Moustache Musings

The moustache is the grooming signature of Indian men and the essence of their masculinity. Morten Levinsky and Nicolas Brangi, who themselves struggle to grow facial hair, take to the streets of Madurai in search of the most beautiful moustache and meet a host of interesting characters along the way

Text by: Morten Levinsky Thorsboe, Denmark
Photographs by: Nicolas Brangi, France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most Indian men sport a moustache. Throughout history, the moustache, or the ‘mo’ as it commonly referred to in the West, has featured on the faces of memorable actors, sportsmen and political leaders. Today in the West, it is becoming fashionable again. There are world championships and festivals dedicated to the moustache. The ‘mo’ is even used in a popular and highly successful awareness campaign for men’s cancer every November called ‘Movember’, which involves men growing moustaches for a whole month to raise awareness and money for medical research. The rest of the world, however, is far behind India when it comes to the moustache tradition.

Moustaches come in many sizes, shapes and colours. Some are short, some are long, some are bushy, some are neat, and some are even curly. Co-volunteer and photographer, Nicolas Brangi, and I went out on the streets of Madurai on a mission to find different styles, find out what’s in fashion, and to find the best, and the most beautiful and masculine moustache of them all. The search for the perfect moustache had begun.

Currently attempting to grow our own beards, we started our epic adventure on a warm afternoon in a dirty rickshaw, armed with only a voice recorder, excellent questions, a camera and most importantly, our sharp eyes to spot unusual and beautiful moustaches. It all started in Pasumalai where we spotted our first victim…

Victim no. 1
Name: Manimaran Age: 37 Profession: Rickshaw driver Moustache status: Slim black moustache. Short beard Moustache age: 17 years.
Why do you have a moustache?
It is my hobby.
Why is it so common in India?
It shows the difference between men and women. (It must be hard to see the difference in other ways of course!)
Is it important in your everyday life?
For a few people, it shows their strength and for others, it shows beauty. It gives them confidence. If I go to some important meetings or events, I take off my beard and only keep the moustache.
Could you imagine a life without a moustache?
Yes, I can. It is possible.
What do women think about his moustache?
When a boy turns 17 or 18 years of age, automatically a beard will come and the women really like it, especially a moustache.

 

Victim no. 2
Name: Ganeshan Age: 55 Profession: Business Moustache status: Great big grey moustache which continues down the cheek Moustache age: 8 years
Why do you have a moustache?
The main reason is to hide a scar that I have on my cheek.
Is it important in your everyday life?
No. It is only to hide the scar.
Could you imagine a life without it?
It would be very different and no one would be able to recognise me. My nickname is ‘moustache man’.
What do women think about it?
As I said, women call me ‘the moustache man.’ So yes, they like my moustache.

 

 

 

Victim no. 3
Name: Kamaraj Age: 30 Profession: Priest Moustache status: Big black moustache and beard. Moustache age: Nearly 12 years.
Why do you have a moustache?
I have grown this beard because it helps me concentrate. I work in a temple, so I don’t want my mind to wander. I just want to concentrate on God. It helps me mentally. The beard and the brain are connected, so when I rub my beard it helps me focus.
Is it important for your everyday life?
It is very important in my life, but also in each and every man’s life, because it has some scientific effects. Take you, for example when you are recording and interviewing, all your attention will be on this interview and nowhere else… because you have a beard.
Could you imagine a life without it?
In my opinion, each and every man must have a moustache to have control of his life.
What do women think of it?
80 percent of the women like the moustache and beard. They are very fond of it.

Victim no. 4
Name: R. Thangamaryappan Age: 50 Profession: Shopkeeper Moustache status: Curling grey moustache Moustache age: 10 years
Why do you have a moustache?
I come from the very south of Tamil Nadu and there it is our culture to have a moustache.
What does it mean to you?
It represents my manhood and it is a part of my identity. People don’t call me by my name, they call me ‘moustache man.’
Is it important in your everyday life?
Yes, because it has become a habit.
Could you imagine a life without it?
I have a photograph of me without a moustache and beard. You wouldn’t be able to recognise me.
What do women think of it?
At first, women were very scared of my moustache, but now they are used to it.

 

Victim no. 5
Name: Chellam Age: 70 Profession: Worker Moustache status: Grey handlebar moustache Moustache age: 30 years
Why do you have a moustache?
I really like it.
What does it mean to you?
It doesn’t mean anything symbolic. It just shows that I am a man and makes me different from others.
Could you imagine a life without it?
It would be very awkward. No beauty.
What do women think of it?
I don’t think they think anything special, because it is so common.

 

 

 

 

Victim no. 6
Name: K. Sagadeyan Age: 51 Profession: Construction Moustache status: Medium size grey moustache Moustache age: 26 years
Why do you have a moustache?
It represents the man.
What does it mean to you?
It gives me strength and confidence.... and it makes me look handsome.
Is it important in your everyday life?
It is very important for my everyday life and if it’s not there, I am missing something. It makes me feel happy.
Could you imagine a life without it?
No. I am very happy with my moustache and I don’t want to lose this happiness.
What do women think of it?
Some women get very happy when they see it, but some may criticises me, because at my age, it is common to grow a big moustache. But many admire it.

Our Mission Grows…

After the first six interviews we wanted to go even deeper into the hairy affair, so we took the rickshaw to the outskirts of Madurai to find our next victim.

Victim no. 7
Name: Raja Age: 54 Profession: Shop employee Moustache status: Grey moustache which continues down the cheeks. No beard. Moustache age: 30 years.
Why do you have a moustache?
It is my style. My father had this kind of moustache too so I was inspired by him.
Is it important in your everyday life?
It is not very important, but it shows my personality.
Could you imagine a life without it?
I have never thought of that!
What do women think of it?
One of the kings who once ruled in Tamil Nadu had this kind of moustache, so women think it is good to have.

 

 

 

 

Victim no. 8
Name: Abdul Jabas Age: 68 Profession: Shop owner Moustache status: Classic Imam beard and moustache. White Moustache age: 35 years
Why do you have a moustache?
As a man you must have a moustache.
Why do you have this special moustache?
Scientifically, the beard gives confidence and if you have a beard, your throat will never be dry. It gives a steady heartbeat and the brain functions better.
Is it important in your everyday life?
I am a Muslim and in my religion, we need to have this beard.
Could you imagine a life without it?
I would feel very shy if I removed it.
What do women think of it?
They are afraid of it because it’s very long. They feel like it attacks them.

 

 

Victim no. 9
Name: Nagaraj Age: 50 Profession: Security Moustache status: Great grey bushy moustache. No beard Moustache age: 20 years
Why do you have a moustache?
Because it gives me confidence.
Is it important in your everyday life?
It is very important to my everyday life.
Why is it so common in India?
It is very important in India because of the culture and the tradition.
Is it important for your job?
When you work in security, it is very important because people get scared if you have a big moustache. It shows respect.
What do women think of it?
Women like them. They are mad about them. Some even fall in love because of them.
Could you imagine a life without it?
No, because it is important for my beauty.

 

Hairy Dreams

After a lot of exciting interviews with loads of hair, we decided to ask the younger generation what they think about moustaches and which kind of moustache the dream to have.

Victim no. 10
Name: Riyas. Age: 21 Profession: Student Moustache status: Small black moustache. No beard Moustache age: 6 months
Why do you have a moustache?
It is the fashion today.
What is your dream moustache?
A moustache that continues down the cheeks.
Is it important in your everyday life?
The most important thing for a man is to have a moustache. It makes me look handsome.
Could you imagine a life without it?
Yes, it is not a problem.
What do women think of it?
This is a question for ladies.

 

 

 

Victim no. 11
Name: Ashwin Kumar Age: 20 Profession: Student Moustache status: No moustache! No beard! Moustache age: 0
Why do you not have a moustache?
Because it doesn’t look good.
What is your dream moustache?
A French beard. When I finish my education I will grow one.
Is it weird for you in your everyday life to not have a moustache?
No, not really.
Could you imagine never growing a moustache?
Yes I think I can.

In the Eye of the Beholder

After our research and bumpy rickshaw ride around the streets of Madurai, I must admit that we did not manage to find the best, most beautiful moustache. All the different styles and fashions are overwhelming and we can’t possibly be the judges of what looks the best. The adventure has been great and the many beards and moustaches still whirl around in our minds. Although we didn’t achieve our goal, as two men who can’t grow a bushy moustache, this has been a brilliant experience.

No doubt the most common moustache in Madurai is the small traditional black one, but there are several variations. Even though we have given up hope of ever finding the most beautiful moustache in Madurai, we suspect the men here will proudly continue with their grooming. Beauty is after all, in the eye of the beholder. Surely every man in Madurai has a beautiful moustache!