Photographs By Dhiman Chatterjee
One of the most popular translations of Occam’s razor, a law of parsimony, states “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” (Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate). It is ironic that the field of shaving razors does not seem to accede to the law, with each new iteration having more blades, more strips and greater maneuverability. Being a clinician and a researcher makes one questions such claims, and curiosity is what inducted me into the world of wet shaving.
The principles are simple: a man, a single edge and an almost meditative ritual before and after the two meet. The more the attention paid to the knowing and preparing the playing field (and caring for it afterwards), the greater the gratification from the act. Let’s begin with the basics.
Like most things simple and mindful, wet shaving begins with knowing oneself – understanding the direction in which one’s stubble grows, how the direction changes with every contour and scar, and how sensitive one’s skin is enhances the shaving experience, and this gets better with time and attention.
The ritual begins with preparing the stubble to face the blade, and a few steps make the experience more enjoyable. A shower, especially with warm water, softens the stubble, and a facial scrub and pre-shaving oil can soften it further; the latter also helps cover the skin with a slick, protective layer. The next step is creating a lather that feels rich and luxuriant, and this involves a soap or a cream, a shaving brush, warm water and, ideally, a bowl or a scuttle. In contrast to creams, soaps generally last longer, but can involve a bit more effort, often aided by wetting the soap with a bit of warm water.
There are a variety of shaving brushes available (with staunch proponents of each type); I prefer a stiffer boar-bristled brush for soaps, and a softer silver-tipped badger brush for creams. The length of the bristles (or loft) is a matter of preference; I prefer a mid-size, as it offers a perfect balance between the rapidity of generating a lather and the proximity to the face while applying it. A bowl facilitates the process (a regal scuttle takes this further), but one can also do this directly on the face.
You’re now ready for the proverbial rubber to hit the road, and trust me (and even the rambunctious French, who used a single edged guillotine to do a certain job), a single blade is all it takes. One can choose a double-edged razor (I do) with blades that can be changed every 3-4 shaves (the blades can be as inexpensive as Rs 50 for 20 blades), or one can choose to use a straight edge (or cut-throat razor, if you like lexicon that sounds like it’s right out of Game of Thrones). Straight edged razors involve greater care and honing, and are a greater investment in time (considered absolutely worthwhile by those who use them). A shavette is what one often sees in barber shops in India, and is a useful learning tool for those who intend to transition to a straight edge (I do, someday).
The most important principle in the act of shaving with an open edged razor (like most gratifying things in life) is to `let the force guide you’. The weight of the razor is the only force that the stubble needs to face, with no added pressure from the hand. One pass should suffice, although some recommend a WTG, ATG, XTG approach (with, across and against the grain, respectively). One needs to strike a balance between the need to get as close a shave as possible and not subjecting one’s skin to torture (a sensation of burning while using aftershave is not necessarily a good thing). The after-shave ritual involves using an alum block if needed, and a splash or a cream (the local humidity factor can be a determinant, as is one’s personal choice). And that concludes a ritual that can be a sophisticated prelude to the day ahead.
Dr Lancelot Pinto
So, why do all this? Because it is an exercise in mindfulness and simplicity. Because it is a quiet and introspective investment in oneself, without committing to the almost impossible task of `setting aside time’ to achieve the same goals. It makes one appreciate the elegance in simplicity, in a world that is constantly shoving objects in your radar that you are expected to desire, without necessarily delivering on the promise of enhancing your life. Do not do it to save money (my collection of razors, brushes, soaps, creams and accessories is testimony to this). Do it because it isn’t easy, it doesn’t cover for your lack of focus (you get cut), and it truly does a better job than what’s out there.
The author is a Consulting Respirologist at PD Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai