Inside the brave new world of the bald

Why going bald is an epidemic
First Published: Thu, Oct 25 2012. 06 45 PM IST
Smooth operator: Down south, Rajinikanth’s lead role in the film Sivaji supposedly triggered the craze for going bald.
Smooth operator: Down south, Rajinikanth’s lead role in the film Sivaji supposedly triggered the craze for going bald.
We are witnessing the beginning of an epidemic. Let me give you a clue. What do the following men have in common: poet and novelist Jeet Thayil, dancer Akram Khan, musician Chris Daughtry and actor Bruce Willis? If you didn’t guess, all these men, and scores of others, have a shining pate in the place of hair.
What’s with all the bald men everywhere? Is bald the new beautiful? Or are men baldly going where no man has gone before? More important: Ladies, would you date a bald man?
In the south, the craze for baldness began with a Rajinikanth film called Sivaji. At the end of the movie, the actor shaves his head and disguises himself as “M.G.R.” The next day, scores of Rajini fans shaved their heads, donated the hair to the Tirupati temple, and prayed for the long life of the film star. And these weren’t just men.
Since then, I have watched with bemusement as a growing number of men have resorted to shaving when the growing gets tough. What happened to good, old-fashioned wigs, I ask—the kind that every self-respecting yesteryear Bollywood actor used to wear? With India being the largest exporter of human hair, which eventually becomes wigs, it behoves every patriotic Indian male to turn his back on baldness and encourage our economy by choosing wigs. Men who shave take the black or white, all or nothing approach when it comes to hair follicles. They don’t appreciate the Buddhist middle path, which is to comb the few remaining strands of hair over the balding head. This is admittedly gross and brings to mind pathetic sugar daddies who attempt to hang on to their last vestiges of youth through Viagra, the trophy girlfriend and the valiant comb-across. But at least it doesn’t shock the system like a suddenly bald pate does.
My cousin, Ravi, showed up at a family wedding with a shaven head. It was catastrophic. All the old uncles thought he had joined a cult. The aunties made a beeline for Ravi, exclaimed over how he used to have a full head of hair as a baby, and then proceeded to rub their hands all over his shiny pate. After 20 such instances, Ravi blew his top. The priests put sandal paste on it to cool him down, sat him by the ceremonial fire, and used him as a sort of mascot. I don’t think any of us have recovered.
This then is the cosmic irony. God grants on the bald pate the kind of shine that we long to duplicate on the rest of the body. You can swallow all the coconut oil that you wish; or massage costly ylang-ylang oil all over your body. You can bathe in milk like Cleopatra did; you can eschew soap and exfoliate with cooling green gram flour. Still your body will not shine like a shaven head will.
Some men use tattoos as camouflage and subterfuge. As if a tattoo will explain away thinning hair. “Oh, no, I didn’t shave because I was balding. I shaved to show off my tattoo.” Indeed. Author Clayton Christensen’s sons shaved their heads in solidarity with their father when he was undergoing chemotherapy; and this then is why a shaven head, no matter what you say, will be an emotional issue.
A thick head of hair subliminally symbolizes health. We are hard-wired to see it as such. Chinese medicine views hair as an extension of kidney qi, which is the life force. If you have a good head of hair, you have good genes, a good foundation. When viewed through this lens, shaving your head is like removing your silicon implants. It’s like saying: “I give up. I am not going to fight age any more.”
I know a couple of men—my friend, Mayank, is one—who shave their hair as a fashion statement. But most men don’t shave out of choice. They may say that they do and perhaps it is some sort of mundanvow. But for the most part, a shaved head is an act of resignation; because they are tired of faking the comb-across. Or because someone in the family has died.
The bald pate comes from a place of pain that ends up becoming strangely liberating. An act of defiance to the hair gods becomes a clarion call for freedom from hair angst. Ask anyone who has shaved off his head and he will usually be okay with it. “I should have done it sooner,” he will say, tossing multiple bottles of Rogaine and Dr Batra’s hair creams into the garbage. It may be one small toss for that man but it will be one giant leap for the baldies of the world.
Baldies of the world, unite. Take out banners against hair-restoring creams and expose them for the fakes that they are. Thinning hair is a normal biological process. Embrace it; own it; revel in it. Just don’t expect the women to swoon all over you. Unless you happen to be Bruce Willis, of course. But he was cute before he went bald and the feeling lingers.
Would you date Angelina Jolie if she was bald? In your answer lies the hypocrisy.
Shoba Narayan wonders if going bald will change Rahul Gandhi’s look, liberty or destiny. Write to her at [email protected]

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