In the mad rush towards the First World superpower, there are many things in India worth leaving by the wayside: poor infrastructure, low literacy rates and inadequate sanitation. On the flip side, there are some great tragedies in what is left behind—great traditions lost in the transition to modernity. Richard McCallum, the founder of an adventure tour group in New Delhi, and Chris Stowers, a Taipei-based photographer who has spent years travelling through India, watched one of these traditions slowly dwindling with a combination of fear, horror and sadness. But rather than just sit back and sigh, the two men decided to take matters into their own hands and document the last remnants of the tradition for posterity’s sake.
Hair India: A guide to the bizarre beards and magnificent moustaches of Hindustan, Rs400
The result is Hair India: A guide to the bizarre beards and magnificent moustaches of Hindustan. The photographic compendium rounds up two years of their travels through India, searching high and low for the most ornate and most unusual hirsute men of the region. Then with aplomb, the men classify each moustache under names such as “The Wacky Ladakhi”, “The Whale Tail”, “The Coiled Cobra” and “The Spaniel’s Ears”.
The introduction reads: “Perhaps the species loss of the Winged-Patriarch is a small price to pay for economic and social development, but as sightings become ever more rare, so the need for a comprehensive guide becomes more pressing.”
The men call themselves modern pognologists (or one who studies facial hair, in case you didn’t know) and decry the youth of India for choosing not to grow lavish moustaches. Inspired by the book, Stowers even experimented with facial hair himself.
Sharma, a nasal flautist and owner of a magnificent 8ft-long moustache.
A definite tounge-in-cheek humour brightens the photographs with tidbits and extra treats. For example, we learn that “Blackbeard a.k.a The Corsair” is also “a delightful chatty fellow and very knowledgeable on the pubs of greater Manchester”. And the authors provide a handwritten map of Old Delhi for new mustache hunters to locate “the Wordsworthian”.
It’s a valiant attempt to combat “the deplorable gap in contemporary Indian pognology” and a rich album of some of India’s hairiest lips, to boot.
The book has been self-published and is available at most bookstores for Rs400.