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The Moustache Maketh The Man

The Moustache Maketh The Man

August 17, 2010

When in Kerala, do as the Malayalis do…

I was at a work meeting a few months ago when something curious happened. We were sitting at a long table, and I noticed that on the opposite side from where I sat, every person had a moustache. As I looked along their faces, all focused intently on the boss’s rhetoric, I was spontaneously seized by a powerful urge to burst out laughing. It seemed so hilarious, like this unofficial uniform – absurd, almost, if it weren’t for the fact that I wore a moustache myself.

Back home in New Zealand, it never occurred to me to cultivate facial hair. That was always a sort of rebellious preserve of a particular group of university freshers, something to get out of their systems during the college years and cast off for good upon starting their first full-time job. Beyond that, it’s almost frowned upon, as if wearers are either seditious or hopelessly out of date. When working in sales for one employer, my dad was even asked by the boss if he would shave off his beard. In Kerala, however, such an affront would be unthinkable: here, it is the ‘meesha’ – or moustache – that makes the man.

That’s not just a catchy statement. My old landlord informs me that “when you become adult, you should keep a moustache” – ‘adult’ meaning 16 or 17 years of age. Historically, it makes perfect sense: moustaches have always been a sign of masculinity and virility, and the most well-bred of men kept theirs perfectly trimmed and organised as a highly valued point of pride. In the West, however, this trend has all but disappeared, while the kids here start literally as early as they can. There is also no emo or sensitive new age male culture in Kerala, but any correlation between those absences and the abundance of moustaches could not be confirmed before going to press.

I got quite a shock when I taught at a high school – a private school, no less – for a month here and during my first class with 12A2 found that all the boys had more impressive upper lip hair than I did. I went to a private school in New Zealand where facial hair, in all its forms, was expressly forbidden. The educational instutions of Kerala’s rich obviously saw things differently. (And as for the girls in the class, well, moustaches weren’t compulsory for them but… let’s not go further with that.)

Within a week of arriving, I cast off 7 years of clean-shavenness and started working on becoming a Man. Pretty soon, I had developed a pretty solid French beard and looked a good ten years older than I had without. I didn’t notice too much of a change in people’s attitudes towards me – I suppose saip-ness trumps manliness – but what I did notice was that my French beard was in the minority. You certainly won’t meet anyone in Kerala who could contest the World Beard & Moustache Championships: 90% of men choose either a ‘thin’ or ‘thick’ variation, which are pretty indistinguishable.

After a few months, the maintenance required in keeping my moustache presentable became bothersome so, when I had an accident requiring stitches in my chin, I took the opportunity to shave the thing off. A week of open-mouthed stares at the office – from close friends and bare acquaintances alike – ensued, and I was quickly growing it back. Now I can hardly imagine life without it. Recently I decided to mix things up and take on a full face beard, but I’m still not sure how the Malayalis around me feel about it. I can only imagine their first impression of me has changed from ‘obviously a man’ to ‘obviously criminally insane’… at least I still have quite a few variations to get through before losing all my friends here.


  • jai
    05.04.13 08:24 PM
    i am an indian male currently living in australia where most men are clean shaven. i used to wear a moustache till i started growing a few grey strands.
    i now find men with moustache more attractive.
    however, i believe that those with extra ordinary long/thick moustaches are trying to compensate for other male inadequacies.this is a similar trait with men who grow huge muscles.we have to prove ourselves (somehow) to appear attractive to the opposite sex.
  • Rajpriya
    21.06.12 08:52 PM
    Correction Please read as:

    Similarly Charlie Chaplin was the only other person who thought he would look funnier with the same Tooth Brush Moustache who lived around the same time.
  • Rajpriya
    21.06.12 08:45 PM
    @ Sharell

    You posted the following comment on the 17th August 2010 Referring to the article” The Moustache Maketh The Man"

    “Here’s extracts of a conversation that has stuck in my mind, from where else but a party at Dolphin Bay in Varkala. German tourist to Indain man: “Why do you have a moustache?” Indian man: “Because I’m a traditional Indian man and it’s like a status symbol to me.”

    What the German tourist in Varkala did not know about his own country is evident by his question. It is well known worldwide that Adolf Hitler the murderous Psychopath of Germany sported the Tooth Brush Moustache also known the square Moustache exactly for the same reason as the man from Varkala.

    Hitler was small made and just another ordinary looking German. But he needed to look different than an ordinary German. Even to date no one in Germany would dare grow a similar Moustache.

    Similarly Charlie Chaplin the only other person who lived around the same time thought he would look funnier with his Moustache.

    If you want to see some really funny German moustaches here is a link and there is a world championship on the subject too.,29307,1658835_1439547,00.html
  • vips
    21.06.12 01:26 AM
    F..king archana... m Indian-american person.. hate ur thinking.... i hv seen too many persons from bombay... they all r stinky... Cmon. the mustache horrified u??? If i am not wrong,, u indian women are the most hairy women on d earth... May b ur face has more hairs than on my ass.... Stop thinking like u r top most indian in abroad.... Grow up honey!!!
  • Rajesh
    21.04.12 02:49 PM
    This generation girls/women don't like moustache because they wanted equality with men. Any 'visible' difference will matter in this case.

    Hence men recognizes this urge and accepted knowingly or unknowingly.

    Some men are more beauty-conscious and
    Some wanted to get rid of time-waste to maintain the moustache. Some wanted to look younger. For some peoople, it doesn't grow enough to display. Naturally all they will do a clean-shave.

    Archana says in England, everyone is properly shaved the moustache. It is not true. She has not seen the whole England.

    Whatever it is, any women can accept men's moustache if she understands that men and women are physicaly and biologically different.

    Hence my opinion is that making the face-alike can not bring equality, instead a clear understanding is required.

    Perhaps this issue would have not been there if women had moustache.
  • johnson
    12.04.12 06:44 PM
    malayalees can be official with moustache ,felas those who cant keep this are jealous about that and we true malayalees are not ready to shave for anything else except our time pass
  • NNNiiiXXX
    20.09.11 11:12 AM
    Given the humidity in Kerala, it is not an easy task to maintain one... And ya, it is so true tat u have to get a meesha before u get married... Or u look lik a "boy"!!! Not a "MAN"!!! lol...
  • Cutting Kahlua
    Cutting Kahlua
    01.06.11 07:30 PM
    OMG! That is so hilarious. I remember my cousin (who is from Kerala) was getting married. And when he asked his fiance that what made her decide on him, she said, "I did not want a man who had no moustache". I think Kerala is the one place in the world where moustaches are like a status symbol. Lol. Nice post.
  • emmy
    20.05.11 12:50 AM
    Hmmm nice post... I pesonally like a clean shaved guy.. t he facial hair is a no no!!
  • Archana
    21.04.11 12:53 AM
    You are right, I am fed up of seeing all the moustached men when I go India. Its not only in Kerala but all over India (I am from Mumbai). It's really weird as I live in England where everyone is properly shaved and when I go India, nearly all men and boys have moustaches. The worst place for it is Chennai though, thy grow moustache really weirdly, I've been there when I was in India and OMG it was horrible, not only the moustaches but the dirty places and untidy people.

    Indian people seriously needs to check their looks!
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    20.02.11 04:09 PM
    Hah, if you want to go from 'youth' to 'man', you have to grow one - right?

    I've just gone clean-shaven myself after many bearded months. It looks and feels strange to me but other people seem to think I look better, so I'll stick with it for a while at least...
  • Anil Jayakumar
    Anil Jayakumar
    20.02.11 03:53 PM
    Being the average malayali youth, I admit to have tried this over and over.But the glamor quotient is just not working out for me. Somehow the 'meesha' doesn't suit me(sadly :P ). But the truth is that most people would grow one,while getting married. No body likes to see their plain faces on marriage albums...;)
    As for me, I chose to stay with the trimmed look for quite some time now. :)
  • sharell
    19.08.10 11:27 PM
    I have to admit, I have a bit of a weakness for a finely twirled Rajput moustache, but other than that they rate very lowly on my hotness meter!
  • Maria
    19.08.10 06:41 AM
    Hahaha...the gr8 moutsache business! Sigh personally I am not a fan of facial hair on men or women. In fact, during the course of the groom-hunt in my arranged-marriage drama days, I had specifically refused to consider the burly youths with even burlier(if such a word exists) moustaches.

    The trend is slightly changing. Men are getting more influenced by B-wood and H-wood and preferring the clean-shaven looks. And thank god for that! :D
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    18.08.10 05:39 PM
    That means a lot coming from such an established blogger as yourself, Sharell, thank you much!

    Appu, I like your thinking. I don't think it's true, however, as I have hair not only on my upper lip all over my face and no matter how much I roll my fingers over it, I still do stupid things on a daily basis...

    I actually learned today from colleagues that Malayali men have been known to be openly rejected by women for being clean-shaven, and that those who don't sport facial hair leave themselves open to merciless teasing from family, friends and bullies alike! Times are changing, of course, but it really is more traditional around Trivandrum and those traditions clearly die hard.
  • Appu
    18.08.10 11:34 AM
    Maybe confidence is enhanced when there is moustache present. Maybe rolling fingers over moustache connects a person greatly with brain for better thinking but moustache makes a man - Yes, it is true but that doesn't mean displaying moustache only makes a man MAN.
  • sharell
    17.08.10 06:02 PM
    You write the best articles, Barnaby! 8)

    Here's extracts of a conversation that has stuck in my mind, from where else but a party at Dolphin Bay in Varkala. German tourist to Indain man: "Why do you have a moustache?" Indian man: "Because I'm a traditional Indian man and it's like a status symbol to me."

    No need to say anything more really. That pretty much sums it up!

    Meeshas and mundus...gotta love em! :-)

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