Men across India, stirred into patriotic passion by an air force pilot shot down in a dogfight with arch-rival Pakistan, are copying the facial hair of their new hero.
Tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours escalated late last month when both countries claimed they downed enemy jets, with Pakistan capturing a pilot, in an ongoing dispute over the Kashmir region.
The pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, crash-landed in Pakistan-controlled territory on Wednesday. After attempting to flee on foot, firing his pistol in the air to deter stone-throwing locals, he became the human face of the crisis.
He was released by Pakistan on Friday.
Barbers in several cities in India said they had received requests to copy Abhinandan’s facial hair, a distinctive hybrid of a horseshoe moustache and mutton chop sideburns.
“Everybody follows Bollywood and celebrities’ style but he is the real hero of our country,” said Dhiren Makvana, 30, the manager of a fitness club, as he had his beard sculpted at a barber shop in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.
Makvana’s barber, Rajesh Nai, said that three people had come into his shop in the last day alone requesting the style, that India’s newspapers are calling “the gunslinger”.
Another man copying Abhinandan, Mahammed Chand, told Reuters partner ANI in the southern city of Bangalore: “I’m his fan, we follow him. I like his style: he is the real hero.”