“Beta ab to shaadi kar hi lo”, he says laughingly. His eyes take a now-altogether-familiar route, moving from my face to my head. They rest on my scalp – on the shiny patches of nothingness that inundate it – for a fraction of a second, but I being a big fan of The Flash, catch them as they go up, come down and he, through the outcome of a cerebral symphony, forms the words that I’m all too familiar with for my own liking; “Ab to baal bhi kam ho gaye hain!”
My name is Shivansh.
I’m 27 years old.
And I’m balding.
The above was an encounter with a random chachaji that I had at one of the most dangerous places on this green earth – a relative’s wedding.
A quick Google search with the keywords “Balding in India” returns the following top results:
1. Why men in their 20s are balding
2. Why women don’t want to marry balding men
3. Why you should not be balding
4. How you can prevent balding
5. How to bald gracefully now that you’re at it
Believe me, I didn’t make up the last one.
The underlined words are such because I’m amazed at the ridiculous lengths to which a man can go to reverse a fairly – and for the most part – natural process.
Balding is one of those natural phenomena that a man hasn’t been able to decode. We’ve reached the Moon as well as Mars, but the mystery of the shining orb that quite a few million possess continues to bewilder the collective conscience of mankind.
To add to the misery, there’s no set pattern to it. Depending on who you ask; ranging from a random chachaji to an acclaimed dermatologist (God help you if they’re the same); baldness comes in all shapes and strengths. One inevitability that’s uniform is the loss of hair regardless of anything. Cover it with a cap, shorten your hair, go the undercut route, wear a toupee; whatever you do; it’s not going to persuade the actual hair from abandoning you.
I am The Chosen One with regards to balding in my family. My father, at the age of 57, has more hair on his head than I do on mine. My mother still doesn’t have to dye or colour her hair. But I have been losing hair since the age of 13, after a joust with jaundice. My hairline and I developed an inversely proportional relationship all those years back. I kept growing up over the years, all the while seeing my hair recede. And because most of us as children are nothing but human equivalent of the hole in any given posterior, I got bullied because of it pretty much all the time.
It is funny how one’s perception changes not just with age, but also with the things happening around.
In my case, I realised that where once upon a time my cinematic idols were Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, I steadily and cautiously evolved into a person who considered Vin Diesel, Jason Statham and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, as the de facto standard for on-screen machismo. Also, one begins to look at the contribution of personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and Sigmund Freud through a new lens. A very shiny lens indeed, this one.
Closer to home, I evolved as the hallmark of male-pattern baldness on both sides of my family. Heck! I am the standard pattern based on which follicle strength is measured in some cases.
Then, there are the endless remedies that have been suggested to me over the years and believe me you, I have tried them all. From scrubbing onion juice on my scalp, to applying copious amounts of oils, to going all military on my hair; I have done it all. I am a lab-rat of my own choosing, in full human form.
There was also the phase when I decided to grow them all out ala Rambo in a bid to challenge my own fate. “I will keep growing them till they fall off strand after strand”, were my exact words, if the power of recollection serves me right.
You begin to look at yourself in a very different light, taking in details that were once considered rather rudimentary. The teeth of combs become finer, sweat suddenly becomes a foe; especially when you have to wear a helmet; and adjusting your hair before taking a picture becomes a norm as well.
But something that this “developing situation” also taught me was to wonder and reflect on the push on vanity that we’ve all grown up with. Hair (or its absence) is only just one of the several “standards” that one must adhere to, to be considered absolutely normal. The quest for fair skin is still prevalent, as is the want for a sculpted body, no matter the cost or the absence of logic.
As I’ve grown older (and wiser might I add), I’ve realised that what kept me from being happy was the pursuit of something that’s facile in its essence. The desire for acceptability in the larger framework of our society drives us to undertake insane things to perfect ourselves when in reality perfection doesn’t exist. What does exist is a simple truth: we’re all flawed in some way or the other, but that’s what makes us human.
So, my mind may every now and then still vacillate between adopting the ‘look’ of Jason Momoa or Satya Nadella but the truth is, my heart has made peace with the tryst with my hair. I for one, am glad for it.
(Shivansh Mishra is a writer, bibliophile, cinema-lover. All wrapped in one giant package.)
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