Saptarishi
Monday, March 27, 2006
  Lamentations of a Bald Man
It came as unexpectedly as the recent tsunami that hit the Indian coast and killed more than 20000 people. My world was shattered when I first realized it. I had gone swimming to a lovely beach named Nargol in Gujarat. The beach is probably one of the few undiscovered spots in the tourist itinerary. It has lush palm trees, unspoiled beach, and greenery all around. I had gone there with my friends and seniors after the hazing (called ragging in India) period of the students from West Bengal in SVNIT, Surat was over. I had emerged triumphant from the tension of the three months of hazing relatively unscathed as compared to many of my compatriots. The seniors from West Bengal in the college threw a bash to finally welcome the newbies. This bash involved a bus ride to Nargol, cooking, having fun (meaning drinking hideously bad whisky and beer) on the beach for an entire day. General debauchery without the girls is an acceptable form of entertainment for young guys in colleges of India.

I am a good swimmer. My baba (father) insisted that his son should learn at least two skills properly before he turns into a man - learning how to ride a bicycle and swimming. Anyways, coming back to the story, swimming is one of the first skills that I picked up when I was young. Baba regularly took me to the other side of the Ganges during one summer vacation in Varanasi (Benares), showed me how to float for few days, taught me basics of freestyle stroke, and proceeded to throw me into the deeper waters of the river without giving me any kind of warning. I splashed around, drank some of the polluted water of Ganges, panicked about dying a horrible death, and subsequently emerged as a swimmer who can swim in any kind of water body around the world except for the freezing cold waters of Arctic. Yes, that is how my baba believed in doing things! Baba truly believed that things like floats and other gear that the beginners use in order to get comfortable with water and develop some confidence, are for the sissies.

The visit to Nargol elevated me to a new level of consciousness. India, a country of billion teeming people, does not seem to have any place without people. Therefore, the site of a clean and green beach bereft of any population is a manna from the heavens. I decided to jump into the water and stayed there for more than two hours continuously. After coming out and drying myself, I decided to comb my hair. At this moment, the disaster struck. I realized that a thick bunch of hair has separated from the top of my head and fallen into my hands with the first brush of the comb. I was 17 years old. My first reaction was that of disbelief. I took another swipe at my hair with the comb. The result did not change and another bunch of thick black hair landed in the grasp of my palm. I realized, to my horror, that I have somehow started losing hair and the mixture of salt and sand in the sea water has finally revealed the process of erosion to me.

The process that started at that time could not be stopped. I started using all sorts of oils and creams in order to stop nature from taking its own course. For a few months in my third year (junior) year of engineering, I applied Keo Karpin hair vitalizer regulalry on my head. The smell of the vitalizer kept even my neighbors in the dorm awake at night. Everywhere I went, people asked,"what is that awful smell coming out of your head?" I realized that the choice is between getting embarrassed now or in the future. The persistence of jokes about the vitalizer made me decide on behalf of the embarrassment of the future. I threw the bottle away. Somebody suggested that urine of camel is a perfect cure to bring the process to its conclusion. I was revolted by the idea. Ravi Ranjan, my Mechanical Engineering batchmate at SVNIT, on the last day of the college, before leaving the hostel had ominously predicted that he will meet a bald man by the name of Aninda Bhattacharya in the future.

Well, almost nine years have passed since I graduated from the portals of SVNIT, Surat. These nine years have left visible marks on my body. Of course, I could have done some damage control had I exercised regularly and controlled my diet. Unfortunately, my motivation for physical exertion in order to have a "lean, mean, sex machine" type torso is matched by my inclination to watch a Kishan Kumar (brother of ex T-Series honcho, late Gulshan Kumar) movie to refresh my mind after a hard day's work. The worst aspect among all these signs of aging on my body is my baldness.

However, there is both good news as well as bad news for the baldies of India. Emergence of cult figures like Michael Jordan and Andre Agassi in the pantheon of sporting heroes during the 90s have made baldness somewhat sexy in United States and the western world. Zinedine Zidane, arguably the best French footballer of all times and also one of the best to ever play in different football arenas all around the world, is bald. Who can forget the headlines of French newspapers featuring a bald Zidane after France won the world cup of soccer in 2000 - "Merci Zizou, you made us dream!". African American men with their shaved heads have conquered new horizons in the "dog eat dog" world of American pop culture and fashion. Being bald is the new "in thing" in United States. Since most of my bald days have been spent in United States, I have hardly felt the arrows of derision and jokes directed against bald men.

Unfortunately, the situation changes as soon as I land up in India. Indian society places quite a premium on hair. It is not surprising considering the fact that Indians are one of the hairiest among all ethnicities that I have ever come across in my thirty years of existence. Yes, even women are hairy and, according to Russell Peters, the famous stand-up comedian, not only on the top of their head but everywhere! The hair gathered from the shaven heads of Indian women in South Indian temples are in great demand for the manufacture of the best quality wigs all around the world. As soon I visit one of my relatives, the first fifteen minutes are spent on the condition of my baldness. The older generation in India is somehow so hung up on the traditional prejudices against bald men that it becomes quite stifling to start a conversation. I start relaxing only from the point I manage to divert their attention to something more inane or something more important. But, truth be told, I dread the first fifteen minutes of conversation with any relative of mine in India who has not seen me for many years.

Whenever conversations about my blad head starts, I protest by stating that there is nothing wrong with my hair. I argue that nobody really measures the worth of a man by the number of hair remaining on his head anyways except for India. Yet, my relatives persist with the topic. They suggest medications, hair transplants, new research in order to help me select the best way to get some hair back on my head. After getting through this ordeal every few days in India, I lose more hair out of tension. Over the years, I have developed some stock answers to the questions that people raise regarding my baldness. Here is a brief sampling for others to help them cope up with the trauma:
All the above answers are meant to pacify the inquisitiveness about what I am doing to get rid of my baldness. The truth is I do not care. I have never really been afraid or ashamed of my baldness. When you are just 5 ft 7 inches with an average face, you are hardly a man to turn the heads of women based on your physique. It really does not matter whether you have hair on your head or not. Most of my friends do not care. None of my women friends in United States have ever made a comment about my baldness. Maybe, it is because the American society is more formal. Maybe, it is because that Americans are always politically correct in their interaction with people around them. However, I believe, it is because of the preponderance of successful and visible bald men in their society. I owe it to the African Americans, many of whom are considered to be the epitome of coolness, for making baldness in vogue in the western civilization.

I have come to the conclusion that until and unless there is an emergence of a true pop culture icon without hair in India, this attitude towards bald men will not change for the better. Akshaye Khanna had the opportunity to do so but he blew it. Salman Khan (Sallu), I heard, is going bald. Before he could truly add himself to the pantheon of famous bald men, Indian judicial system took care of him. The man has been awarded five years of imprisonment three or four days ago for killing an endangered species of deer - Black Buck. I say, release him!

The great Indian judicial system can acquit, Santosh Kumar Singh, the son of a senior IPS officer for killing Priyadarshini Mattoo and Manu Sharma, son of an influential Haryana politician for killing Jessica Lal, yet it incarcerates the only hope of bald Indian men. Hell, the courts even acquitted Sallu for killing few pavement dwellers while driving drunk in Mumbai. Since when did killing Black Bucks, with all due respects for the "right to live" of the deers, become more important than killing human beings? This is equivalent to sending Al Capone, the infamous mobster from Chicago, to the slammer for messing up with his taxes instead of killing every Tom, Dick, and Harry who opposed him. Just when baldies of India thought that they have a messiah in the form of Salman, God kicks us right back in the groin and helps us face the reality. Damn it!
 
"Saptarishi" in Sanskrit means the Seven Sages or rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and other Hindu literature. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the Vedic religion. The constellation of Ursa Major is also named as Saptarshi. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saptarishi)

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