This is about two beards but of course since beards are not individual entities but mere attachments this is about two persons as well. Only one of these two persons sports a lush beard and if at times you see stubble on the face of the other it is just a lapse or laziness rather than a conscious effort towards cultivating an ideologically defining facial addendum. You must be wondering why I spoke of two beards in the title as well as in the beginning of this write-up when only one beard seems to be visible with only one of the two protagonists of this story sporting one. Let me hasten to assure you that there is a second beard as well. It will make its appearance as the story unfolds; in the meantime I would counsel patience.
The two persons are neighbours and live in houses facing each other across a lane. The person with the beard, let us call him Khan sahib, lives in a sprawling bungalow which has all the appearances of ‘old money’. This ‘old money’ comes from years of felling and selling old and new trees in the forests of Kashmir, with nine out of the ten felled trees being over and above the permitted one. Beginning with a forest guard of an accommodating nature in times of antiquity, the clan has progressed through generations to produce quite a few forest lessees and a couple of MLAs as well. As forests got depleted the clan forayed into other ventures (including politics!) and all of these (including politics!) turned out to be fairly profitable so much so that there was enough capital laid by for the current as well as several future generations. With neither need nor inclination towards work Khan sahib seemed to be destined for a nondescript existence till one day he discovered the mosque. Even here the felled trees stood him in good stead. Wealth and by extension the wealthy hold the same fascination for people that moths do for a flame so it was not long before the Khan sahib of our story became the cynosure of the Masjid Intizamia Committee. When he went further and donated a couple of rolls of prayer carpets for the mosque the committee as well as the congregation went into ecstasy and some of them even prefixed ‘Hazrat’ and ‘Maulana’ to Khan sahib’s name. All this convinced Khan sahib that he was some sort of a divine vicegerent on earth and he took on this role in earnest.
The other protagonist of this story, let’s call him Mir sahib, too merits an introduction though it will be understandably brief because he has neither pelf nor pedigree to recommend him. He is just an ordinary person with ordinary aspirations and even his connection with the Almighty is of the ordinary sort. Khan sahib would often try to catch his neighbour to try his newly acquired proselytizing zeal on him but Mir sahib would excuse himself citing some urgent work which was rather annoying. Work! Of all things! Khan sahib considered work to be one of the baser instincts of man which invariably kept him away from the Divine.
Mir sahib on the other hand viewed his neighbour with an indifference bordering on contempt. Being his close neighbour he was privy to the fact that contrary to his projected image Khan sahib was a selfish and conceited person too full of himself and totally inconsiderate towards others. Among his other obnoxious habits there was this daily practice of his washing his driveway daily on a frequent basis almost paralleling his five-times-a-day ablutions which would flood the lane and create a big nuisance. Mir sahib had subtly tried to bring this to the notice of his sanctimonious neighbour but to no avail. In fact it is this particular practice that brings us to the denouement of this story as you will see.
One day Khan sahib accosted Mir sahib in their residential lane. Since both were going in the same direction (that is towards their homes) Mir sahib couldn’t think of any way to escape. Seizing the opportunity Khan sahib started lecturing Mir sahib on the importance of growing a beard. Mir sahib listened silently till they reached near their houses. Now as it happened to be Mir sahib was getting the driveway of his house repaired and where it joined the road outside he had laid out a ditch which was covered by a grill and connected to the drain so that when he would wash his driveway the water would get drained easily without flooding the road. When Khan sahib’s eyes fell upon this innovation he said, “What is that?”
“Oh that!” said with a short laugh, “You see my drive has grown a beard!”
“Drive has grown a beard!” Khan sahib said sharply.
“Well Khan sahib as you have been saying a beard is the sign of a moomin (righteous person) and I have heard numerous times from you and others too that a moomin is one who does not harm or inconvenience his fellow men. So you see my driveway has also turned moomin because nobody will be inconvenienced when I wash it. Considering that, the contraption you see is a beard in a symbolic sense. You can understand that of course as MashaAllah you too sport a beard.”
Khan sahib turned a beetroot red progressing rapidly to a deep purple and his veins and eyes bulged out. Muttering something about blasphemy he stomped away and entered his home making sure to bang the door loudly. Mir sahib laughed till tears streamed down his face…
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