|A model presents a creation by designer Narendra Kumar Ahmed|
Gurmeet Singh Sethi, one of the finalists at a men’s beauty contest to be held in Mumbai later this month, begins his day at 6am with a round of exercises at the gym. Later, he and other contestants train with a choreographer, who teaches them how to walk on stage. They also listen to expert advice on diet and fitness routines.
But, for Sethi, the similarities with the routine followed for other modelling events ends there. Interspersed into his daily routine are prayers and visits to the city’s gurdwaras. He wakes up to an Ardas or short prayer and attends hour-long Nitnem or prayers at noon. In the evening, he attends a discourse by a priest before going to a Gurdwara for Kirtans or prayers. His day ends with an Ardas.
Sethi, a businessman from Delhi, is participating in an unusual pageant for men: the Mr Singh India contest to choose the best looking Sikh man. Facial hair, considered unfashionable at male beauty contests, is de rigueur here. Even waxing of body hair is strictly forbidden in deference to religious rules that require men to sport a bearded visage or Sabat Surat.
Though Kesh or unshorn hair is one of the identification marks of their faith, Sikhs fear that many young men are abandoning it. Many young people in Sikhism’s birthplace — Punjab — find the turban inconvenient. “They feel that since their religion forbids them from shaving off their beard, they don’t have the option of modelling as a career. This contest allows them to fulfil their dream of participating in a fashion contest,” said Manpreet Singh, the creative director for the event.
Contestant Sukhmit Singh, an engineering student from Patiala, said that Sikhs have been achievers in various fields. “But a Sikh male model is rare, especially one who wears a beard,” said Singh.
The finals for the contest, now in its fourth year, will be held at Shanmukhananda Hall on October 29. Of the 1,400 applicants this year, 21 were chosen for the finals. “It is a way of preserving the vision of Guru Gobind Singhji, and Sikhism,” said Puran Singh Banga of Sat Sri Akaal trust, which is organizing the contest.