India’s legendary moustaches are disappearing as India enters the clean-shaven digital age. The traditional Indian belief that facial hair is a sign of virility is being replaced by fears of a moustache or beard making a young man look older, or even being slightly itchy. Well-known Indian cricket players no longer have facial hair, while Bollywood actors have opted instead for “designer” stubble.
During the days of the Raj, Indian moustaches had a profound effect on British facial hair. The British Army, with their naked upper lips, had difficulty maintaining authority among their Indian counterparts, who saw their lack of plumage as a lack of manliness. Once British officers began cultivating facial hair, the trend spread quickly through the army and then into the civilian population.
Indian facial hair has consistently hit the headlines, from the world’s longest beard (five feet from tip to tip) to the world’s longest industrial tribunal involving a moustache (see The Chap, issue 38). The police force in India recently relaxed the rule requiring all officers to sport a bushy moustache. The only profession where a moustache is still mandatory is among doormen of five-star hotels.
Hair India – A Guide to the Bizarre Beards and Magnificent Moustaches of Hindustan, by Richard McCallum, tells the whole tragic story.