|Requiem for a mustache
Goodbye, faithful companion--and hello, you pretty thing
published October 31, 2002
Yes I know, it's gone.
I shaved it.
More than any of the columns I've written, or the stories I've done that have appeared on the air, over the last year the topic I've received the most comments on is the absence of my mustache. It has taken me almost a year to figure out how I really feel about my new face.
Mustaches are interesting in that everyone seems to have an opinion about them. But it's not like politics, where there is a range of ideologies between Ralph Nader and Dinesh D'Souza. People love facial hair--or they hate it.
If we are to look at facial hair in a vacuum, then clearly it's no big deal. It might have evolved as a filter to help Cro-Magnon man from breathing in large particulate matter. Nowadays, it serves no obvious function, and does no obvious harm. However, when you talk about its role in the life of a South Indian man--and one who is in an image-driven business like television--well, it gets a bit more complicated.
Like most men, I have fond memories of the first time I realized that I actually needed to shave. I still remember the pride I felt handling my dad's disposable razor, after lathering on far too much foam for barely enough hair. As soon as I could grow a snor (Dutch for mustache), I did. This was sometime in the second half of high school, and it became a distinguishing characteristic of mine throughout the years. If "the Indian guy" wasn't enough of an identifier for me, "the kid with the mustache" would always help someone pick me out in a crowd.
My identity became tied to this stretch of hair across my face. Most of the people I grew up around in India--especially in the southern part of the country--had meeshays (Tamil). I thought it was just the way you grew up as an Indian man. I say "was" because it seems that the hip trend in most Indian cities today is to go without the schnurrbart (German). But of course there are the purists out there--those who believe that a good set of whiskers is distinguished, masculine, and downright necessary. Amid a predominantly rural population of a billion-plus, these mustached men have strength in numbers. Once, when I was visiting a village in southern India, I realized that having a mustache of my own somehow connected me to the people there. I was clearly a foreigner in their eyes, but at least I hadn¹t sold out by shaving.
There is one painful incident that I would be remiss to exclude from the history of my mustaka (Greek root word). Once people knew how attached I grew to it (and it to me), it became the object of a fundraising raffle during my senior year in high school. The loss was devastating, to say the least, for it came right before my cross country team photo, the only picture I cared about being in. From that day on I vowed not to shave it on anyone else's terms.
Requiem for a mustache