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When men grow bald they begin to look like each other. Men of all ages, nationalities, races and dispositions converge into one uniform nondescript facial signature – like a sculpture stripped of shape and left standing as a mass of unformed cement. When they congregate at a marketplace, they provide the perfect aerial camouflage for the illicit movement of a large consignment of eggs or potatoes.
When I had a full head of hair, every time I walked past a mirror, I would linger. On souped up versions of a Fiat or Ambassador, I would bend my knees in front of the door or lean over the boot to get a clear view of myself. On street side full length windows with reflective films which diffused light in while keeping peering glares out, I would catch myself in languid dynamic motion.
I was quite vain. I still am – an unconscious after effect of years of habit – although I have no reason left to be. My mirror gazes are now brief & detached – to count down the angles where my body still retains some familiarity with the past. Brief because I am down to the low single digits. Detached as it’s easier now to accept the body as my cart for a brief journey and not me.
It all began during those dark days when I began to bald.
I woke up one morning and stood before the mirror – staring at myself. I noticed something missing. It had the elusiveness of a brief flicker of unintended desire – lost and buried before it emerges. But years of scrutinizing my own face had made me deeply familiar with its contours.
The hairline had begun to fade near the right temple and would expose the frontal bone on my forehead. Along with it a minor part of my familiar past would morph out of my face. A stranger was encroaching on my reflection – like staleness slowly working its way through a slice of bread. As long as the frontal bones are covered, the face retains an elegant oval quality. Once it begins to get exposed, the fall off the edge of a cliff begins. The collapse from character to commodity. The meltdown into obscurity.
I tracked its progress over the next few weeks. With the earnest faith of a bone in a dog fight – hoping some good karma from my clueless surrender would move destiny to reverse its trends. But the odds looked stacked against me.
My father was bald because all his maternal uncles, without exception, were bald. Someone mentioned that as irrelevant because the balding gene came from my maternal side. I had two maternal uncles, one bald and one crowned like a bear – so my odds began to look better. But while statistics are a useful tool to analyse the past they can be a dreadful one to forecast the future. Because nature loves to provoke, to coldly clarify the irrelevance of our petty calculations. The landscape of my face had begun to alter in ways that were so out of my control that it troubled me.
Men through the ages have tried to stall it with various devices. But all such attempts only draw attention to or magnify the problem. Every time I walked into a room, the first person that caught my attention was not the woman with the enchanting smile and unapproachable aura – but the man with the misshapen wig, as all wigs were. It now is the man with the expensive hair extension / transplant / weave. Atleast men with a flattened bird’s nest on their heads were shadowed by their transparent pretence at dramatic subterfuge. But modern day treatments leave a misplaced veneer of confidence on their subjects that the flaw in their follicles have been finally concealed. And that sows the seeds of a more subtle yet awkward conflict into the situation. Like a man absorbed in an intense monologue on stage while the audience keeps getting distracted by the vapour of spit from his mouth that dance like fireflies in the spotlight .
I went to my mother in despair. We went to a Homeopathic clinic – a chain inspired by McDonald’s to package and market healing like a scalable product. Met a young girl who captured my medical and psychological history through a rapid checklist of questions with Yes/No answers and then prescribed oils and pills under a standard 3 / 6 / 9 / 12 month payment plan. It was such an obvious fraud – a life membership treatment plan for incurable baldness must have been in the pipeline. But the desperate eye sees what it wants to see and hears what it wants to hear – an insight that has spawned industries from the beginning of time.
And so I applied oil on my head each night and relied on the same tools that allow sanity to endure within an uncertain world – blind hope and shameless self deception. The hair was definitely looking richer every time I checked after a shower. And so I showered more often. The memory of my good hair days were plastered onto the mirror. I peered into the past each day until it filtered into the present. Magic and madness are both the unreasonable stubbornness of a hypnotic mind. If someone told me applying cow dung on my head before bed and drinking goat’s urine each morning would help, I would have been up to it.
After a few years, the bald patch at the back of my head made itself visible in the mirror. An unexpected traitor who arrived with the swiftness of shock. I gave up and went back to my mother. She was always a persuasive and positive person, but those powers seem to reach their zenith as mine collapse. So she took me to another homeopath – a low profile but highly recommended gentleman.
His clinic was reassuringly spartan. It reminded me that glitzy marketing very often decouples capability from wealth. I walked in, sat down and asked him if he could treat my balding condition. He said he could, but before that, I must first accept that I was balding.
It was a piercing precondition.
In that dingy room across the table from this sage like doctor, instead of disappointment I felt sheer relief. Years of accumulated ruminations leaked out of my skin and flowed back into the earth. Shortly thereafter I began shaving my head and set myself free.
My mirror is now relieved of the burden of my memories. The world looks different now, even though most potatoes still look the same.
(This post was also published in ‘The Hindu’)