Usually, we don’t notice subtle differences in playing cards. Sure, one deck of cards may differ a bit from another, depending on design. But often, the spades sign on ace of spades will be larger and more ornate than the corresponding signs on aces of hearts, diamonds or clubs. There is a historical reason. Card manufacturers had to pay taxes and stamp duties were extended to playing cards in 1711 — in England. You needed a stamp to prove duties had been paid and that stamp would naturally be on the first card of the deck, ace of spades. However, stamping every deck became a nuisance. Hence, the ace of spades bore the insignia of the printing house, proof that taxes had been paid. Consequently, the ace of spades became larger and the legacy often continues.
Ditto with the four kings. In standard English playing cards, the two black kings wield swords. The king of diamonds has a battleaxe, while the king of hearts has a sword he seems to be using to slice off his own head, unlike the black kings. In addition, the king of hearts doesn’t sport a moustache, while the other three kings do. Why should there be such a discrimination? I don’t think anyone knows definitively. There are a few theories. A standard answer is that while copying from original French versions, there was disfiguring and distortion when block-makers changed symbols of office. In the French versions, all kings have moustaches.
“In fact, there are endless styles of mustachios, all appropriate to the wearers and indicative of the various orders, as rigorously adhered to as if they had all been patented by the Government of India or had been sanctioned by special appointment with His Majesty, the King, or Her Majesty, the Queen.” This is from Mulk Raj Anand’s, Pair of Mustachios, written in pre-independent India. In independent India, what are the rules for the armed forces?I am asking about whiskers/moustaches, not beards. For beards, there are indeed some prohibitions and special exemptions. Do remember that before fighting the Persians, Alexander the Great had his soldiers shave off their beards. Because of Abhinandan Varthaman, if not otherwise, everyone knows moustaches are allowed in the armed forces. Indeed, between 1860 and 1916, moustaches were compulsory in the British Army and that also applied to British India, starting earlier with East India Company. These rules changed in October 1916 and World War I was the reason. If you had to wear a gas mask, a moustache was a problem. Henry VIII taxed beards and so did Peter the Great in Russia. I don’t think Henry VIII’s tax applied to moustaches, but the Peter tax seems to have covered both beards and moustaches.
A tax is a disincentive. There is no prohibition against, or compulsion for, moustaches in the Indian army today, nor is there a tax on moustaches. But neither is there an incentive in the form of a moustache allowance. However, like discrimination between kings in playing card decks, there is discrimination between armed forces and police when it comes to moustache allowances. Here is a quote from the 1943 police regulations: “Officers and men shall always be neat and clean in person and dress both in and out of uniform. Their hair shall always be closely cut. Those who shave shall always be clean-shaved. Moustaches may be worn though beards are shaved. Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims who are in the habit of growing long hair and beards are permitted to do so.” No bar, but there can be positive incentive through a moustache allowance. I don’t mean a moustache allowance specific to an individual. For instance, Meesey Thimmaiah is the official mascot of the Bengaluru Traffic Police. He was known as “Meesey” because of his distinctive and ornate moustache. He died on duty, trying to save a woman and her child from being run over. While he was alive, Meesey Thimmaiah got an annual moustache allowance of Rs 500. This was an allowance specific to him, not across the board.
Across the board, I know of only two states where policemen get a moustache allowance — Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh, it only seems to be for some districts, not all, and is Rs 33 per month. In UP, policemen do get it everywhere, but only if they belong to the Uttar Pradesh Provincial (Pradeshik) Armed Constabulary (PAC), not otherwise. The amount has recently been hiked from Rs 50 per month to Rs 250. I don’t think there is any correlation between the popularity of Chulbul Pandey or Singham and absence, or presence, of moustache allowances in different states. In a government system, the answer often lies in precedence. For the Indian Police Service, something like this is governed by the Indian Police Service (Uniform) Rules of 1954. For a state, this is governed by its rules on uniforms, such as the 1986 rules for UP, or the corresponding uniform rules for the PAC. Differences between states are thus inevitable.
In the army, there was a movement away from beards and moustaches, though those who wanted to sport these, could do so. That’s what happened in the police too and it’s reflected in UP’s 1986 uniform rules. However, because of historical preferences and legacies, traces of moustache preference and “mooch” allowances remain in the PAC uniform rules. Evidently, UP’s 1986 Police Service (Uniform) Rules will soon be amended. But probably not those for the PAC. Others are kings of hearts.
The writer is chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the PM. Views are personal