The Moustache Equation

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Movember is here! We mark the month with a piece on the great Indian moustache, and what it means to live in 'Hairy Hindustan'.

The Washington Post pointed me to a term for India that I had never heard before – Hairy Hindustan. They declare the era of the Indian moustache to be over. But India will not shave off this legacy so easily.

Authority and moustache go hand in hand in ‘Hairy Hindustan’. Meesai, meecha or mooch as it can be known, is as much a symbol of authority and Sarkari power as it is of the villain.

Moustache as Authority

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A scene in the indie Tamil film ‘Soodhu Kavvum’ features a group of would-be criminals who seek to kidnap a politician’s son from a rival gang of kidnappers. To do this, they dress as policemen. But how do they pull off the policeman look? Elementary, my dear! With a twirl of your moustache.

Institutional authority in India is often linked to the possession of a moustache. From the Zamindar to the soldier or policeman, these things convey a sense of power.

Soldiers who march in India’s military parades bear elaborate moustaches (as do soldiers in the Pakistani army). Indeed, an Indian Army officer once lost his ear in a fight to save his moustache from anti-stache thugs in a village near Patna. Even the police use their moustache as a stamp of authority. Some even get paid to grow them.

Fiction and myth inspire real world trends. From ‘CID’ star A.C.P. Pradyuma to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval; the mythological villain Ravana to the bandit Veerappan – a unique moustache makes for a unique man.

But are moustaches only for men? Male to Female transgenders sometimes choose to keep their facial growth, Alex Drummond, as a prominent example. Drag queens also choose to sport the ‘stache, when their art calls for it. But in India, transgenders tend to avoid bearing moustaches. The strong association of the moustache with the masculine might explain this. Curiously, a puja in Kolkata performed for a transgender Durga features a unique idol – with half its face corresponding to the male, with a moustache, and the other half to the clean-shaven and feminine.

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In India as with the rest of the world, the moustache goes in and out of fashion in phases.

Emerging trends seem to point to its revival. As the 1980s becomes cool again, so do does its selection of moustaches. Internet culture identifies the modern moustache as quirky and bold and can cross texts. One such music video features the character Vegeta from Dragonball Z, and it’s got us hooked.

Moochy South, Moochless North

There exists a North and South divide in India regarding the moustache. The rise of stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Ranbir Singh helped wean off the popularity of the moustache in North India. But it remains a staple of South Indian actors. From Mammooty to Vijay, Rajnikanth to Chiranjeevi., south Indian celebrities are unimaginable without their moustaches. What would they twirl without it? This scene of Rajnikanth weeping as he trims his moustache shows us what would happen if they were made to lose their most precious of possessions.

Moustache = Masculine

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A lot of it has to do with the idea of the moustache as masculine. Some studies have found its usage in rural language to be directly linked to attainment of masculinity,

It is said that in that [household] the man has no moustache (that is, is not a man at all)

The shaving of one’s moustache can even be seen as a bad omen. For some cultures, it is done as an act of mourning when a near relative has passed away. For Veerappan, it is said to have contributed to this death. He had shaved his moustache prior to his killing in 2004 – prompting some to say that shaving it led to his death.

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The Valmikian villain of the Ramayana, Ravana, sports the same moustache on all ten of his heads. It is his defeat that is celebrated on Diwali in a few days – a day before ‘Movember’ kicks off across the world.

What is Movember? It is arguably a millennial ritual. The idea was born in 1999 when a foundation coined the idea of growing out facial hair for the cause. Then, in 2003, 30 men in Australia grew out their beards and moustaches for 30 days, to raise awareness for prostate cancer and male depression. It has since evolved into an internet phenomenon, where every November, supporters will go a whole month without shaving. The rise of hipster culture has sparked the growth of mooches across the world – with many aiming for the Chet Faker look.

Moustache = Money

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Neilsen estimates the male grooming industry to be worth $748 million. Moustache grooming is a niche market. New age companies have started making products exclusively for beard and moustache grooming, selling the moustache lifestyle with the product.

Moustache = Sexy

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People, we spoke to felt the ‘stache is sexy – provided it’s well taken care of.

Vidisha Srinivasan, Editorial Assistant at GQ Magazine feels

There is nothing sexier than a man with a well-groomed ‘stache. According to me, a man with one oozes a sense of great confidence and control. It isn’t surprising then that a lot of men in our armed forces still have a moustache. Keep them oiled and trimmed and you got yourself a great first impression

Moustache puns are always welcome at Madras Courier. Niyati Sing says

Some of them look fan-stache-tic. Others look hairy bad

Therefore, we moustache you a few questions:

Do you think the era of the moustache is here to stay? Is there more to facial hair than facial hair? As the popular t-shirt slogan goes, ’Mooch Nahi Toh Kuch Nahi’? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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