Friday, 29 November 2013

America - and The Art of Shaving!

Just off Union Square in SF, I noticed a glitzy showroom with an enticing banner. It said simply `The Art of Shaving’. An entire store dedicated to shaving, I wondered. Puja dragged me away. “It’s far too high end!” she said. Considering that I buy all my shaving needs from the CSD Canteen, `high end’ would probably be an understatement! Still, curious as a cat, I walked in. 

An attendant rushed towards us, all obsequious and salesman like. “Welcome, sir!” he gushed. I noticed the three day stubble on his chin. Seriously? In a store called `The Art of Shaving’? 

He thrust a pamphlet into my hands. `Welcome to the Brotherhood of Shaving’ it said. Now I was really intrigued!  We shavers, hardy men of the world, had got together to form a brotherhood, and no one had seen fit to inform me? “Go on”, I told him “tell me more!”

They not only sold shaving products, they also had a saloon where you could get a shave. A `Royal Shave’ he told me would last 45 minutes, and would set me back by 55 US$. That was around 3,500 bucks! Check out the Youtube video – The Royal Shave @ The Art of Shaving.

“The perfect shave,” he explained “has four elements – the pre-shave, the lather up, the shave and the moisturise.  We start with a hot towel compress that opens up the pores”.  Seeing my incredulous look, he went on “It isn’t called a ROYAL shave for nothing!” For 55 dollars, I thought, my pores would be as wide open as the Grand Canyon I’d been to the previous week!

“That may be so” I reasoned, “but lets say I do spend 45 minutes and 55 dollars today, and guess what, 24 hours later I’ll be back to Square One – I’ll need another shave! So do I come back again for a another round?”

“You shave daily, sir?” It was his turn to be incredulous.

Flashback to January 1971. It’s a freezing winter morning at Dehra Dun, and I’m a first termer at the IMA, standing in my first ever `Pre-muster’ fall-in at about 4:30 am outside the Sergeant’s cabin. He runs his hand over my cheek, and notices a faint hint of stubble. “You haven’t SHAVED??” he roars at me, thrusting his jaw line into my face. “No sir” I reply softly “I don’t shave daily”.  He is apoplectic. In the space of about 15 seconds, he tells me what he thinks of my response, then quickly moves on to my breeding, my upbringing and my worth in life - all the while making wild insinuations about my mother and sisters. 

I figure there’s no point trying to explain that I’m not yet out of my teens, and therefore don’t really need to shave daily, so I quietly fetch my razor and give myself the `dry shave’ he orders me to. My face soon resembles something out of `The Walking Dead’.  And I thought they called it a safety razor because it was supposed to prevent nicks and cuts!

Ever since that bloody experience some 40 odd years ago, I have indeed shaved daily – including Sundays, national holidays and even while travelling by the Indian Railways! On that story, maybe another post – woh kissa phir kabhi!

But back to the present. “Yes”, I assure the attendant “I do shave daily!”

He shakes his head in disbelief. “Before, after or during your shower?” he asks me. During? I swear he wasn’t kidding!

The free samples
The shaving products they sell cost a king’s ransom (50 dollars for a cup soap that costs under ten bucks at the CSD). He then gives us a demonstration of the products, which is dazzling. But I quietly pocket the free samples he offers, and promise to return after trying them out.

I did try them out, but lacked the courage (and the budget) to return. Check out their website It’s an eye opener!

I had actually run out of shaving cream during my trip, and was dismayed to find none in any of the stores – Walgreens, Safeway, Shoprite – they only had gels and foams. The one I saw in one of the In-n-Out stores at gas stations (see – I no longer call them petrol pumps!) cost $7.49, which my quick math converted to around 500 bucks, which my equally quick common sense told me would fetch me ten tubes at the CSD, so I quietly moved on.

I tried the one Sukh uses (Kiehl’s, costing around 25$), but it was non-foaming, and supposedly brushless, ie one had to rub it into the beard using ones finger tips. Strange, I thought. In our day, the best shaving creams were advertised as the ones that produced the maximum foam! Remember Kapil Dev and his `Palmolive da jawab nahin’? 

Foam apparently is passĂ©. The old belief was that foam comprises of millions of miniscule bubbles, and the more the bubbles the denser the foam, and hence the smoother the shave. I remember Godrej advertising their shaving creams as having `x million bubbles per cubic millimetre’, which was twice that of its nearest competitor. Utter nonsense, says America. Bubbles being spherical, the surface area actually in contact with the skin is much less. Hence, non-foaming is better. Non-foaming is IN. My stubble, like me, however is old school, and prefers the good old `jhaag’ any day!

Razorless Shaving
I decided to do some more digging. To my horror, I found that, not only were all American shaving creams foamless and brushless, but some of them were also, I kid you not, razorless! Directions – Wet skin, apply cream to area to be shaved, rinse. Simple! The best way to avoid razor burns, they advertise, is to avoid razors altogether!  I suppose these are just hair removers, a la Anne French!

There was also some form of `Shaving Powder’ which I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what, how and why about. The times, they certainly are a-changin’. 

But back home at the ranch, I’m happy with my jhaag wala shaving cream, and my trusty old double edged razor – maybe I’ll make a Youtube video of MY version of the Royal Shave!


  1. I love your sense of humor and your racy style of writing! Enjoyed this one thoroughly! Will we be entertained with more escapades in America?!!

    1. Thanks, Vinny - look out for some more posts...

  2. Dear Harish, I think you had a close shave! Fred

  3. Lol...Harish I don't know anybody who can write a funny essay on something as mundane as shaving! Compliments to your writing!

    1. By the way, Puja presented the 'Art of Shaving' kit on my b'day, so I'm now an elite member of the Brotherhood of Shaving!

  4. Damn Funny, Harish. And, horrors, the Royal Shave!!! Not for me. I'll be thinking of at least two hardback non-fiction masterpieces I could buy for that kind of dollars.