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
  • Get to the point
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 Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk