Selling My Kidneys To Save My Hair

I never fancied myself on being particularly good-looking as a child or even a teenager. I always found a flaw, fictitious or real, to hinder any assurance of being aesthetically appealing. " Look at your glasses. The uneven teeth. That slight hump when you walk. The sweat. Ugh." were the constant compliments I would provide myself with. But despite having a wild imagination and the constant awareness of a partially bald father, I could not prepare myself for the crippling disease called "androgenic alopecia".

The first year in a junior college in Mumbai after a shielded education in a ICSE school is daunting with previously oblivious fears and concerns such as fashion and appearance gaining a sudden significance. The rapidly depleting scalp on a 16 year old's head is alarming to him but hilarious to others, a fact which remained valid for many years to come. The question wasn't why, but why so soon? To find a cure for this ailment, I sought the help of the best doctors in the business (as inferred from their bombardment in Bombay Times)- Dr Batra's.

Dr Batra's Cash Cow Clinic

Their solution to baldness and a myriad of diseases was homeopathy, a branch of medicine which has repeatedly been questioned for its credibility.

But in a country where a 'guru' can freely claim that yoga can cure cancer, AIDS and, homosexuality, why can't sugar pills cure baldness?

My 17 year old self entered a branch of this homeopathy empire with my dad. I wasn't sure of the expectation I had. While the hairfall had made me nervous, I wasn't entirely certain that I would end up looking like my father. I met with a doctor who asked and enquired about almost every aspect of my life in a manner which seemed reassuring. I think I even recollect being asked to take a blood test as if a real medical prognosis was at hand. But then they come down to the drawing and illustration.

Every trichologist that you go to will tell you that there is no cure for hereditary baldness and he will back it up with sophisticated drawings of hair thinning and eventually dying away. The mission was pretty simple- "We can't stop the baldness. But our lookout is to stop the rate at which it is falling. You are very young for so much hair loss."

There was a comprehensive list drawn up of foods and habits I must avoid and those which I must imbibe. The cause of this premature baldness was never understood though among the reasons provided were my food habits and stress. The only marked change I had experienced since the transition from school to college was the dry hair due to my refusal to apply coconut oil in order to avoid being branded a legit 'champu' ( failed miserably didn't it?).

In addition to the sugar pills and a peculiar oil in tinged Dr Batra bottle ( which I later learnt smell akin to a commercially sold hair solution), I was prescribed iron supplements, a powder, and bi-weekly hair treatments in the clinic. The treatments would involve the application of the oil followed by a hair- straightener type instrument hovering above my scalp to "increase the bloodflow to the hair roots." The medication would be subject to minor changes though the sugar pills never stopped, relentless like the rising cost of the treatment or the boredom and callousness of the Batra system.

The uniformity of Indian bureaucracy and apathy is something we must all admire. It doesn't matter if you are counting down to your last breath or simply trying to atone one's appearances, waiting rooms are yokes we must all bear. The waiting periods at Batra could range from 15 minutes to an hour, despite having an appointment. One would simply sit and stare at other men, many of whom had more hair on their scalp than you, despite suffering from the same alopecia.

The three years of treatments and medication finally came to an end for me when I reluctantly went for my appointment. The bald spots had becomes more severe and I was far from satisfied with the treatment. My doctor, who perhaps noticed my discouraged behavior, suggested I use a powder.

 'The stars use this. You just put some of it one the scalp and due to static reaction, hair sort of growth happens.'
I nodded while hiding my mortification though I can't say I was surprised. The 'doctors' told me on my first appointment how the hair transplants were useless. Within six months of me starting treatment at the clinic, Dr Batra's started advertising their own hair transplant surgery.

When enquired about the price for this 'magical powder', I was told it costs Rs 8,000 in the market but they would give me for a discount of Rs 7,200 or so ( forgive me if I can't give you the exact figure. I repress memories of people trying to rip me off)

Since I had no plans to run for President of the United States in 2016 as a bigoted nut-job, I dismissed the idea of the fake 'non-hair' and walked out.

Cost:  ₹ 25,000 to ₹ 30,000 over 3 years.

The 'quicker than Maggi' Doctor

Like every cliched homeopathy apostate, I turned to allopathy treatments. I visited a Doctor Marwah in Andheri, though my first visit did not grant me the honor of his presence.

The doctor had garnered a famed reputation and his clinic would have queues of patients, even celebrities, forming 30 minutes before the clinic's hours. I could only bear to sit for 45 minutes on my first visit as the line of patients started rivaling that of the Bandra railway station ticket counter. If the waiting room at Batra's was based on callous incompetence, Marwah's was modeled on narcissistic greed.

There would be no turning of patients but a straight-faced answer of " 30-60 minutes waiting hain". If one were to call to book an appointment, you would be told that no appointment is available for a month. Infact, I think his receptionists/ assistants would say that sentence more than they would say Hello on the phone. I was finally able to hold my patience and score a consultation with him.

After paying my due in waiting, I finally sat in front of the doctor for the first time, in a meeting which must have lasted for all of 5 minutes. He nodded his head as I told him about Batra treatment and he pointed out how there were only two real treatments for me- a pill and a foam or lotion for the scalp.

I felt relieved at the low cost of the treatment- I had to pay the consultation fees and the medicines had to be bought from chemists. But as it turns out in India, one gain comes with twice the cost.

As per this image, I am going to die alone. Yay.

The foam prescribed would turn into liquid water in the Mumbai heat. Thus, I was expected to put it on my scalp before heading out for work or studying, with the mixture dripping down my face. All trichologist will tell you to apply 4-5 treatments before work or social occasions as if the world would excuse one for treating a bald scalp. When the foam became a serious irritant and I sought an emergency consultation, I had to contend meeting one of his assistants. Infact, by the time my run with Marwah ended, I must have met him for a grand total of 20 minutes spread over 5-6 meetings.My mother has ( I swear this is true) let Maggi cook for longer minutes than the time this doctor gave me per visit.

My disillusionment with Marwah came full circle when again frustrated with the bald spots, he suggested something peculiar to me. When he noticed that the hair loss had again become significant, he suggested a treatment done by an agency which would come and collect my blood, analyse it for the nutrients it had and then inject the nutrient-rich blood in my scalp. The agency would collect the blood and Marwah Clinic would inject it in my scalp.

The cost? ₹ 50,000 in all.

Total Cost: ₹ 6,000 over two years.
Potential Cost With Blood Injections: Listing Kidney On OLX.

The Last Straw

Now once even rationalism fails you, one starts hunting for a different religion. This time I sought another major clinic which was now even rivaling Batra in its marketing and publicity- Richfeel

The first meeting saw my hair samples being taken for a test for which I had to pay a nominal fee. When I was called back for the results, I was told the same things I had heard at Dr Batra's- No cure...many factors can cause it... do you take stress?
I said yeah I maybe more stressful since past few days because of a new job.
" Ok. Don't take stress. I know you can't help it. But try and don't."
I may have paraphrased but what advice! I mean it would have saved me months of therapy.
"I know you are depressed. But don't try to be."
FYI, stress can be of a conscious and sub-conscious nature. You can try and calm your physical self with yoga, breathing etc, but that doesn't mean stress has been completely removed from one's body.

I was then told the treatment regimen, similar in many ways to the Batra treatment, while a question started reverberating through my mind- what about the cost? Why are you assuming I am going to do this? I then waited outside for another doctor ( or salesman? I am not sure) who took me in a room to explain the intricacies of the treatment. It's this treatment discussion that would trigger two epiphanies for me.

First, how would I know if the treatment is working? A list of about 10-20 items was presented, out of which I consumed most on a regular basis. Is it the medicines or the diet of flax seeds which will stop the pace of the hair loss? She gave me a cost breakdown and passed the sheet to me where I read an eye-popping amount.

The cost of the annual treatment, including a special weekly treatment was close to ₹33,000.This was after a supposed discount on a figure of ₹88,0000- something I can't really confirm to be legitimate in the first place. When I told her to give an amount for a lesser time period, the treatment was still unfeasible for me. I told her that I must think about it and get back by next week. She almost gave an awkward and disappointed look.

My second ephiphany which dawns on me completely now, is how doctors and medical graduates have become salesmen who must know the cost of a treatment and try to hardsell a person to buy their services, for reasons other than credibility. In the three years of my treatment, I never met Dr Batra or his son, but constantly saw the ad film playing on the clinic TV where they would be seen with some celebrity or inaugurating a new clinic. Mukesh Batra, a fan of Bollywood songs,would hold an annual event where celebrities like Vinod Khanna would come to see him sing a few songs on stage. Even I would receive invites for this event as a patient of the clinic.

But since I had no proof that Kishore Kumar songs could grow ones hair, I never went.

Bald And Proud
After refusing Richfeel, I had to face the fact- I am a 23 year old bald man and nothing is going to change that.

I had already started imbibing this belief long ago in ice- breaking jokes and interaction with friends. I had even written about it and tried to find a sense of humor in it. The only difference is that I now possess an acceptance.

The acceptance that "Aye Taklu" will be the unimaginative heckle people who disagree with me will use. That if thought rationally, my bald head isn't some disease or disability, but a variation in my biology, the way I wear spectacles or the way God has made tall and short people. The fact that an entire industry, much like the fairness cream scam of India, was made on the perception of an inferiority or insecurity, should just make millions of bald men really angry.

I am not a 'baldy'. I just have a hairstyle specially curated by God.

So, to those who want to exploit my insecurity with a wig, surgery,hocus- pocus treatments, and never-ending bills.... Go fuck yourself.

PS: To all the ladies who may try to comfort me, please don't say: " I don't mind bald men. I like Pitbull and his music." Please give example of someone smarter and classier.

PPS: No, Vin Diesel is NOT the answer.

If You Haven't Already, Read My Earlier Post About The Pros And Cons Of Being Bald In India- 'Oh To Be Bald Like Me'

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umashankar said...

I read out your travails knowing fully well the conclusion you were drawing to, and I don't mean it as a condescending comment. You have done a marvelous jobs of exposing the corporatisation of the charlatans. Congratulations on your especially curated pate. Although much older than you, I am headed fast to joining the club, not that I am too keen on it!

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