’t. My prim and proper British bosses were sticklers for a daily shave and expected their assistants to follow suit. Coming to work unshaven was unthinkable to them.
Indeed, the Brits’ faces reflected their regular tryst with the razor. One boss’s daily shave vividly showed up the purple-hued network of veins in his cheeks in all their filigree-like detail. Another’s face, though always satin-smooth, was marred by a prominent scar under his chin, probably a reminder left by a carelessly wielded razor. Yet another had a ruddy countenance that was as hairless as his cranium — he eccentrically shaved his eyebrows too!
The company’s top executive, an irascible Scotsman, was particularly allergic to an unshaven face — it did raise his hackles. When one wished him in the morning, he would critically eye one’s face for any signs of telltale stubble. And if there were, his disapproving grimace eloquently said it all. I once heard him snap at a stubbly faced junior executive, “Your face is the index of your mind — keep it presentable always!”
Not a priority
For us youngsters, a daily shave then wasn’t a priority. In fact, many of us lacked sufficient facial hair growth to warrant a daily shave. But not wanting to displease our British bosses — and ruin our chances of rising in the hierarchy — we fell in line, perfunctorily scraping the fuzz off our mugs every day. And late-risers would rush to a salon en route to the office for a quick shave rather than risk annoying the boss early in the morning.
Once a British boss had a “close shave”, figuratively speaking. He gashed his face badly while shaving and turned up with a plastered cheek. I asked him what had happened. While shaving, some lather had slipped into his sniffer and he had sneezed violently, forgetting to move his razor out of harm’s way! It was a pointer for me too, prone as I was to sneezing while shaving. As for the boss, unable to shave, he grew hairier and more miserable each day!
Another British boss was a finicky daily shaver whose domestics, incidentally, never dared to appear before him unshaven — even if it meant being late for work. Once he was hospitalised for varicose vein surgery and I went to visit him, confident of catching him, for once, dishevelled and hirsute. But I was pleasantly surprised. I found him propped up in bed, well groomed — his cheeks as smooth as velvet. I learnt he had insisted on shaving himself every day. And since he couldn’t move about, he did so in bed — with an attendant holding a mirror and handing him the shaving kit!
For some, a daily shave may be an avoidable nuisance. But for many others, appearances do matter, making it an indispensable ritual come what may.