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A ‘bald’ statement

I could see my youthfulness receding, my last line of defence vanishing in thin air. It was the point of no return, a vast nothingness that left me disconcerted and in pain”. Stephanson had scribbled these words in his diary on the day he last stood in front of the mirror to comb his hair. That was five years ago. Now, the 35-year-old man has moved on.
“I was depressed. I could not believe it was happening to me and that too at less than 30. I could not look into the mirror,” Stephanson says as he talks about his early baldness.
Stephanson, however, is not the only man here who is a victim of the cruel joke. Baldness among youths, even those in their early twenties, is a common problem in the state.
The male pattern baldness, which has an ornamented medical term called ‘Androgenetic Alopecia’, is often seen in adolescents here. The “last line of defence” vanishes by the time most of the men here hit 30.
Dr PJ Mazumdar, who pioneered the follicular unit extraction (FUE) technique of hair transplant in the Northeast in 2011, says the high incidence of early baldness, particularly among men in Meghalaya, can be attributed mainly to three factors — genetic predisposition, high iron content in water and a diet low in nutrients.
Stephanson, who was among the numerous men that Sunday Shillong spoke to, says men in Meghalaya have learnt to live with the bitter truth of their “genetic anomaly”.
“My father, uncle and grandfather all became bald by 35. I was always prepared for this but deep inside I would pray that I were exempted. But genes cannot lie,” Jason says, his face reflecting the pain he felt five years ago.
But his countenance changes and a mischievous smile takes over the somber look, “When the baldness first set in, a close friend of mine would often make fun of me singing ‘Bald, slap headed and hairless/Bald he is destined to be/Bald, well tonight thank God it’s him instead of me’. I would be angry and sad at the same time. Now, I laugh at him. He too has joined the bald league,” he quips.
Kitbor, a 36-year-old resident of Mawkyrwat, says he never tried to get emotionally attached to his hair as he had seen his father losing it at a young age. Early hair loss is genetic for many men here who cannot but wait and watch the end come.
But for many like Aiborlang, there was no fault in the gene and yet they have lost it all. “I think it is more to do with the quality of water here. I would often go to the stream for swimming. I think that might have affected my hair. Though I went for treatment but it did not help,” says the handsome 29-year-old from Dawki.
An expert at VLCC Shillong says beside genes and water, hormonal change, improper diet and a sedentary lifestyle can also lead to hair fall in young men.
Many men believe that baldness is directly proportional to weakening masculinity, which most women abhor. “I almost lost my confidence after I lost all my hair. But at least I was married by then,” says 39-year-old Sanjay. He too tried medical help but in vain.
The expert at VLCC, which offers treatment for hair fall, gets several cases where young men come for solution. “We suggest keratin treatment, dandruff treatment and others. We also set a diet chart with proper nutrients. But these are for men who still have the follicles. There are many men who have shining baldness. This type is irreparable and hair transplant is the only option.”
VLCC claims that with the treatments in offer, hair will regrow but the time taken will depend on the seriousness of the case. “In a moderate case, one can see 60 percent improvement in five to six months,” says the expert.
Alka Kharsati, who practises traditional medicine, says he has cultivated hope in many men with her special oil.
Maxin, a college goer, refuses to believe the regrowth theory. “I tried many things. But everything proved futile. It is an irreplaceable loss,” says the 21-year-old student who still has time to become completely bald.
Maxin says once he starts working, he will save money for transplant because “I look so different without hair and I don’t like the feeling”.
Though the state has no clinic for hair transplant, men have the option to go to neighbouring Assam. “Although there is lack of awareness among people, at least five to six patients come to our clinic from Meghalaya every month. Over and above, about 20 to 30 persons from the state visit our centre for health checkup everyday,” Dr Majumdar of Downtown Arogyam Hair Transplant and Cosmetic Surgery Clinic in Guwahati says.
He says the patients are mostly in the age group of 25 to 35 years although older people also visit the clinic for treatment.
The treatment, he says, can be done in a day itself. “But of course, there are times when the procedure involving grafting and transferring hair from the permanent or safe zone (at the back and sides of the head) to the bald zone can take two days,” he said
The cost of hair transplant differs but it is generally between Rs 50,000 and Rs 60,000.
Sources say such specialised treatment for baldness is yet to start at the government level although NEIGRIHMS in Shillong has taken steps in this regard. However, a number of private clinics have come up in Guwahati over the years.
There is also the easiest way. Santosh Kumar, the owner of Hair Port Unisex Saloon in Nongthymmai, says many men come to his shop with the request to shave off whatever is remaining of the hair. “In fact, that is in fashion now,” he adds.

Bald but not defeated

So if you think baldness is something to be ashamed of or despised, then think again. With Hollywood heartthrobs like Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington, among several others, flaunting their baldness with aplomb, the loss has been redefined by many men in the state.
Peter, who lost all his hair (again a genetic problem) around three years ago when he first joined work, says he is a big fan of Statham, the action hero. “What I like the most about him is the confidence. He is so young and yet he carries himself so well. He has been my inspiration through thick and thin,” he smiles.
Stephanson says living with baldness for five years has taught him how “to use your weakness in your favour”. And he thanks his wife, who fell in love with Stephanson even when he was losing hair, for loving him more all these years. “She never had any problem with my baldness. Rather, she would give examples of the Hollywood heroes who, despite being bald, were handsome.”
Kitbor says it is all in the mind and “how you accept such insignificant changes in life”.
“‘Baldness is no big deal’, I was told as a child and I always believed in it. A bald man can look smart if he knows how to present himself. It is his personality that matters,” he explains.

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~ Kynsai L Sangriang,  Saurav Bora, Willie Gordon Suting & Nabamita Mitra

(All names in the story have been changed on request)

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