Changing fashions: Hair today, gone tomorrow?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Long, flowing beards and handlebar moustaches have long been a source of pride in India, but that may be coming to an end. By Andrew Buncombe

Tarloch Singh was hiding from the sun beneath the awning of his rickshaw, half asleep and half with an eye for a possible customer. It was hot and humid and Mr Singh's thick, unkempt grey beard did not look particularly comfortable. But the look on his face made clear his disdain for the suggestion that he shave it off.

"I've always had it. I'm used to it. I've had it for 30 years," said Mr Singh, who as a Sikh, wears both a turban and beard for religious reasons. "I don't cut it. I let it grow. But I wash it every day with soap to keep it clean."

South Asia is the home of remarkable facial hair. From the long, trailing beards of orange-clad saddhus to the astonishing handlebar moustaches, the subcontinent has them all.

But are the days of such superlative sights on the wane? The team behind a new book of photographs celebrating the beards and moustaches of India believe that such facial accoutrements are losing their attraction for the younger generation.

"I look around and I see younger people and I don't think that facial hair is so popular," said Richard McCallum, co-author of Hair India: A Guide to the Bizarre Beards and Magnificent Moustaches of Hindustan. "But I'm sure the doormen at the five-star hotels will continue to have them."

Mr McCallum, a British entrepreneur based in Delhi, hit upon the idea of plugging the "deplorable gap in contemporary Indian pogonology" (the study of beards) after meeting a photographer, Chris Stowers, at a party in the Indian capital. They began talking about some of the stranger sights of India and one of them mentioned the idea of a book. "We had to call each other up the next morning to check whether we'd agreed to do the book about facial hair and we had," said Mr Stowers, who is based in Taiwan.

To ensure they found as many fabulous beards as possible in one location, they decided to target large gatherings. Among the festivals they visited were the Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan, the Sonepur elephant fair in Patna and the Kila Raipur rural Olympic games at Ludhiana in the Punjab.

"The big challenge was for Richard to break the ice and start a conversation," said Mr Stowers. "Then I would be trying to explain what we wanted to do. Shooting in the street was also a challenge because the light could change but also because you could find yourself surrounded by 40 people all looking at what you're doing."

To aid their work, the two men both also grew facial hair. Mr Stowers grew a moustache that topped seven inches by the time he came to shave it off, while Mr McCallum opted for a beard that he worried made him look like a tramp. They claim the move instantly helped build camaraderie with the people they were photographing and interviewing.

Their labours resulted in some intriguing finds. In Rajasthan there was a world record-holder for the longest moustache – it was about four metres long and its owner had apparently appeared in the 007 movie Octopussy. In the southern state of Karnataka, the pair discovered the moustache weightlifting champion, a man who had used his moustache to pull a 40kg sack of rice up a flight of stairs.

Mr Stowers said that while their book may offer a snapshot of India, because of changing fashions he believes it will not be possible to find some specimens of beards and moustaches in 20 years' time.

A straw poll among beard and moustache owners in Delhi tended to support such a view. At the Shahi mosque in the Vasant Vihar neighbourhood of the city, the gateman Mohammed Firoz said he too wore his beard because of his religion. "My god also has a beard so I wear a beard," he said, tugging at his thick dark facial hair. "It says so in the Koran."

But Mr Firoz, 40, said many younger Muslims were not interested in beards. "Everyone can have one but the younger people do not care so much," he said.

His friend, Ram Abtar, a Hindu who worked as a gardener at the mosque, said he was content with his short, neatly cropped moustache. "It is not the young people who have the big beards, it is the old men," he said.

Asked if, when he was older, he too would grow the sort of beard suitable for inclusion in a book such as Hair India he snorted: "I will not have one, I don't like them."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Financial Analyst

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Financial Analyst is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Secretary

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This major European Intellectual Propert...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness