The Hari Putar Dialogues - 39
(BBC News ; 4 January ; New Delhi : 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. "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.)
Putar: There is a report on the BBC website today that far fewer men in India are keeping moustaches as formerly.
Hari: Is this speculation or fact, putar?
Putar: Not speculation. Someone has actually written a book about it. Richard McCallum,the author has called his book: 'Hair India ' A Guide to the Bizarre Beards and Magnificent Moustaches of Hindustan'.
Hari: Now that I think about it, it's true.
Putar: As far as younger men growing moustaches is concerned, a lot depends on whether those men whom they see as role models keep moustaches.
Hari: Who are the role models for Indian youth?
Putar: Cricketers, for instance. Richard points out that most well-known Indian cricket players no longer have facial hair.
Hari: That's true. But, what about film actors?
Putar: Well, take Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and so many others. All without moustache.
Hari: But so also in the past we had Biswajeet, Dilip Kumar, Rajender Kumar, Dev Anand ' all without moustaches.
Putar: Yes, but there were Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt. Among today's heroes there is hardly anyone. Many in Bollywood have opted instead for token designer stubble.
Hari: What is the sociological significance of this phenomenon?
Putar: According to the author beards and moustaches tell the story of modern India - how it is becoming a more Westernized, homogenized place.
Hari: It's not only facial hair. Western pants and shirts have largely replaced the traditional clothes. And now you will now find few women with really long hair in India. Earlier it was much more common. It took years for women to grow their hair that long.
Putar: India is in transition in so many ways. Mr McCallum spent several months traveling the length and breadth of the country to find the bushiest beards and most magisterial moustaches before they disappeared forever. He has classified beards into several categories.
Putar: The book categorizes beards according to bristle-design. There is the "the chin strap", "the soup strainer", "the walrus" and "the wing commander".
Hari: Wing Commander? That sounds more like a moustache than a beard. Well, I guess people in the army and air force will continue to don moustaches. Those in the navy can keep beards.
Putar: The report points out that so will many Sikhs, for whom "kesh" (uncut hair) is a religious principle.
Hari: Who else?
Putar: As the report points out one of the few professions where facial hair remains a mandatory requirement is among doormen of five-star hotels in India. The report quotes Lalan Singh, 40, a restaurant doorman in Delhi's Connaught Place as telling AFP: "Young people don't want an itchy moustache or beard which they think makes them look old."
Hari: Does Lalan Singh himself spout a moustache?
Putar: 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.
Hari: The way things are going, it would seem so indeed.
Putar: Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, putar?
Putar: If things continue in this fashion, it will soon be unusual to see young men with beards or moustaches. In the foreseeable future if someone grows a beard or moustache in India, people will ask him why he has done so. Is it fair to ask someone why he keeps a moustache?
Hari: Well, I suppose there is no harm in asking.
Putar: I think you can ask a man why he does NOT keep a beard and moustache, but not the other way around?
Hari: And why is that?
Putar: Because, don't you see, beards and moustaches are growing naturally. They grow without any effort on the part of the man. Cutting it, or shaving off a beard or moustache on the other hand requires active interference on the part of a person. That needs to be explained. Wouldn't you agree?
Hari: I don't know, putar.