Saturday, February 11, 2006

An epitache to my moustaph

The first ever indication that I was no longer in the full flush of my youth came to me in a rather subtle manner. A neighbour’s child addressed me as ‘Uncle”. Soon, the word spread insidiously, as these things tend to do, and a multitude of children began to “Uncle” me. The second and rude reminder that I had left my youth far behind came when I found, as Bob Hope did, that the “candles on my birthday cake cost me more than the cake itself”.

But, the final and defining moment of truth was when I spotted the first grey hair on my moustache. This irreversible greying process assumed epidemic proportions and now, unless the day is exceptionally sunny, I am hard pressed to spot a single black hair.

I have come to the painful conclusion that the grey moustache must go. I must put an end to its misery. Mercy killing is the only sensible option. Like Amol Palekar in Gol Maal or Rajnikanth in Thillu Mullu, I must ceremoniously bid goodbye to this accessory that has stayed with me for so long.

To those of you in the blogosphere wondering what the fuss is all about, I must explain the special bond that exists between a Tamil male and his moustache and place it in a historical perspective.

As early as the 2nd century AD, the celebrated Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar, extolled the virtue of a moustache in these immortal words:

Meesai Ulla Aanukku Mattume
Dosai Niraya Kidaikum

Translation: Blessed is the man sporting a moustache, for it is only he that will be lavished with Dosas. Implying, in case you didn’t follow the sub-text, that those males without the moustache were doomed to subsist on a diet of idlis for the rest of their lives.

Aside: The fact that Thiruvalluvar placed this couplet in the Kaamathu Paal section- the one dealing with aspects of romance and sex- shows that he viewed the moustache as a piece of erotica and integral to a healthy man-woman relationship.

In the 10th century AD, the clean-shaven Chola king, Raja Raja Chola was trying desperately to get himself a queen, but without much success. Now, many in my generation have been led to believe,thanks to an overdose of Sivaji Ganesan movies, that Raja Raja Chola was an imposing figure who towered over his subjects, in all his majesty. As a historian however, I must state the plain truth. The fact was that the average Tamilian in the 10th century was 4’6” tall and Raja Raja Chola was elected the king by virtue of being 4’7” tall. Tall enough to be king, but, alas, not tall enough to inspire awe in local women. He tried to draw attention by constructing huge temples with 300 feet high gopurams and eighty ton, monolithic stones, but these exploits were met with derisive laughter and pooh-poohed as mere gimmicks. The poetess Avvaiyar I, who lived in that era, sang:

Manna, Kovil katti enna payan?
Meesai illaa nee verum chinna payyan

Translation: Of what practical use, O foolish king, are your temples and towers? Without a moustache on your face, you are but a juvenile.

Happy ending to the story. Taking the hint from Avvai I, Raja Raja Chola grew a thick moustache and soon his harem swelled with women of assorted shapes and sizes. The king gave pots of gold to Avvai who went on to write English rhymes such as :
"Twinkle, Twinkle little star
Avvai wonder what you are"

In more recent times, cine-actors have helped keep this rich Tamil moustache tradition alive. A piece of local folklore will illustrate this point. The late actor MGR was known for his fur-cap fetish, sunglass fixation and his wristwatch obsession. He refused to be photographed without these. However, a paparazzo did manage to capture his photograph without any of these accessories on his person. But, even after relentless shadowing, he could never catch MGR without the pencil-line moustache, painstakingly drawn on his upper lip every morning by trusted lieutenants of his. Some of these pencils are displayed in the MGR Museum along with other memorabilia.

Th Salman Khans and Saif Ali Khans, who are looked upon as Greek Gods in the rest of the country hardly cause any flutter in these parts. Not surprisingly, they don’t get to act in Tamil movies. They may have rippling, bulging muscles that suggest that these guys are filled with testosterone up to their Adam’s apples, but their clean-shaven looks put paid to their macho aspirations and mercilessly consign them to the dustbins of Kollywood. ( Salman, Saif- don’t lose hope however. You can fancy your chances of making it big as heroines here. We like fair women without moustaches)

Thus, every self-respecting Tamil male, who values his honour, strongly feels that, without a moustache, he is practically walking around naked. But he is flexible. He is not finicky about the shape, style or texture. The moustache can be of the handlebar variety, the drooping Walrus form, the toothbrush bristle type or the pencil-line drawing. The broad principle is that some moustache is better than no moustache. And a cardinal rule is that it must be black, not grey.

So it is that I must resort to euthanasia and remove the terminally-ill, greyed appendage from my person. I will spare no expense, of course. Nothing less than a new Mach III razor and Gillette’s deluxe shaving foam will be put to use.

Adieu, my beloved ‘stache. Your absence will create a void hard to fill. Especially between the nose and the upper lip.


Shruthi said...

That was extremely funny :D

Dinesh Babuji said...

Even my dad thinks on the same lines of avvaiyaar!
Avvai wonder what you are! - Real funny :D

Raj said...

Shruthi, Dinesh : Thanks

Priya Sivan said...

>>So it is that I must resort to euthanasia and remove the terminally-ill, greyed appendage from my person<< So long as ur wife and children recognise you without it, no problem :))))

gawker said...

"Blessed is the man sporting a moustache, for it is only he that will be lavished with Dosas"

I guess that accounts for the lack of dosas in my life. Hilarious essay, by the way.

Anonymous said...


first time here

that was damn funny

A Motley Tunic said...

That was hilarious! I can't remember the last time I laughed so much. Your post reminded me of Time Flies by Bill Cosby.

Now I remember the last time I laughed so much was while reading that book!!

BTW you have been tagged. Check my blog for details

Casement said...

You are indeed a historian! And...yeah, now I know historians state the plain truth:))

Raj said...

shpriya, I am worried, My wife hasn't noticed the difference....

gawker, Thiruvalluvar was never wrong. grow a mousch fast

blur, thanks for dropping in. Do come back

Sowmya, glad you found it funny. Bill Cosby wrote the book when he was fifty. I will have you know that I am not yet fifty.

casement : yes, historians have to stick to the truth.

A Motley Tunic said...

oh man my intention was not that! :-) Both of you sound hilarious in the same way.

Kalyan Chakravarty said...

my first time here. The blog is really good read mine @
I have a couple of posts, definitely not as hilarious as yours :)

Anonymous said...

really gooooooooood1