New generation of men in India shaving off mustaches
By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
KOCHI, INDIA -- Cheered on by his female friends, Nanda Kumar, 26, staged a small but significant rebellion before he left his family in this Indian seaport recently for a high-tech job in Hyderabad: He shaved off his mustache.
For generations of Indian men, a mustache was a must -- especially here in southern India, where fabulous facial hair has long symbolized masculinity. Among younger urban Indians, however, it's the cleanshaven men whom women prefer to kiss, date or just hang out with, according to a recent AC Nielsen survey conducted in eight major cities.
"Our fathers thought they were not men without their mustaches. But 'hairy Hindustan' is over," said Kumar, using a time-honored nickname for the subcontinent. "It's old India. The mustache is for my father, not for me."
The number of women rejecting facial hair appeared to surprise many Indian cultural commentators, but they were ready with explanations. Some considered the disappearing mustache an indicator of youthful city-dwelling Indians' growing globalization. Others thought it was significant that the findings took women's opinions into account.
The survey found that 72 percent of the women who responded in Mumbai and 83 percent of those surveyed in the southern city of Chennai said they were more likely to want to kiss a cleanshaven man. The numbers were similar in New Delhi, India's capital, and in the eastern city of Kolkata, often seen as a center of tradition.
In "Hair India: A Guide to the Bizarre Beards and Magnificent Moustaches of Hindustan," Richard McCallum and photographer Chris Stowers chronicle their travels among the camel-herding tribes of Rajasthan in the north and the backwaters of Kerala in the south to find India's "facial foliage" before it becomes a part of history.
"The mustache represents all the aspects of old India -- the corruption, the baddie cop in an old film, the government job for life -- that the young generation want to leave behind," said McCallum, a pogonologist, or student of facial hair. "Besides, no one wants to look like their parents."
Still, he said, the big mustache may live on in India as a tourist attraction.