Call it the case of a moustache too long, but Indian Airlines will not have a crew member sport a handlebar when Maharaja, the mascot of the international carrier, sports enough hair on the upper lip.
On Monday, a Supreme Court bench of Justices H.K. Sema and Markandeya Katju was astonished when told that 62-year-old Joynath Victor De was removed from his job as the airline's purser seven years ago for keeping a handlebar, just like the Maharaja.
"How can somebody be removed from a job because of the size of his moustache?" the bench asked, while issuing a notice to Indian Airlines.
A miffed Justice Katju looked at senior counsel Fali Nariman, who was waiting for his turn to argue, and said: "Even you have a moustache. So even you would not be eligible for an Indian Airlines job."
The bench has sought a reply from the airline in four weeks. De is now seeking benefits in retrospective effect for being asked to take premature retirement.
Advocate Sanjeev Sen, appearing for De, said his client lost the case before Calcutta High court. Sen said his client's "passion" to keep a stout moustache was part of his family tradition and spiritual faith.
De is also a member of London's famed Handlebar Club, which campaigned against De's removal.
The rich hairy growth on De's face was there when he joined the airline in 1968.
He got promoted to the post of assistant manager in 1994. Till then, he was never told to get rid of his moustache, De said.
He followed the airline's rule that the crew should be well groomed, including the moustache, if worn.
Between 1996 and 1998, the Indian Airlines scrapped its rule for general appearance of crew members. But in July 1998, it revived the repealed provision with an amendment that except Sikhs, all crew members should be clean shaven. A moustache, if worn, should not extend beyond the upper lip, it said.
Soon after this, De was issued a notice asking him why he should not be sacked for keeping his handlebar. He was forced to take premature retirement in January 2001.