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A Pair of Mustachios
There are various kinds of mustachios worn in my country to mark the boundaries between the various classes of people. Outsiders may think it stupid to lay down, or rather to raise, lines of demarcation of this kind, but we are notorious in the whole world for sticking to our queer old conventions, prides and prejudices, even as the Chinese or the Americans or, for that matter, the English… And, at any rate, some people may think it easier and more convenient to wear permanent boundary-lines, like mustachios, which only need a smear of grease to keep them bright and shiny, rather than to wear frock coats, striped trousers and top hats, which constantly need to be laundered and dry-cleaned, and the maintenance of which is already leading to the bankruptcy of the European ruling classes. With them clothes make the man but, to us, mustachios make the man. So we prefer the various styles of mustachios to mark the differences between the classes. And very unique and poetical symbols they are too. For instance, there is the famous lion moustache, the fearsome upstanding symbol of that great order of resplendent rajas, maharajas, nawabs and English army generals who are so well known for their devotion to the King Emperor. Then there is the tiger moustache, the uncanny, several-pointed moustache worn by the unbending, unchanging survivals from the ranks of the feudal gentry who have nothing left but pride in their greatness and a few mementoes of past glory, scrolls of honour granted by the former emperors, a few gold trinkets, heirlooms and bits of land.
Next there is the goa moustache—a rather unsure brand, worn by the nouveau riche, the new commercial bourgeoisie and the shopkeeper class who somehow don’t belong—an indifferent, thin little line of a moustache, worn so that its tips can be turned up or down as the occasion demands—a show of power to some coolie or humility to a prosperous client. There is the Charlie Chaplin moustache worn by the lower middle class, by clerks and professional men, a kind of half-and-half affair, deliberately designed as a compromise between the traditional full moustache and the clean-shaven Curzon cut of the sahibs like them to keep mustachios at all. There is the sheep moustache of the coolies and the lower orders, the mouse moustache of the peasants, and so on. In fact, there are endless styles of mustachios, all appropriate to the wearers and indicative of the various orders, as rigorously adhered to as if they had all been patented by the Government of India or had been sanctioned by special appointment with His Majesty, the King, or Her Majesty, the Queen. And any poaching on the style of one class by members of another is resented, and the rising ratio of murders in my country is interpreted by certain authorities as being indicative of the increasing jealousy with which each class is guarding its rights and privileges in regard to the mark of the mustachio.
Of course, the analysis of the expert is rather too abstract and not all the murders can be traced to this cause but, certainly, it is true that the preferences of the people in regard to their mustachios are causing a lot of trouble in our parts.
UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT
1. What do you understand of the natures of Ramanand and Azam Khan from the episode described?
2. Identify instances in the story that show the business acumen of Ramanand.
3. Both Ramanand and Azam Khan seem to have very fixed views. How does Ramanand score over Azam Khan towards the end of the story?
TALKING ABOUT THE TEXT
Discuss the following in groups of three or four
1. The episode has been narrated in a light vein. What social mores does the author seem to ridicule?
2. What do you think are the reasons for the references made to the English people and the British monarchy?
3. What do you think is the message that the author seems to convey through the story? Compare your group’s views with that of the other groups.
1. Comment on the way in which the theme of the story has been introduced.
2. How does the insertion of dialogue in the story contribute to its interest?
1. Nouveau riche and bourgeoise are French words. Collect from newspapers, magazines and other sources some more French words or expressions that are commonly used in English.
2. Locate expressions in the text which reflect the Indian idiom, for example, the pride of the generations of his ancestors.
3. We ‘draw up a deed’. Complete the following phrases with appropriate words
a. ………….. one’s word b. …………….. one’s will
c. …………… ends meet d. …………….. a loan
e. …………….a deaf ear to
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