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A twirl that makes it worthwhile

Fu Manchu, Genghis Khan, Dalí. If someone sprung these words on an unsuspecting you and asked for the common thread, you would be forgiven for thinking them to be characters from a surreal videogame, writes Amitava Sanyal.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2008 23:08 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Fu Manchu, Genghis Khan, Dalí. If someone sprung these words on an unsuspecting you and asked for the common thread, you would be forgiven for thinking them to be characters from a surreal videogame. In reality, in the testosterone-charged world of half the human species, these are some of the more exquisite styles of moustaches.

Dainty or daunting, curly or straight, it’s the crop that separates the men from the boys. (No offence to those who choose to keep none — but, by the ‘whiskers of Kurvi-Tasch’, don’t they too have to take care of the crop ritualistically every morning?) In effect, it’s one of the few visible things men get to fuss over.

Perhaps we, the subcontinental males, fuss over our crop-on-the-upper-lip more than our brethren in other parts of the world. The fruits of our gardening sure mark us out.

Long before the hollering hirsute of Singur, the Tata group faced a prickly situation in faraway South Korea. Alan Rosling, executive director at Tata Sons in charge of acquisitions, reveals that facial hair created a mild cultural dissonance when Tata Motors bought Daewoo. None of the Koreans sported a moochh, while many of the Indians did. Over time, it just so happens that the expat Tata employees over there have chosen to put up a clean face.

It’s not just that we have more moustaches than in the rest of the world (we have most of almost everything); but we have some of them in unmistakable, hair-raising styles. Here are two flowers from the brambly Indian garden.

Jalebi Coil: It can come with as many spirals as your household would allow. But there is a cautionary tale for those who choose to go the length. Ram Singh Chauhan of Jaipur, the gardener of a jalebi 12-and-a half feet tip-to-tip, does not want to flaunt it in public anymore. This employee of Rajasthan Tourism has displayed his pride to thousands at several fairs at home and away. But these days he has been hiding his coil in the manner of “the snake around Shivji’s neck”, sheathed from view. The reason: a decade ago, an awestruck motorcyclist ogling at his jalebi met with an accident. Managing such a growth is an enterprise — it takes Chauhan more than 30 hours and Rs 1,000 a month to maintain it.

Thevar Thunder: This marriage of the moustache to the sideburns creates an awe-inspiring bridge and adds a jawline. No wonder it’s etched in Indian imagination by the Thevars of Tamil Nadu, a state where no superhero worth his dhishum can come on screen without a moustache. While the onscreen bristle has evolved from the Errol-Flynn-thin style of MGR to the thug’s thicket of Rajnikanth, the Thunderous One was popularised by Kamal Hasan’s Thevar Magan, informs Chennai-based cinematographer Soundar Rajan, who was himself forced to keep one for the first time by his wife.