Page last updated at 13:22 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

India moustaches 'face the chop'

Lalan Singh, 40, a doorman for the Legend of India restaurant, poses with his stylised moustache
Many young urban people see facial hairs as "so last century"

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.

Victor Joynath De
The handlebar moustache has been part of Indian culture

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.

Are you in India? What do you think of the moustache tradition? Should it continue or is being clean-shaven the way of the future? Send us your comments using the form below.

In most cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.

The following are a selection of your comments:

Before the 18th century, when the caste system was prevalent in India, only high caste men were allowed to keep moustaches. Lower caste men were either clean shaven sported a beard. During the period from 1850 to 1950, men kept moustaches as a symbol of power and to display of their robust personality. During the 1930s, Mahatma Gandhi's Swadeshi Movement against British rulers advised Indians to have beards so that imported shavers and blades could be stopped. Today, it is true that the tradition of maintaining a moustache is fast disappearing. Modern boys like to be clean shaven (perhaps their girlfriends like it that way.) By the way, I am 64 years old and have never shaved my moustache for the last 34 years.
VS Saxena, India

Our new generation of Bollywood heroes are sporting newer and newer styles of facial hair, and people go crazy imitating them. the younger, non-traditional generation included.In other movie hot spots, like the south, facial hair has always been a sign of masculinity, so there is no sign of the tradition wearing thin there. I don't think that we can say that will be clean cut any day soon.
Adi, India

I would take the middle path. Go for the clean shaven look in your youth (20's-30's), and when in the 40's grow it as long, thick and curly as you want.
Rahul, India

I'm an Immigration Officer, and it always amuses me when I check the passports of Indian nationals who are living in the UK. Often, their old photographs include a moustache, but in person the men are clean shaven. I've asked several of them why they decided to shave it off, and they replied that since coming to the UK, they realised that moustaches are seen quite differently here to how they are in India!
Chris, UK

The article is great, but moustaches have nothing to do with tradition. Even in yesteryears we have had famous personalities without moustaches. It's mostly to do with which part of India you come from. Eighty percent of north Indians don't have it and 80% of south Indians have it. I hail from South India and experiment with and without facial hair. It's true that moustaches make people look older, but it also makes them look more majestic.
Judson Daniel, United Kingdom

I am 25 years old, and have had a traditional Indian moustache since the age of 18. It is a big part of my identity, and although I am the only one of my friends and family to have a moustache, I am very proud of it. Every time it itches, I remember that I am Indian.
Guptha Boothal, Delhi, India

In India and in many other societies, it has always been and shall always be a belief that beards and moustaches are the sign of manhood. So far as Sikhs are concerned, of course to have uncut beards and moustaches are part of their non-negotiating principles - after all a Sikh in his proper form looks very elegant and is very well respected. Whatever new trend India may face, it is only a temporary phase and it shall pass away. Most ladies in their heart would prefer to be with men with their beards and moustaches.
Punita Gaekwad, Canada

I am from India and 28 years old. My father never allowed me to shave my moustache, and he kept a close track of my moustache through video chatting everyday. I shaved moustache for the first time in my life this Christmas. This was partly due to the peer pressure because I had a feeling that Europeans, especially girls, tend not to mix with you if you have moustache. And partly it was a mini rebellion against my father's irrational demands.
Pranesh Bhargava, the Netherlands

Personally I have always associated beards with uncleanliness, laziness and people that do not take care of themselves. To be clean shaven on the other hand signifies good grooming and a good well education someone who can afford a shaving stick. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but these days some people associate beards with al-Qaeda and the Taleban.
Aisha, London

The moustache tradition is almost lost in north India. But in south India, the tradition remains although it seems to be in danger. I personally feel that the moustache tradition has to be continued. It is an important symbol of Indian culture and is a sign of bravery.
Samuel Alexander, India

Being a proud moustache-wearer myself, I do not think that being clean-shaven is necessarily better. The ever-popular "three-day" beard, or "designer stubble", which became popular in the 80s, is ridiculous; a man looks relaxed, yes, but unkempt too. I hope that facial hair styles will continue to reflect diversity, something which they did in the 19th century too (just look at any number of photos of famous 19th century men - there is a fairly even division between clean-shaven ones and those with a beard or moustache.
D Fear, Germany

I am a 31-year-old Indian male currently residing in the UK having recently completed a Masters Degree. I have not been sporting a moustache for the last six years now, though I do still believe it makes one look more manly. I plan to grow back my moustache after I get married and have kids. The handlebar moustache is normally reserved for military types and is still quite popular in India. The general masses though normally have trim Tom-Selleck-style moustache. I don't think facial hair will completely fall out of favour in India. I think that, like me, Indian men may prefer to stay clean-shaven until they get a bit older.
Srikumar Viswanathan, Croydon, UK

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