Jan 7, 2009

Lifestyle - India moustaches 'face the chop'

The famous beards and moustaches of India - seen as representing a huge tradition to the outside world - are under threat, a new book says.

It says that the country's famous facial hairs are disappearing as India enters the clean-shaven digital age.

The book says that the traditional belief that facial hair is a sign of virility appears to be facing the chop.

It says that young people in particular do not want an itchy moustache or beard which they think makes them look old.

Designer stubble

"Hair India - A Guide to the Bizarre Beards and Magnificent Moustaches of Hindustan" says that India's extravagant beards and moustaches - proudly sported by generations of Indian men - are being trimmed as the country becomes more clean-shaven and urban.

Author Richard McCallum says that clean chins are becoming more commonplace among younger people who no longer have role models sporting beards or moustaches.

He points out that most well-known Indian cricket players no longer have facial hair, while many in Bollywood have opted instead for token designer stubble.

Mr McCallum spent several months travelling the length and breadth of the country to find the bushiest beards and most magisterial moustaches before they disappeared forever.

"It was an idea that started out as a bit of fun but turned into a labour of love," Mr McCallum, a British travel business operator, told the AFP news agency.

"Beards and moustaches tell the story of modern India - how it is becoming a more Westernised, homogenised place, but also how the great traditions and the love of display still exist.

"Male grooming is important to Indians, and facial hair proved a topic that took us to places and into conversations with people we would never have met otherwise."

The book categorises beards according to bristle-design. There is the "the chin strap", "the soup strainer", "the wing commander" and "the walrus".

'Out of favour'

What is claimed to be the world's longest beard, measuring 1.6 metres (five ft) and the world's longest moustache also feature in the book.

But the emphasis is on ordinary stall-owners and rickshaw drivers displaying moustaches and beards that are cut, dyed, waxed and preened in various shapes and sizes.

"Some people were confused when we first told them why we wanted to take their picture, but they soon became very keen," said photographer Chris Stowers.

While facial hair will always be proudly displayed by Sikhs, for whom "kesh" (uncut hair) is a religious principle, it seems that among sectors of society it is inexorably falling out of favour.

One of the few professions where it remains a mandatory requirement is among doormen of five-star hotels.

"Young people don't want an itchy moustache or beard which they think makes them look old," Lalan Singh, 40, a restaurant doorman in Delhi's Connaught Place told AFP.

He is the proud owner of a handlebar moustache that took three years to grow. He could be one of the last of his kind.

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