He was very precious to me, my most intimate and faithful companion for more than 26 years.
He was there by my side at every moment of my life, during my sad and joyous times, when I felt lonely, when I was unwell. Seeming to say, 'Friend, I am there by your side, always."
But one day, I dumped him without any warning.
Well, if you are wondering who this person is, I am referring to my moustache - err, my former moustache.
"Mooch nahi to kuch nahi (You are not a man if you do not have a moustache," people would say. And I would kind of believe in it. Not that I belonged to a family of 'mustachios'. My father didn't have one.
Dunno about my grandpa - we don't even have his portrait but heard he was dead handsome and very stylish. "Like a king," my grandma would recollect. But I never asked if he had a moustache.
But I did admire the Warlus Moustache my mama (mother's younger brother) sported. I had something close to a Chevron Moustache, which I discovered by accident during my college days.
I was mostly a clean-shaven guy with no intention of growing either a stubble or a moustache.
It so happened one day that I hadn't shaven for a long time for no apparent reason, or maybe because I had felt pain lazy due to the cold.
After some yelling from mom - who rebuked me for looking a 'junglee' -- when I looked at the bathroom mirror, armed with razor and shaving foam in hand, I noticed my fully-developed moustache,
which had become quite prominent by now.
I shaved my stubble (which had graduated to almost a beard) around my moustache first, careful enough not to touch my would-be pal for next two-and-a-half decades.
Lo and behold! There I was. Sporting a thick growth of Amazon between my nostril and mouth, completely hiding my upper lip. "You resemble your mama with the moustache," my mom said with a smile.
So that was it. Done, signed and sealed. I would keep my moustache. A change of face, literally. "Mooch nahi to kuch nahi," I said to myself, without being loud.
For the rest of the day, I would go back to the mirror umpteen times, admiring my new-found companion. I was in love with him.
I was waiting to show off my feat to my gang, which was wowed by my 'matured look'.
Many of them had unsuccessfully tried to grow a moustache but abandoned their efforts midway as luck wouldn't favour them.
I took tips from my mama and other relatives with moustaches on how to add nutrition and keep the foliage healthy. Maintaining a moustache isn't a cakewalk.
It needs baby care, patience and nimble fingers to keep it trimmed and bushy.
Over the years, my moustache was a silent witness to all the happenings - trials and tribulations as well as my accomplishments - in my life.
My academic ups and downs, my career graph, tangible and intangible achievements, marriage, death of my father, the arrival of my son. Guwahati. Delhi. Mumbai. Back to Delhi.
The only occasion I had to unwillingly let him go for a while when my father passed away when I was in Mumbai, as custom requires us to shave our head and facial hair.
Without any protest, he patiently and faithfully waited for me to welcome him back.
Back he was, thicker than ever before. This time he had a small goatee for company. Together, they resembled some kind of French beard. And life went on as usual.
Everything was going on fine. We shifted to Delhi from Mumbai. From our tiny one-bedroom flat, we graduated to a bigger apartment.
And, flanked by the goatee, my moustache loyally stood by me all the while.
Slowly, the vagaries of time took a toll on my hair and moustache, which started greying before time.
There could be multiple reasons, but we zeroed in on the long night shifts, work stress, hard water and, of course, a wee bit of the age factor.
My jet black hair, which was the envy of many, started turning salt and pepper. So did my goatee and moustache. The goatee, in particular, turned completely white. I started using hair colour.
Thus began the long hide-and-seek game with my young and old self. Young when I used to colour them and way beyond my age when I let them be. Dual personalities. Almost Jekyll and Hyde, I felt.
Nurturing the goatee was proving to be troublesome and I had to visit the barber often to snip him neatly, or else he would resemble an unkempt bush.
So, one fine day, without thinking much, I wiped clean the goatee. He was just a guest, I thought. And guests aren't meant to stay forever.
The moustache was a family member, so I never ever even dreamt of removing him.
One day, I showed an old college-day photograph of mine to my son. A clean-shaven version of mine and he went gaga over it.
"So, should I remove my moustache?" I asked him jokingly, without any real intention in my mind. "No," he said. "We are used to seeing you with a moustache.
Just that you looked dashing at that time." I looked at my wife, who nodded. She, at times, thought the salt and pepper moustache made me look beyond my age but never asked me to dump him.
Maybe she could gauge my attachment towards him.
That was sometime last year, during the first lockdown. Months passed by. I even forgot about the last conversation.
When we went to our hometown this March, just before the violent Covid surge, I was flipping through my old albums and chanced upon a school-day photo, when I was of my son's age.
Both my son and wife thought I resembled him greatly in this photo.
Maybe that thought stayed with me. Maybe not.
I don't know what came over me, but one day, earlier this month, when I was shaving my stubble, I wiped clean my moustache - the same way I bid adieu to my goatee, without batting an eyelid.
I was always known to take decisions in the spur of a moment. This was one of them.
I again looked at the mirror. Felt strange. I looked different; kind of weird, I felt. I was nowhere close to my college days but it felt different. Maybe I wanted a change.
Maybe that's what I was looking for -- a change in this tense atmosphere.
I clicked a selfie and sent it to my wife, who was with my son in another room. I heard a scream. Both came running.
They kept on looking at me for the rest of the day, with a strange smile on their faces. By next morning, everything was normal. I sent a snap to my mom, who was surprised but didn't ask much.
A couple of days later, I posted a selfie on my WhatsApp status and Facebook story. I had announced the arrival of the 'new me' to the world, in its own style.
We even made a skit for #3CrazyIntroverts, our home video channel on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, with my new look.
Life is going as usual without my old companion. But I do remember him, the days we spent together. Maybe he remembers me too.
Maybe he is thinking of me at this moment, waiting for me to take another impulsive decision. Who knows?