IN INDIA, JUST AS IN THE US, HAIR LOSS CAN BE TRENDY AND FASHIONABLE, ESPECIALLY SINCE MOST HINDUS GO THROUGH A HEAD SHAVING RITUAL EVERY NOW AND AGAIN.
“Move over crew cuts and spikey hairdos – the ultimate mantra for cool dudes (in India) this season is the bald look … Being bald shows your bold and confident side.”
So proclaimed The Times of India on Sept. 27, 2009. If The Times is right, hair loss is a hot Indian trend today; however, most of India’s citizenry have already experienced the “shaved look” earlier in their lives. Hindus, which make up some 80 percent of the population, often go through a head-shaving ceremony or two.
Many Hindus practice the mundan ceremony, which takes place after a child is 31 days old. His or her head is shaved as a spiritual initiation so that the child can be taken into the temple for the first time.
If Hindu adults don’t remember the mundan, they might have a recollection of the chudakarana, another Hindu head-shaving ceremony, this one occurring some time before the child is 4 years old. As with the mundan, the chudakarana helps children learn humility and devotion.
As adults, Hindu men may shave their head in mourning when a close family relative dies and Hindu women may shave their head on the death of their husband.
Buddhists in India also have head-shaving ceremonies for the newborn, as well as for those who are initiated into the monkhood.
Clearly, head shaving is nothing new in India. This current focus on baldness may or may not be a passing fad, but there have been plenty of Indian figures who have sported – by nature or design – a bald look down through the years.
Gandhi and Nehru: Two powerful bald men
Two of those figures need no introduction to Western audiences: Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Gandhi is often called the “Father of India” for the leading role he played during the Indian independence movement. His theories of nonviolent civil disobedience have had a profound influence on protestors around the world, and he is widely regarded as one of the most important figures of the 20th century. India pays honor to this great man by marking October 2, his day of birth, as a national holiday.
Nehru, a contemporary of Gandhi’s, also was a key player in the quest for India’s independence, and his selection to raise the flag of the newly independent India in New Delhi recognized his importance. Often referred to as Pandit (meaning “Teacher”), Nehru served as the first prime minister of India after it gained independence. He served from 1947 to 1964, the longest term for any Indian prime minister. Nehru is also remembered for the distinctive jacket he often sported, which gained widespread popularity during the 1960s.
Another key figure of the independence movement, lesser known outside of India but lauded in his own country, is Vallabhbhai Patel, sometimes referred to as the “Iron Man of India.” Called Sardar (meaning “Chief”), Patel is credited as being the man who unified India after its independence.
High-pated figures have also figured prominently in many other areas of Indian history. Jamsetji Tata, nicknamed the “Father of Indian Industry,” was a 19th-century businessman who acquired wealth in cotton mills and spent much of his life laying the groundwork for an empire that did not come into being until after his passing. Today, Tata Power Company is a major player in the energy field in India; Tata Steel is the sixth-largest steel company in the world.
Dhirubhai Ambani started out as the son of a poor schoolteacher who was determined to get ahead. In 1966, he founded what eventually became Reliance Industries, a conglomerate that is perhaps best known for its oil and gas products. Today Reliance is firmly positioned on the Fortune Global 500 list.
Notable hairless Indians of the arts
Indian writers also make our list of follicle-free figures. Mirza Ghalib was a 19th-century writer who is considered the most important poet of the Urdu language, writing in a style that allows the reader to project his or her own thoughts and feelings onto the subject of each poem. Baba Kanshi Ram, born in 1882, was another influential poet whose work often had a strong political and social edge. More recently, Salman Rushdie has gained fame and recognition, as well as controversy, for his novels and stories.
Poet is one of the many hats worn by Pritish Nandy, along with filmmaker, editor, publisher, TV star and even member of Parliament. He proudly labels himself “India’s most famous shaved head.” But, among science fiction fans, at least, that designation might more properly be applied to the late Persis Khambatta. Elected Miss India at the tender age of 15, the gorgeous Khambatta rocketed to fame in 1979 when she sheared her locks to play Lieutenant Ilia in the first Star Trek movie.
Lately, a number of Bollywood actresses have shaved their heads for movie roles, including Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das and Antara Mali. On the male side, a number of Bollywood actors are struggling with the decision of whether to embrace their natural balding state or to cover up their increasingly visible pates.
To be or not to be (bald) – a dilemma that is familiar to many men, not just Bollywood stars. How do “average” Indian men feel about their own hair loss?