muchh mid aged B n W

“Moochh” Sahib


Originally posted on 26 April 2006 :

This folk tale pertains to the pre-First World War era. The army was then officered exclusively by British and the highest rank attainable by native Indians was Subedar. There were no cars; therefore, a well bred stallion was the ultimate status symbol for a person of substance.

To distinguish him from another soldier with the same rank and name,the people of the village referred to the hero of this story as Moochh wale Subedar Jang Bahadur Khan Sahib” They soon learnt to save some time by abbreviating this to “Moochh Sahib” I intend to go one step further and call him just Khan.

Khan had neither inherited a lot of land nor saved much money. But people seldom realized that, especially when they saw him astride his majestic Persian horse. His very carefully crafted mustache gave him a regal look, and so theBritish rulers invariably treated him with the utmost respect. In fact he was invariably given a seat on the dais whenever a gora’ sahib came to address the people.

A diehard warrior, Khan had a healthy contempt for traders and businessmen. It was his firm belief that while the soldiers and the farmers ‘earned’ their bread, the shopkeepers and the merchants lived off the sweat and toil of those who worked on the fields and risked their lives in battle. He believed that the merchants were like blood sucking leeches, who earned ‘dirty’ money though vile and graft. He called itharaam ki kamai’. As far as he was concerned, each one of them was a ‘haraami’ which literally means a bastard. However, what was known to very few people was that ‘Moochh Sahib’ was forever on the prowl, himself, for opportunities to earn an extra rupee to maintain his extravagant way of life. His pension fell well short of his monthly expenditure.

Iqbal, the only other character of this story, ran a grocery shop, but it was common knowledge that his real profits came out of trading in unconventional items. He had friends in Lahore and Amritsar who gave him tips on what was selling there and at what price. As he toured the cluster ofvillages, he went about buying saleable items whenever a window of opportunity opened. A slightly built and unassuming man, he rode a pony which was more a donkeythan a mule. One rarely noticed him in a gathering, except when he took out his money bag, which was forever bulging with coins. The merchant went about his business without ever raising his voice, even when things went wrong and he had got into a bad bargain. He knew how to cut his losses. There were no B-schools at that time but he had learnt all that is now taught in management institutes. It was not easy to cheat him. People often said that it was easier to milk a male buffalo than to extract a paisa out of him.

Our story begins on a rainy day. Khan was returning from his daily round of the fields. It began to drizzle. He took shelter under a shed and soon, a small crowd formed around him. He began to narrate his exploits on the battlefields, and was regaling his audience with his account of an ambush. He was under specific instructions from his commanding officer to capture the enemy alive. They had left their horses well behind and laid a trap. When the enemy patrol entered the ‘killing zone’ they pounced upon them and even when one of them attacked Khan with a bayonet, he did not hit back, for fear of killing the wretched man. He showed the battle scar which he had acquired inthat action. Iqbal had also joined inthat day, and he was courteously listening to the story. Moochh Sahib noticed him and decided to take a dig on his favorite butt of the jokes. He said, “This is how we earn our bread, Iqbal dost, and not the way you make your money, buying here and selling there. If you were in that battle field, your underwear would be wet and your turban would fall off, as you bolted from the scene.”

“Our job is also very challenging, Khan Sahib,” the merchant said meekly, “We take a lot of financial risk, when we buy. If the stuff does not sell, we lose money, and if we do that once too often, we go broke…Tell me, if it was so easy to do trading or business, why would any one join the army or toil on the fields? Why don’t all the retired soldiers open shops and earn pots of money?”

The discussion degenerated into a banter of sorts, with each side holding out on to their respective points of view, and challenging the other to switch roles. The veteran was on the offensive all the way. As a final move, he dared him to buy anything from him and make money out of the transaction. He threw a tough one, “Can you buy my horse? I will give it to you for half its market price, if you like” And most of the audience knew he was taking a dig at the merchant, because it was common knowledge that the animal would run back to its master at the very first opportunity. Iqbal did not have the agility to even mount that beast.

Iqbal was quiet, but he stunned everyone, when he said, “No. I can not buy your horse. But there is something which I can buy off you. Will you sell me your moustache?”

There was shocked silence all around. And then Khan roared, “My moustache? What will you do with that?”

“That is my business. You name your price, and if it suits me, I will buy it just now!”

It was Khan’s turn to ponder. After a long pause, he decided to quote an atrocious price, to get the better of his adversary. “All right. I will sell it. Will you give me one hundred rupees for it?”

“I suspect you think I am joking. Artificial moustaches are used by theater actors, and yours is a rare salt-and-pepper growth. I know an artisan who will be able to shape it into a very aesthetic piece of make-up. It can easily fetch Rs 25 during the forthcoming Ramlila days in Amritsar or Lahore. I am prepared to pay you twenty rupees, in coins.”

What followed was a bit of hard bargaining. The merchant inched up rupee by rupee to Rs 25 while our warrior came down to Rs 50 rather fast, when he realized that the offer was serious and then slowly lowered his demand to forty rupees. The deadlock was broken by Iqbal, when he said, “Now, here is my final offer. I will give you thirty, providing that you can simultaneously give me a copy of your photograph in uniform.”

Khan did suspect a trap in this, but the bid was rather tempting. He decided to take the risk. After all, the moustache could be re-grown in a few weeks, and so he decided to clinch the deal, before the trader changed his mind. “Agreed, I will give you my photograph. But I want the money just now, in silver coins.”

There was another surprise in store for the audience. Iqbal produced thirty silver rupees and said, “Here is the money. But I can not take your moustache today, because the artisan who is to shape it has to come from Sargodha. I will therefore request you to make your commitment in writing”

A scribe was summoned and the sale deed was prepared. It said, onbehalf of the soldier, “Received a sum of Rupees thirty, towards the price of my moustache which now becomes the property of Iqbal. He may take it in part or whole at any time during the next one month. I will have no right to shape or trim it from this day.” The paper was signed and duly attested by five witnesses.

Our hero could hardly believe his luck. What he had in his pocket was enough money to buy at least two tolas (about 25 grams) of gold or a decent piece of land. It was a windfall, and what was even more gratifying was that he had got it out of Iqbal, whose primary creed was money. Riding on cloud nine, he reached home. But even before he could break the news to his ‘Begum’ she already knew about it.

“Mian ji, what have you gone and done?” She exclaimed, and then told him about a liveried messenger who had come from the district headquarters. A recruitment rally was scheduled, and the Commissioner Sahib wanted Khan to accompany his entourage. She said, “I am sure Iqbal knows about it and he willtake your moustache on the very day when the Sahib comes. He will use thephotograph to prove that it is yours to tarnish your image amongst the soldiers in the cantonments…or a brown Sahib may take your moustache to England and desecrate it…”

She had taken the wind out of his sails. He went to bed with a heavy heart, not knowing how to handle the situation. But when the day broke, he rosewith a solution. The Muslim clergy was already annoyed with him for celebrating festivals, like Diwali and Gurpurabs with the infidels. Now, here was anopportunity to prove that he was true to his faith. He spread a word around that he had decided to go for the Haj and as a preparation for the pilgrimage, he had decided to grow a beard and shave his moustache in accordance with the tradition. He then traveled all the way to the district headquarters and told the Commissioner Sahib, through his minions that when they came to their village, his moustache would not be a part of his face. To his surprise, he found that no one was particularly disturbed to hear that. How a retired Subedar kept or shaped his facial hair was of no concern to the British Empire. Reassured and relieved, our veteran returned home, fully prepared for the D-day. From here on, safe custody of those silver coins wash is only real worry, while he scouted around for a good piece of land. The visit of the Sahib was no longer a matter of disquiet or anxiety for the Khan family, and when the day of reckoning arrived, they were fully prepared for Iqbalto knock at their door to claim his ‘pound of flesh’.

It was quite a large group of people who turned up at their Haveli when the sun rose on that fateful day. Apart from the barber, there was a craftsman and a helper, who were there to shape the make-up ‘objet d’art’. Our veteran was armed with a small mirror to continuously see his face and ensure that the job was done neatly. And indeed, it was performed with meticulous precision. The left half of the moustache vanished in less than ten minutes. But as soon as that was done, the person who was bonding the strands of hair on the make-up material shouted, “Please stop. I have run out of glue. It seems it spilled out of the bottle on the way.”

Iqbal asked the barber to stop the proceedings. And what followed can at best be described as chaos and confusion.The all important craftsman insisted that he could not accept any more strands of hair until the glue came from the town and Khan was in a hurry to dress upfor the event of the day. The soldier flew into a rage, while the merchant maintained his cool. At that point of time all that Moochh Sahib wanted was tohave the other half of his lip cleaned at any cost, but the ‘Shylock’ of the moment reminded him that he had no right to shave any part of his moustache without the permission of the buyer, and as a final act, Iqbal flashed a copyof the sale deed.

In sheer desperation, the soldier screamed, “Is there nothing that I can do now?”

There is” The trader said,with complete authority, “You can buy your moustache back”

Khan heaved a sigh of relief. He yelled at his wife and asked her tobring the bag containing the coins. “You win! Take your money back, and annul this damned deed. It is truly said that it is impossible to extract money out of you.”

There was a long pause. A small crowd had gathered, and the sun had risen high. The time for arrival of the visitors was approaching, leaving very little time for bargaining.

After what seemed to be an eternity, Iqbal said, in a polite but firm tone, “You may indeed buy your moustache back. But the price has gone up, Today, you have to pay Rs fifty if you wish to re-purchase your moustache”

Please scroll down to see how Khan Sahib looked at that point of time. The story teller did not tell us what happened after the last sentence had been spoken. To my mind there were three possibilities. I invite you to make a guess and let me know.














This is how his face appeared, when he looked into the mirror. As I said, there were three possibilities :

  1. Khan Sahib paid up the money sought by the trader and the matter ended.

  2. The trader accepted what was given to him, and decided to live in peace with the veteran.

  3. There was a big fight. The crowd got divided into two : some supporting the soldier, while the others sided with the trader. Finally, the Sarpanch had to be called…

  1. Surrinder Nakai says:

    Frankly, Gen Sahib, these days my medical problems keep me away from indulgence in intellectual pursuits. I’m forced to spend less and less time on the PC. Since you have specifically asked for it, I’ve tried to marshal my thoughts in the context of this wonderful story (I’m sure this isn’t a real life instance).

    Without doubt the folklore,in its present form once again successfully goes to confirm the myth thatmilitary service nothing but inflates egos. Soldiers are often regarded as flaunting images far beyond their myopicvision and limited reach. The outcome isthat in stories/ anecdotes flamboyant military personnel are invariablyprojected as incapable of measuring up to their civilian counterparts both instature and in guile. Finally suchdeliberate charade ends up not only belittling but also to a large extent inridiculing the persona of a soldier. To my mind, this practice goes far beyond a witty retort.

    This is precisely the casewith Moochh Sahib.

    Moochh Sahib is no doubt anabove average intellectual exercise in journalistic endeavour. On the opposing side, the style does conveythe impression of the contents being contrived at places to suite objective ofthe writing. Smooth reading for theuninitiated.

    I shall however continue to explore with interest your esteemed Blog as my PC time improves. Best regards.

    Surrinder Nakai 22 Jul 12

  2. D P S rawat says:

    Khan would have paid the money
    asked by the trader,shaved the other half
    and gone to meet the gora sahib.
    This is what the trader do,they are interested
    in their profit only.However the trader taught
    a good lesson to the haughty Khan.
    Thanks for the interesting and educative story

  3. Kulbir Suri says:

    Thanks, Surjit. I enjoyed reading the story. I will surely keep a tab on the website.



  4. Joseph Thomas says:

    Don’t know what happened then but Khan sahib, in his next incarnation, became a navigator in RIAF.

    If the picture of Khan sahib looks ridiculous, so do the half wings given to British, Indian and Pakistani navigators and other non-pilot aircrew. US armed forces give full wings to navigators and so does the Indian Navy. Surprisingly, thousands of navigators have not sought a change.

  5. S K BHANDARI says:

    Just got the link from Brig Gangadharan. Read the “Moochh Shaib”. It rea;l beautiful. My “MOOCHH” is also for sale where do I search for the BUYER. Excellewnt work. Keep going. Regards and have a wonderful SUNDAY!!!

  6. Ghansham Singh Ahluwalia says:

    Good story and quite funny too.The Sarpanch suggested that Khan puts on the shaved moustach with glue,which he does but it falls off on the way and Khan is left with half moustach and makes a fun of himself.
    The funny part is that when he reaches the Sahibs ,he is left with half moustach.

  7. Ghansham Singh Ahluwalia says:

    Good story and quite funny too.The Sarpanch suggested that Khan puts on the shaved moustach with glue,which he does but it falls off on the way and Khan is left with half moustach and makes a fun of himself.

  8. Percy says:

    Another / 4th possibility
    Khan keeps the shaved and glued bit and puts it on his face and leaves to meet the sahibs

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