October 19, 2006, GV Krishnan
Remember Veerappan, the bandit guy? It has been two years since he was liquidated in a police 'encounter'. His wife is planning a shraddaanjali meeting on October 30th at the Market Square in Mettur, not far from where he was gunned down. Veerappan operated over a 16,000 sq. km forest area in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. He rose from a lowly sandalwood smuggler to a legendary bandit, specializing in celebrity kidnaps for ransom, in 15 years. Legends take time in the making.
The guy's death made news in papers as far apart as Botswana's Mmegi, Belfast Telegraph, Brunei's Borneo Bulletin and Baku Today of Azerbaijan. A Beijing college student was quoted in The China Daily as saying he couldn't understand how a man with a handlebar moustache eluded the law for a decade and a half.
Maybe there was something in the 'handlebar' that kept the law at arm's length. Because Veerappan had reportedly meddled with his moustache shortly before the bloke got ambushed by Tamilnadu Special Task Force. The trimming of the thing was his undoing. There must have been magic in Veerappan's 'imperial' whiskers that had made him invincible.
Legend has it that Ravana had a moustache, not unlike Veerappan's. So does Yamaraj, the Lord of Death, who remains immortal because of the magic in his handlebar moustache. The Veerappan moustache created its own mystique in the public mind. The man minus the moustache would have had no brand value. A five-star hotel restaurant in Kolkota, they say, once hit upon a ploy, dressing up its waiters with Veerappan whiskers, to attract customers during a South Indian food festival.
An American blogger, on reading about Veerappan's exploits said in a post: "He sounds like he was a pretty bad-ass in a Robin Hood kind of way, but how did he maintain such a killer 'stache?" Nakheeran Weekly editor Gopal, who was involved in the negotiations with the bandit (was it during the Raj Kumar hostage crisis?), is on record to have observed that the bandit spent considerable time with it (the moustache) everyday, using a special oil.
"He treated it with herbs before combing and rolling it round his fingers to give it a stylish stoop," said Gopal, "he used imported dyes to keep it black." Incidentally, the Nakheeran editor sports a Ravana-like 'stache of his own. It gave Gopal a talking point, and, presumably, a negotiating edge when he met Veerappan in his jungle hideout.
Retired Times of India correspondent, based in Mysore. Runs www.mymysore.com , a civic initiative on the web; writes a column -DatelineMysore – for www.zine5.com