The release of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistan has likely reduced the odds of war between the two nuclear powers, but never mind that – Varthaman’s mustache is the real hero of the story.
The pilot of a downed IAF MiG-21 was returned to India on Friday in “a peace gesture” by Pakistan, as the two countries teetered on the brink of all-out war over Kashmir. In addition to a hero’s welcome, Varthaman sparked a conversation about his fierce facial hair.
“Abhinandan Varthaman’s Gunslinger: Tamil moustache all of India wants,” declared a headline in India Today, describing it as “beautifully crafted in a manner that ensures that neither his radiating smile, nor his proud face gets covered with it.”
It heavily resembles the gunslinger, but also has some characteristics of the horseshoe, the Hungarian, and the wild west moustache.
Captured Indian pilot + his mustache released, officially crosses border from Pakistan to India. pic.twitter.com/snBM4qAuuY
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) March 1, 2019
The wing commander – IAF rank equivalent to a lieutenant colonel in the army – comes from a family of pilots. His father, retired Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, also flew the MiG-21 when it was first introduced.
Varthaman’s facial hair originally caused some to declare that his capture by Pakistan was fake news, due to the conviction that IAF pilots are not allowed facial hair. While it is true that the IAF forbids beards – with the exception of Sikhs, who do not shave or cut their hair for religious reasons – the air branch does allow mustache.
In India, however, facial hair is a cultural marker. In some rural areas – such as the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where Varthaman is from – adult married men expected to have a mustache, while beards are reserved for grandparents, for example.