Monday, March 31, 2008

THE RAZOR'S EDGE

For my first shave, like that of practically every man who was born, I used my father’s razor. ‘Stealthily’, I must add, to set the records straight. Actually, were I not mortified by its looks, my grandfather’s razor would have been my tool. The business end of the thing looked menacing, but it was the most basic of implements: three inch-long gleaming steel with a dark grey-and-tan handle made of buffalo’s horn. He would sharpen it by rubbing it against a small grey slab of slate, a drop of water smoothening the movement.

My father, having been exposed to the city, used a safety razor. Unlike my grandfather’s lethal weapon which daunted me, this one inspired courage because its cutting edges were both nearly masked. The all-metal, double-edged blade needed to be changed once a week. But, in my father’s view, the blade was meant to last for e-v-e-r. When it lost its edge, he would sharpen it by rubbing it along the inner face of a glass tumbler, lubricated by a drop of water.

One of my first purchases from my salary was a safety razor made of gleaming metal and a clean sharp blade. It had doors on the top and the handle had a knob that needed to be rotated gently to open the doors on the top. It was one of the most advanced contraptions that I had handled till then. The replacement cost of the blade was nominal, probably much less than a rupee.

Then Wiltech ushered in a revolution of sorts: it came forth with a model with just one cutting edge. The apparatus was light and you had to buy a cassette containing five blades. When the handle was slid into the cassette, a blade would get engaged to it – and, hey presto, it was at your service. The cassette cost a fiver, I guess.

Gillette entered my life with its spring-loaded blades that claimed to retract if the blade came into contact with the facial skin rather than the hair. This was a quantum jump in comfort as well as price. I think the blades cost Rs 10 each. I used to feel so guilty at this extravagance.A few years passed and, sure enough, Gillette introduced the Sensor Excel, which had two blades. More comfort, more money, more guilt. Possibly Rs 25 apiece. I bought this hi-tech product, was extremely satisfied with it, and thought that I had found my life partner. Once you used a Sensor Excel, there was no going back to cheaper stuff. You stayed wedded for life.

I had to eat my hat soon, as Gillette, the serpent, dangled the apple in the garden again. In the form of Mach 3 that exploded on the scene. It was the first 3-blade razor and was the ultimate in shaving comfort. It required fewer strokes as it gently caressed the face. I tried to resist the temptation to buy one, but succumbed to the marketing blitzkrieg of Gillette.

I found the trade-off, between a Rs 100 note and mornings of pure delight, to my advantage. I have squirmed in remorse everytime I bought them. But, not once in the last 4 years, have I been disloyal to Mach 3.

Famous last words they turned out to be. The new Gillette Fusion has – has hold your breath - 5 blades. Gillette says that “the combination of adding more blades and narrowing the inter-blade span creates a ‘Shaving Surface’ that distributes the shaving force across the blades, resulting in significantly less irritation and more comfort”. A friend tells me they even have a battery-powered model which has a vibrating head that will make the hair stand up and be slaughtered. And the price, a whopping Rs 300/- for a blade.I have been eyeing this beauty at Spencers’ for quite some time. I know that sooner or later I am going to buckle under the strain and buy one, I can see it standing there, staring at me, egging me to give it a try, daring me to move on … …

In a few years, I am afraid, Gillette will introduce the ultimate version of the shaving razor. A model with thousands of micromotion blades that will be guided by laser. Each micro-blade will seek out individual facial hair and destroy it without a trace. It will have a micro-chip loaded with a thousand mp3 files and can sense the mood of the face’s owner and play the appropriate music. It will sprinkle after-shave lotion on its reverse stroke.

And, all these features will come at a price of Rs 10,000 a blade. I will spend 10 minutes every day shaving my face with this masterpiece of a razor and the remaining 23 hours 50 minutes, slogging my butt out to earn the money to pay for the blades, in a deadly vicious spiral that will last for eternity … …

My management-educated son says there is something called the ‘razor and blade business model’ where the marketers sell an initial ‘master’ product or the hardware (the razor-handle in this case) at a subsidised price (even at a loss) and make their profit on the high margin consumables (blades in this case) without which the master is useless. Am I going to succumb to the strategy? I can’t tell.

1 comment:

Mukund said...

An excellent commentary on something so 'close to the skin'! Reminded me of the days gone by when we used to watch with wide-eyed wonder at the Gillette Twin blade cartridge brandished by my brother-in-law on his annual visit from the USA! And then he would launch on a lengthy lecture on its technical superiority to the mundane razor blades used by us "natives" !