The amazing moustache that brings admiration - plus death threats, repeated moves, an end to his business... and hopefully a new beginning
People give me a lot of respect - it’s my identity, says man with gravity-defying accoutrement
He has faced death threats, been kidnapped and forced into hiding. But nothing – nothing - will make Malik Amir Mohammad Khan Afridi shave off his remarkable moustache.
Every day, Mr Afridi spends around 30 minutes washing, oiling and twirling his 30 inch facial accoutrement into two impeccable arches. He then goes about his business, happy to receive the smiles and compliments of passers-by.
“People give me a lot of respect. It’s my identity,” the 48-year-old said in an interview with the AFP.
“I feel happy. When it’s ordinary, no one gives me any attention. I got used to all the attention and I like it a lot.”
He added: “I don’t like smoking. I’m not fond of snuff, or drinking. This is the only choice in my life. I’d even sacrifice food, but not the moustache. It’s my life. It’s not part of my life. It is my life.”
For generations, exuberant beards and expansive moustaches have been considered a sign of virility among men in South Asia. Over the years, leading movie stars and top policemen have sported the style and even today almost every doorman at a luxury hotel in India will have a handlebar moustache.
A book published in 2008, Hair India - A Guide to the Bizarre Beards and Magnificent Moustaches of Hindustan, by Richard McCallum and Chris Stowers, suggested the fashion for such super-sized moustaches may finally be waning.
Yet it is not fashion that has been Mr Afridi’s main concern but Islamist extremists. Originally based in Pakistan’s Khyber agency, situated on the border with Afghanistan, the 48-year-old Mr Afridi ran into trouble with the Lashkar-e-Islam, a militant group that was trying to enforce a rule that decreed moustaches should be trimmed or shaved off.
Initially the group told him to pay protection money of the equivalent of £322 a month. When he declined to do so he was taken prisoner and held for a month in a cave. The militants only agreed to set him free once he shaved off his beloved moustache.
The father-of-ten moved to the city of Peshawar and regrew his moustache, treating it with a combination of products including coconut oil and soaps on which he spends almost £100 a month. Extraordinarily, Mr Afridi says he receives a small amount of money for his moustache from the authorities in Khyber, a payment they make to promote noteworthy facial hair.
He thought he and his facial hair would be safe, but it was not to be. In 2012 he started receiving more telephone threats and warnings that his throat would be cut.
But rather than shave off the moustache, Mr Afridi decided to move south, to the city of Faisalabad in Punjab. Now, he divides his time between Faisalabad and Peshawar, where his family still lives. He has been forced to give up his business and is struggling to make ends meet.
Rod Littlewood, president of the Handlebar Club, a British-based organisation set up in 1948 for men with handlebar moustaches, said he had an inkling of the passion that drove Mr Afridi not to give up on his whiskers.
“It’s not on the same scale, but I’ve always refused to shave off my moustache,” he said. “I’ve had bosses who told me to shave it off but I told them I’d rather change jobs. I had girlfriends who said the same but I told them ‘This was here before you’.”
He added: “What I can’t understand is why someone would want to make him shave it off.”
For all its wondrousness, by the standards of South Asia Mr Afridi’s moustache is not a monster. The record is currently held by Ram Singh Chauhan, from the Indian state of Rajasthan, whose moustache measures around 14 ft.
Mr Chauhan, who had a cameo role in the James Bond movie Octopussy, parts of which were filmed in India, last year told reporters he often found it difficult to sleep, such is the size of his moustache.
Still, Mr Afridi, who started growing his moustache when he was 22, hopes that given his circumstances, his moustache might help him and his family escape the threats for good.
Reached last night by phone in Peshawar where he had gone to celebrate Eid, the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, he told The Independent he was hoping to move abroad. He said he hoped the persecution he had endured because of his moustache might make him eligible for political asylum.
“I want to live, that is why I want to get out of Pakistan,” he said. “My first choice would be an Islamic country such as Dubai. But I also willing to go to countries such as the US, Canada or Britain. I would like to appeal to the British government to help me.”
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