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A Pair of Mustachios

There are various kinds of mustachios worn in my country to make 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 needs 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 make the difference between the classes…..
                           And very unique and poetical symbols they are too. For instance, there is the famous lion mustache, the fearsome upstanding symbol of that great order of resplendent Rajas, the King Emperor. Then there is the tiger mustache, the uncanny, the several-pointed mustache worn by the unbending, unchanging survivals from the ranks of the feudal gentry who have nothing left but the pride in their greatness and a few mementos of past glory, scrolls of honour, granted by the former Emperors, a few gold trinkets, heirlooms and bits of land. Next there is the goat mustache a rather unsure brand, worn by the nouveau riche, the new commercial bourgeoisie and the shopkeeper class somehow don’t belong and indifferent, thin little line of a mustache, 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 mustache 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 mustache and the clean-shaven Curzon cut of the Sahibs and the Barristers, because the Babus are not sure whether the Sahibs like them to keep mustachios at all. There is the sheep mustache of the coolie and the lower orders, the mouse mustache 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 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 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 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. For instance, there was a rumpus in my own village the other day about a pair of mustachios.
It so happened that Seth Ramanand, the grocer and money-lender, who had been doing well out of the recent fall on the price of wheat by buying up whole crops cheap from the hard-pressed peasants and then selling grain at higher prices, took it into his head to twist the goat mustache, integral to his order and position in society, at the tips, so that it looked nearly like a tiger mustache.
                           Nobody seemed to mind very much, because most of the mouse mustached peasants in our village are beholden of the grocer, either because they owe him interest on a loan, or an installment on a mortgage of jewellery or land. Besides, the Seth had been careful enough to twist his mustache so that it seemed nearly though not quite like a tiger mustache.
                           But there lives in the vicinity of our village, in an old, dilapidated Moghul style house, a Mussulman named Khan Azam Khan, who claims descent from an ancient Afghan family whose heads were noblemen and councilors in the Court of the Great Moghuls. Khan Azam Khan, a tall, middle-aged man is a handsome and dignified person, and he wears a tiger mustache and remains adorned with the faded remnants of a gold-brocaded waistcoat, though he hasn’t even a patch of land left.
                             Some people, notably the landlord or our village and the moneylender, maliciously say that he is an impostor, and that all his talk about his blue blood is merely the bluff of a rascal. Others like the priest of the temple, concede that his ancestors were certainly attached to the court of the Great Moghuls, but as menial workers. The landlord, the money-lender and the priest are manifestly jealous of anyone’s long ancestry, however, because they have all risen from nothing, and it is obvious from the stately ruins around Khan Azam Khan’s pride is greatly in excess of his present possessions, and he is inordinately jealous of his old privileges and rather foolish and headstrong in safeguarding every sacred brick of his tottering house against vandalism.
                             Khan Azam Khan happened to go to the moneylender’s shop to pawn his wife’s gold nose-ring one morning and he noticed the upturning tendency of the hair of Ramanand’s upper lip which made the grocer’s goat mustache look almost like his own tiger mustache.
                              ‘Since when have lentil-eating shopkeepers become noblemen?’ he asked surlily, even before he had shown the nose-ring to the grocer.
                              ‘I don’t know what you mean Khan,‘ Ramanand answered.
                              ‘You know what I mean’, said the Khan ‘Look at the way you have turned the tips of your mustache upwards. It almost looks like my tiger mustache. Turn the tips down to the style proper to the goat that you are! Fancy the airs of the traders now a days!’
                              ‘Oh, Khan, don’t get so excited,’ said the money lender, who was nothing if he was not amenable, having built up his business on the maxim that the customer is always right.
                              ‘I tell you, turn the tip of your mustache down if you value your life!’ raged Khan Azam Khan.
                              ‘If that is all the trouble, here you are,’ said Ramanand, brushing one end of his mustache with his oily hand so that it dropped like a deadfly. ‘Come, show me the trinkets. How much do you want for them?’
                               Now that Khan Azam Khan’s pride was appeased, he was like soft wax in the merchant’s sure hand. His need, and the need of his family for food, was great, and he humbly accepted the value which the grocer put on his wife’s nose-ring.
                                But as he was departing, after negotiating his business, he noticed that though one end of the grocer’s mustache had come down at his behest, the other end was still up.
                              ‘A strange trick you have played on me,’ the Khan said.
                              ‘I have paid you the best value for your trinket, Khan, that any money-lender will pay in these parts,’ the grocer said, ‘especially, in these days when the Sarkars of the whole world are threatening to go off the gold standard.
                              ‘It has nothing to do with the trinket,’ said Azam Khan, ‘but one end of your mustache is still up like my tiger mustache though you have brought down the other as your proper goat’s style. Bring that other end down also, so that there is no apeing by your mustache of mine.
                              ‘Now, Khan,’ said the grocer ‘I humbled myself because you are doing business with me. You can’t expect me to become a mere worm just because you have pawned a trinket with me. If you were pledging some more expensive jewellery, I might consider obliging you a little more. Anyhow, my humble milk-skimmer doesn’t look a bit like your valiant tiger mustache,’
                              ‘Bring that tip down!’ Khan Azam Khan roared, for the more he had looked at the grocer’s mustache the still upturned tip seemed to him like an effort at an initiation of his own.
                               ‘Now, be sensible, Khan,’ the money-lender said waving his hand with an imperturbable calm.
                               ‘I tell you, turn that tip down or I shall wring your neck,’ said the Khan.
                               ‘All right, the next time you come to do business with me I shall bring that tip down,’ answered the money-lender cunningly.
                                ‘That is fair,’ said Chaudhri Chottu Ram, the landlord of the village, who was sitting under the tree opposite.
                                ‘To be sure! To be sure!’ some peasants chimed in sheepishly.
                                Khan Azam Khan managed to control his murderous impulses and walked away. But he could not quell his pride, the pride of the generations of his ancestors who worn the tiger mustache as a mark of their position. To see the symbol of his honour imitated by a grocer this was too much for him. He went home and fetched a necklace which had come down to his family through seven generations and, placing it before grocer said:
                               ‘Now will you bring that tip of your mustache down?’
                               ‘By all means, Khan’ said the grocer ‘But let us see about this necklace. How much do you want for it?’
                                ‘Any price will do, so long as you bring the tip of your mustache down,’ answered Azam Khan.
                                 After they had settled the business the money-lender said: ‘Now Khan, I shall carry out your will.’ And he ceremoniously brushed the upturned tip of his mustache down.
                                 As Azam Khan was walking away, however, he noticed that the other tip of the grocer’s mustache had now gone up and stood dubiously like the upturned end of his own exalted tiger mustache. He turned on his feet and shouted:
                                ‘I shall kill you if you don’t brush that mustache into the shape appropriate to your position as a lentil-eating grocer!’
                                ‘Now, now, Khan, come to your senses. You know it is only the illusion of a tiger’s mustache and nowhere like your brave and wonderful adornment,’ said the greasy money-lender.
                                ‘I tell you I won’t have you insulting the insignia of my order!’ shouted Azam Khan. ‘You bring that tip down!’
                                ‘I wouldn’t do it, Khan, even if you pawned all the jewellery you possess to me,’ said the money-lender.
                                ‘I would rather I lost all my remaining worldly possessions, my pots and pans my clothes, even my houses, than see the tip of your mustache turned up like that!’ spluttered Azam Khan.
                                ‘Acha, if you care so little for all your goods and chattels you sell them to me and then I shall turn that tip of my mustache down,’ said the money-lender.’ And, what is more, I shall keep it flat. Now, is that a bargain?’
                                ‘That seems fair enough,’ said the landlord from under the trees where he was preparing for a siesta.
                                ‘But, what proof have I that you will keep your word?’ said Azam Khan. ‘You oily lentil-eaters, never keep your promise.’
                                ‘We shall draw up a deed, here and now,’ said the money-lender. ‘And we shall have it signed by the five elders of the village who are seated under that tree. What more do you want?’
                                ‘Now, there is no catch in that,’ put in the landlord. ‘I and four other elders will come to court as witnesses on your behalf if the grocer doesn’t keep his mustache to the goat style ever afterwards,’
                                ‘I shall excommunicate him from religion if he doesn’t keep his word,’ added the priest, who had arrived on the scene on hearing hubbub.
                                 ‘Acha,’ agreed Azam Khan.
                                 And he forthwith had a deep prepared by the petition writer of the village, who sat smoking his hubble-bubble under the tree. And this document, transferring all his household goods and chattels, was signed in the presence of the five elders of the village and sealed. And the money-lender forthwith brought both tips of his mustache down and kept them glued in the goat style appropriate to his order.
                                Only, as soon as Khan Azam Khan’s back was turned he muttered, to the peasants seated nearby: ‘My father was a sultan.’
                                 And they laughed to see the Khan give a special twist to his mustache, as he walked away maintaining the valiant uprightness of the symbol of his ancient and noble family. Though he had become a pauper.