Businessman goes to great length for moustache

Malik Afridi was kept in a cave for a month until he agreed to shave off his greatest accessory, but that was not the end of it. Photo / AFP
Malik Afridi was kept in a cave for a month until he agreed to shave off his greatest accessory, but that was not the end of it. Photo / AFP

He has faced death threats, been kidnapped and forced into hiding. But nothing will make Malik Amir Mohammad Khan Afridi shave off his remarkable moustache.

Every day, Afridi spends around 30 minutes washing, oiling and twirling his 75cm facial accoutrement into two impeccable arches. He then goes about his business, happy to receive the smiles and compliments of passers-by.

"People give me a lot of respect. It's my identity," the 48-year-old said.

"I feel happy. When it's ordinary, no one gives me any attention. I got used to all the attention and I like it a lot."

He added: "I don't like smoking. I'm not fond of snuff, or drinking. This is the only choice in my life. I'd even sacrifice food, but not the moustache. It's my life. It's not part of my life. It is my life."

For generations, exuberant beards and expansive moustaches have been considered a sign of virility among men in South Asia. Over the years, leading movie stars and top policemen have sported the style and even today almost every doorman at a luxury hotel in India will have a handlebar moustache.

A book published in 2008, Hair India - A Guide to the Bizarre Beards and Magnificent Moustaches of Hindustan, by Richard McCallum and Chris Stowers, suggested the fashion for such super-sized moustaches may finally be waning.

Yet it is not fashion that has been Afridi's main concern, but Islamist extremists. Originally based in Pakistan's Khyber district, situated on the border with Afghanistan, Afridi ran into trouble with the Lashkar-e-Islam, a militant group that was trying to enforce a rule that moustaches should be trimmed or shaved off.

Initially the group told him to pay protection money of the equivalent of 322 ($626) a month. When he declined to do so he was taken prisoner and held for a month in a cave. The militants only agreed to set him free once he shaved off his beloved moustache.

The father-of-10 moved to the city of Peshawar and regrew his moustache, treating it with a combination of products including coconut oil and soaps on which he spends almost 100 a month. Afridi says he receives a small amount of money for his moustache from the authorities in Khyber, a payment they make to promote noteworthy facial hair.

He thought he and his facial hair would be safe, but it was not to be. In 2012 he started receiving more telephone threats and warnings that his throat would be cut.

But rather than shave off the moustache, Afridi decided to move south, to the city of Faisalabad in Punjab. Now, he divides his time between Faisalabad and Peshawar, where his family still live. He has been forced to give up his business and is struggling to make ends meet.

For all its wondrousness, by the standards of South Asia Afridi's moustache is not a monster. The record is currently held by Ram Singh Chauhan, from the Indian state of Rajasthan, whose moustache measures around 4.2m.

Still, Afridi, who started growing his moustache when he was 22, wants to escape the threats for good by moving abroad and hopes the persecution might make him eligible for political asylum.

- Independent

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