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."

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice