Nietszche’s walrus



And five other moustaches that shook the world


August 25 marked Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s 117th death anniversary. It is said that growing a moustache is one of only two things men can do but women can’t (the other one being growing a beard). For many men, this used to be reason enough to sport a moustache. Sadly, not any more. Now Nietzsche could of course have sported just any moustache and be done with the business of discriminating himself from fair ladies, but he didn’t. He opted for the Walrus instead.

It is held by many that Nietzsche’s pessimistic view of life and his misogyny were mainly due to his moustache. Woman after woman kept rejecting his romantic advances, and he kept attributing it to general female weakness to recognise merit, or the nature of the universe. At about this time he founded Nihilism, which meant that there was no ultimate meaning to human existence. There’s a theory that after a while he started realising what was happening, but refused to compromise on principle where a lesser man would have shaved there and then. His love life continued to suck, and he kept on producing great philosophy (remember, philosophy is great in proportion to its gloominess). We therefore owe his Walrus for most of his profundity, such as: ‘God is dead,’ ‘if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you,’ and ‘Woman was God’s second mistake.’ Not that it wasn’t in and of itself a thing of beauty quite apart from its contribution to philosophy.

Volumes can (probably will) be written on Nietzsche’s Walrus, but I would like to use the little space I am left with to pay tribute in my little way to the hairy upper lips of five other gentlemen who influenced the human society for the better or otherwise.

Einstein’s Einstein. What can say more about the greatness of a man than the fact that his moustache is named after himself? Albert Einstein has other claims to celebrity of course – he is rather well-known around the world for all that relativity business: He famously constructed the framework based on Mach’s contention that everything, including time and space, was relative. This was a stark departure from the Newtonian worldview of absolute time and space. But one absolute thing amidst all this newfound relativity was Einstein’s bushy moustache, which remained a constant feature of his life for no less than fifty years. Most observers opine that it played no small part in his status as the very first rock-star scientist.

Tom Selleck’s Magnum PI. There are unkempt hairy upper lips, and there are well-groomed moustaches, and then there are the works of art. Tom’s moustache belongs to the last category. When he started his career the coolest ‘tache in showbiz belonged to Burt Reynolds, and while there can be very little doubt that Tom was more than a little influenced by Burt (and his moustache), nobody, including Tom, could have imagined at the time that there was any scope of improving on the image of the ultimate alpha-male. Before very long however, the follower had outshone the original mega-celebrity, and how! Tom’s has been one of the most recognisable faces on the planet ever since, thanks to his Magnum PI. His few photos sans his moustache show a man who isn’t even a tenth of a man he is with it.

Adolf Hitler’s Toothbrush. Hitler is often praised for his fidelity to one woman despite his enormous opportunities. When one views his photographs and those of Eva Braun however, one is equally awestruck by the latter’s loyalty to the former – she remained steadfast throughout – well more or less (only two unsuccessful suicide attempts are on record). It is worth mentioning here that Hitler started out in style with a very fine Prussian specimen on his upper lip before being ordered during the First World War to clip it down so that it could fit the masks necessitated by the British mustard gas attacks. It’s proof of the man’s impact that a fashion statement that wasn’t even his first choice still managed to become arguably the most recognisable thing of its kind in history. While the other historic moustaches did so figuratively, Hitler with his Toothbrush quite literally shook the world. No survey of the human moustache – however brief – can ever be completed without it.

Dennis Lillee’s Handlebar. The moustache has always been one of the glories of Australian cricket. There are the Ian Chappells, the Rod Marshes, the Greg Chappells, the Allan Borders, even the Merv Hugheses, but one would be hard pressed to find a more memorable moustache than Lillee’s Handlebar. While it’s true that the handlebar that struck terror in the bosoms of batsmen around the world kept on changing in character, Dennis never abandoned it. It started like a classic Sohrab handlebar but with time it changed to more unassuming forms (it should be recalled that the bicycle industry was also at the same time changing to straighter and sleeker designs). To this day, Lillee is a great believer in the power of hair, and not just facial. In 2013, he was not only all praise for Mitchell Johnson for growing a Handlebar of his own, but also advised him to wear more gold and grow some chest hair to put the fear of God into the English batsmen. The latter politely declined the second suggestion.

Mehdi Hassan’s Underline. We come to local flavour finally, and here we can celebrate the fact that for all our technological limitations, our contribution to world heritage in this regard is second to none. For it can be said without fear of contradiction that Mehdi Hassan’s underline is a match for anything the West has ever offered. (And no, it’s not Mehndi Hassan.) Not all notable moustaches are about the expression of power and intent; some moustaches specialise in finesse and subtlety instead, and who better to articulate finesse than an artiste! As he was in his approach to music, Hassan was a minimalist when it came to the art of moustache. He knew – probably from his early training as a tractor mechanic – that just like a machine must have no unnecessary parts, a moustache must have no unnecessary hair. This required that every hair tell. And tell every hair of his thin moustache did. Just like every note of his compositions, whether a ghazal or something more classical.