Mohammad Ali Jinnah had one and so did Allama Iqbal. Of the presidents that governed Pakistan, Mohammad Ayub Khan had a very charming one, Zia-ul-Haq’s became a symbol of, well, infamy. Pervez Musharraf has a well-trimmed and somewhat efficient looking one, as does the newly-appointed Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif. Asif Ali Zardari’s ’stache, while not as glorious as it once was, forever frames his smiling face. Our current president, Mamnoon Hussain also has one but it doesn’t appear very prominent. Much like Mamnoon himself.
Sporting some kind of facial hair, whether in the form of a mooch or a beard, has always been a part of our local culture. After all, a moustache is what separates the men from the boys. Moustaches are still common among policemen and the military and a large part of the Pakistani public, mostly from the older generation, keep one.
However, this wasn’t a rule where the entertainment industry is concerned. Popular heroes from the Pakistani cinema industry, Waheed Murad, Mohammad Ali, Nadeem, Moammar Rana and Shaan Shahid have never really sported a mooch, except (in the case of the latter) whenever a role required him to strap on a fake one. In the music industry, Alamgir never had one, neither did Zohaib Hasan or the Vital Signs or Junoon boys — minus Salman Ahmed of course.
But don’t reach for that razor just yet! The mooch has made a major comeback in entertainment and popular culture with songs such as Ali Gul Pir’s Waderai ka beta popularising it and Sattar Buksh (a trendy café that recently opened up in Karachi) giving the mooch a quasi-celebrity status by making customers pose with it. Musician, actor and our current heartthrob Fawad Afzal Khan and musicians Omran Shafique and Mekaal Hasan, have also started sporting moustaches, to name just a few.
To assess how popular the mooch is in aaj ka Pakistan, we decided to talk to two individuals from different age groups about their whiskers and one on why he chose not to have any.
The musician: “Real men have moustaches”
Omran ‘Momo’ Shafique is no stranger to Pakistani audiences. He’s performed with pretty much every major act that exists in Pakistan’s contemporary pop and rock firmament, he’s been a part of the Coke Studio family since its inception, was co-producer in the first instalment of Uth Records and his own band, Mauj, has something of a cult following.
But along with his music, Momo is definitely known for his whiskers. He’s sported them big and small, in a variety of shapes, while finally (mostly) settling for the horseshoe style. Sometimes he even just lets them grow wild.
“A moustache is a proud Pakistani tradition,” he exclaims. “All of my brothers have it. I think, at first, it was an ironic thing … but I quickly grew to love it.” He’s been sporting his mooch for several years now and even if he shaves it off, Momo is pretty sure he’ll grow it back pretty quickly. Such is his comfort level with his facial hair that he appears lost without it.
Who is his favourite moustached character? “Burt Reynolds,” responded the musician in a heartbeat. Does his own ‘stache bring him extra attention? “In Pakistan? Not really,” he stated, “because everyone has awesome moustaches here.”
What is the one downside of having a mooch in his opinion? “It does get a bit unruly at times,” he confessed, “but constant gardening is essential.”
Not too long ago, moustaches were equated with manliness. A man was nothing without his moustache — mooch nahin to kuch nahin. In fact, some men have gone as far to say that a man without a mooch looks like a woman. What is his opinion on that? “Yes,” agreed the musician, “Real men have moustaches.”
The filmmaker: “I keep my mooch as a sign of rebellion”
Assad Zulfiqar Khan’s whiskers have been much talked about as a style statement in fashion weeklies. But that carefully curled, upper lip hairline wasn’t always a part of his life. “I grew up anti-mooch actually. This fascination with facial follicles was a much later phase in life,” he said mentioning that he’s been sporting a moustache for over three years now.
So he doesn’t hail from a family where the mooch was passed on from one generation to another? “No,” he laughed, “My father never had a moustache and the closest family members who had one were my mother’s cousins. Also, I think I used to equate the moustache to Zia-ul-Haq.”
What made him change his mind? “I became more interested in Pakistani culture and literature during my stint at the London Film School. I saw it as a part of our culture and thought it would be a nice homage to it,” responded the filmmaker, adding that, “I got over the Zia stigma I associated with it by seeing how people whom I had a lot of respect for (such as Mir Murtaza, Shahnawaz Bhutto etc.) also had mooches.”
“I guess I would feel naked without it!” exclaimed the filmmaker at the mere thought of life without his whiskers, such is the strength of the bond between the mooch and the man. How would he feel if someone just shaved it off? “I guess it would be as much an assault as someone coming and changing my features in any other way!” he said.
Would he ever shave it off himself? Like, ever? “I don’t know,” responded Khan thoughtfully, “There are days when I feel like doing just that. Then there are others when I think I should just grow a beard.”
Assad Zulfiqar Khan sports a classic handlebar moustache. Is there a reason why he chose that style? “It’s the kind I like the most I guess,” he related, “There is something very therapeutic about twirling one’s mooch.”
There was a time when keeping a moustache was considered a sign of civility as well as his (ahem) virility. “No, I don’t think that concept still applies to moustaches anymore. Being clean shaved is more civil now. And isn’t buying a massive car or gun the way to compensate for one’s insecurities the modern-day equivalent?” he stated while twirling his moustache.
And finally, the perks of keeping a mooch; “Yes, I do get attention because of it,” responded Khan, the corners of his moustache forming a smile for him, “This interview being a case in point. Plus it kind of makes one stand out in the crowd. Of course, I’m helped by being slightly taller than average.” Slightly taller? At 6feet 6inches, the man is a giant!
Does the mooch work with women? “You could say that,” he laughed, “I think as far as women go it instantly divides them between those that hate it and those that love it. I don’t think anyone sits on the fence. And I think it might lead to making an instant opinion about whether they would like to acquaint themselves with you or not.”
But that isn’t all that he had to say on the mooch’s effect on women, “I think its effect varies from society to society. It’s more popular in Britain than in Pakistan for example. At least, that’s the impression I get.” He’s obviously given this a lot of thought.
How exactly does he maintain this defining feature of his existence? “I just get it trimmed when it gets a bit out of hand,” he said. Ah, from a high-end salon that specialises in the art of grooming the mooch? “The local nai,” was his humble response.
For Assad Zulfiqar Khan, the mooch is more than just for vanity. “The mooch for me has now taken up a certain religious rebellion as it’s the exact opposite of what a ‘religious’ beard is supposed to be,” he stated.
“Because in the traditional religious beard you have everything but the mooch,” he elaborated, “A mooch (as I was told by different Islamiat teachers and maulvis) was a symbol of arrogance.
I guess after noticing the amount of moustache-less beards in Pakistan expand, I find my mooch to be the antithesis of that.”
The aam admi: “I don’t have a mooch because I like my qorma and don’t want ghee on my face”
The man without a mooch, entrepreneur, storyteller and (sometimes) capacity builder, Shakir Husain, never felt the pressure to grow one. In his family, the mooch did not play an important part in announcing the transition into manhood. “No one had one,” he confirmed, “Facial hair wasn’t considered a rite of passage or a measure of manhood.”
Unbelievable! Has he at any point in his life sported a moustache? “That would be never,” he responded strongly.
But, why? “I don’t have one because I like my qorma and don’t want ghee on my face.” Moochless as he might be, the man has a point.