My Beard Has Made Me A Magnet For All Kinds Of Baffling Comments, Like...
"Did you convert to Islam?"
...and this is also me.
In case you missed the point, I was trying to bring your attention to the unmistakable growth of the beard on my face.
What the above photos, however, do NOT show are the various comments and remarks people have made to me about my beard.
Now, before we begin as to why I find people's comments/questions baffling, here's me clearing a couple of things straight away:
1. I'm irreligious, as in I don't believe in any religion.
2. The only reason I'm growing my beard is because I simply want to.
All the baffling comments people have made about my beard...
Among the reactions of people around me, the most jovial of reactions have been from my teammates and other colleagues at SAYS in Malaysia and a few friends here in Delhi and a handful of my Facebook buddies.
Apart from that, it's either been shock, amusement or at times complete disgust. In the initial weeks of me growing my beard, the most common thing that I would get to hear was people telling me to 'go take a shower'!
As weeks went by, and my beard started to grow substantially beyond the lines of my chin, the reactions changed. From curious to judgmental, they started coming in all hues and shades.
"Why are you growing your beard?"
It's the one question I get asked almost every time I meet a person for the first time or after a while. Even today. It's like there is nothing else the person would like to know more than why a man with facial hair would like to keep letting those facial hair grow!
In response, I would simply smile and answer the question.
But somehow my answer (I'm growing it because I want to) was not enough to satisfy their curiosity. They would probe further, ask the same thing differently (Is it because you're keeping a vow?), get sillier (You want to show that you're a writer, right?) and at times get annoying (You know that it's not healthy, right?).
I would (try and) remain calm and take the time to explain in vain that no, it's not all that.
"Stop growing your beard now. What will people say?"
This is something I get to hear either from a handful of my relatives or from certain individuals who like to think of themselves as my friend. It's like according to them what random people want me to look like should matter more than how I want to look personally. Duh!
Moreover, why should I care what people will say? They will anyway say anything they want to. That's what people do. But why should I waste my time and energy in thinking, "oh, no! I shouldn't do this or that or else what will people say?!"
This obsession behind the need to satisfy random people's frivolous whims is something I've never completely grasped.
"Dude, when did you convert to Islam?"
Beard = Muslim.
That's how people around me started thinking all of a sudden. It seems as if they have collectively lost not just their sensitivity but also basic civility.
During the month of Ramadan, I was in the market buying groceries, and here's what happened:
The shopkeeper: Today is the 10th day of roza (*puasa) for you people, right?
The shopkeeper: Roza. I mean how many days of Roza it has been till today for you people?
Me: I don't know. I don't do it.
The Shopkeeper: (Looking all surprised) What do you mean you don't do it? Aren't you people supposed to do it?
Me: (Irritated with his ignorance) Because I'm not a Muslim!
The Shopkeeper: (With an expression of shock and disbelief) So why do you then have a beard this long?
Me: Excuse me? So anyone with a beard is a Muslim?
He went silent after that, trying to avoid eye contact. And this is just one instance I'm mentioning here. It's a usual thing for people to assume that I'm a Musalman just because I keep a beard. Sometimes I ignore, other times it gets really frustrating.
"Where are you from, Sardarji?"
Beard = Punjabi.
This is something that's common among the autorickshaw drivers here in Delhi. Each time I get into one, the driver would greet me saying "Sat Sri Akal, Sardarji" (a greeting in the Punjabi language used mostly by the followers of the Sikh religion).
It's not the greeting that I mind, but the assumption that because I've a beard, I must be a Sikh from Punjab. They ask me questions like if I'm from Punjab, and when I say "no", they react as if I've lied to them (what do you mean no? You're a Sardarji so you must be from Punjab). I try to ignore such silly and trivial arguments as much as I can and simply tell them that I'm not a Sardar or a Punjabi.
They look at me like I've just committed blasphemy.
About three months back, I was at a kebab place with a couple of my friends. While we were eating our dinner, I realised that a group of boys sitting on the table next to us were discussing among themselves -- while staring at me together -- that whether I'm a Musalman or a Sardar!
I looked back at them and asked: Seriously? In response, they grinned at me.
"You look like a Pakistani agent!"
About couple of weeks ago, I was on my way to have dinner. It was quite late and all the shops at the nearby market were closed. While I was on my way to the makan place I frequent for dinner, a couple of complete strangers stopped me. At first they said 'hello', to which I responded back by saying 'hello'.
Next thing I know, one of them looks at my face, points his finger towards my beard and says: You look like a Pakistani agent! What are you doing here?
Taken aback, I felt like punching him in the face. But by the time I could do anything, their friends, who must be nearby, came out and separated us, apologising to me for the offending remarks. I walked away from them.
For those of you who may not have grasped the meaning of that line, being called a Pakistani agent is an insult in India. A Pakistani agent is someone who is considered to be anti-India or simply put is a terrorist working for the government of Pakistan.
In short, if I'm to sum up all the assumptions of different people based on my beard: I am a Muslim-Sardar from Punjab who doesn't want to accept that he is what they are assuming his identity to be.
At worst, I'm a terrorist from Pakistan. Why? Because beard!