As a child in school in my village, my teacher advised my mother to send me to a good English school in the nearby town because I was very good in academics. Greatly motivated by what she said, my mother envisioned that I should study medicine since there was no doctor in the village and people had to travel more than 20 miles for medical care. I followed her vision and put my heart and soul into my studies. Soon I became very popular in my new school because I was always first in my class work, good in almost all extra-curricular activities and rather “cute to look at” (that’s what they all said).
Scoring top grade in the 10th standard exam, I went to the capital city of Chandigarh in North India to prepare for the medical entrance exam. The next two years were very defining for me while I studied day and night. Finally, my hard work and my mother’s prayers paid off. I was accepted for admission to the medical college in Amritsar in 1974 – the first turning point of my life.
During my medical studies I participated in a lot of cultural activities and took part in many plays, debates and other literary programs, but really excelled in theatrics. Having won several prizes for my acting prowess, I thought I had a great chance of becoming a movie star, so started imitating actors that soon changed my entire persona. I styled my hair differently, wore flashy clothes and behaved like I thought a model would behave.
After completing my medical studies, I realized I had two options in life, fulfill my mother’s dream and go back to the village and serve the people or follow my own dream and go to Mumbai to join the top hospital and become a famous doctor in the country; however, in the back of my mind, there was also a faint hope that I might become a model or film star which was, for sure, the easiest and fastest way to become rich and famous.
After mulling over it at length, I decided to join Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai which was one of the top hospitals in the country where I began working as a full-time resident physician. Although I easily settled into the groove of the hospital routine, the “acting bug” was still biting. Although working in the hospital was a full-time job, I did skip out to watch film shoots. I even gave my photographs to several advertising agencies in the hope of landing a modeling career, but I felt guilty ignoring my hospital duties and soon realized that a medical career and modeling could not coexist. After much tough thinking and soul-searching I finally decided to eliminate the idea of the glamour world and genuinely focus on medicine.....and that was the end of a great “star in the making” - ha ha ha!
However, whether it was the glamour world or medicine, my burning ambition was to become rich and famous. Making money from a medical career was not easy, because it would take years of experience and hard work to reach the level of a really well known and famous doctor. This mental struggle, combined with a lot of stress, resulted in massive hair loss. It seemed like every time I brushed my hair, another clump would fall out. When a nurse in the hospital pointed out that I was going bald, I got really worried. My anxiety grew as I tried many treatments, creams, lotions, and even intradermal injections, all to no avail.
As my bald patch grew larger, my nervousness also grew. More and more people started noticing and I started having nightmares. I thought,
“Oh, my God, no girl will ever marry me and I will have to remain single and alone for the rest of my bald life!” This self-consciousness and fear compounded my worries and led to further hair loss. Thankfully, all was not lost – in 1986 I met Madhuri who thought I looked great! We fell in love and were married, thus laying one of my biggest fears to rest.
Although marriage did wonders for me, my hairline kept receding, as my worries increased. In 1993, I started editing a health magazine, which saw a rapid rise in my stress levels with even greater hair loss. Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that nothing could be done and I just chalked up my hairy woes to my unfortunate genetic history of baldness!
I stopped obsessing in front of the mirror, put my hairbrush down and started re-focusing on my career and ambition. My health magazine was becoming popular and my medical practice was also taking off. I started a new concept in Mumbai - that of mobile healthcare, going on home visits to care for the elderly who could not visit doctors frequently. On one hand, I made good money but the stress was great, and I kept losing more hair!
Then came another defining moment in my life - I started the Laughter Clubs in 1995. This ingenious idea spread like wildfire around the world and catapulted me to the pinnacle of fame, but no riches, since these clubs were totally free for the participants. I was now fully engrossed in spreading the mission of laughter and had stopped worrying about my looks. One day Madhuri commented that with my major hair loss, I appeared much older. I just laughed and said that my real beauty was in my work, not in my looks; however, deep inside, I knew I was not telling her the truth. In my subconscious mind, I still believed I needed hair to look and feel good. It was then I came across an advertisement from a new hair clinic which offering a variety of hair treatments, including hair weaving and bonding techniques. This sounded great and I decided to give it a try.
There was a battle going on in my mind. One part of me thought, “Get real, why would you do that? Why can’t you be who you are?” But, the other part of me said, “What the heck? Why not give it a try?” My risk- taking approach kicked in. I decided to try artificial hair and Madhuri was delighted!
Wow! I was looking great with my new hairpiece, which I thought looked quite natural. In fact, people who did not know me had no idea. My friends and relatives were pleasantly surprised with my new look and said I looked much younger, which made me feel on top of the world. Sadly, the new found happiness had its fair share of trouble. First, there was the hassle of putting the toupee on and off, which took a lot of time; secondly, I got so used to my artificial hair that I felt extremely uncomfortable without it. I became totally stressed out over the possibility of somebody dropping in and seeing me hairless.
Then the challenges – if I traveled by car, on windy days I had to be careful not to put the windows down because it would upset my “hair”. I could not ride on a motorbike or swim with my hairpiece on. All this made me self-conscious plus I was worried stiff about presenting my balding head to others, letting them know my true reality.
It was a big dilemma - to wear my artificial hair or not. Many times I felt like throwing the thing away because it caused a lot of stress and very little gain. Then, one day as I was meditating, an inner voice told me to stop with the charade and get real. I listened and decided right then and there, I had had enough of pretense and pretending – the hairpiece had to go!
From then on, during workshops and seminars, I started talking openly about my artificial hair and often I would take it off, fling it across the room, making everybody laugh. When I removed that “mask”, I felt lighter and so much happier than ever before.
So, I decided to completely shave my head, but Madhuri fiercely opposed the idea. When she went on holiday to Goa for a week in July 2007, I took the opportunity to go to the barber’s shop to clean up the sham - off with my hair! At long last, I was able to get rid of a pretense I had held on to for years. With the “mask” discarded, I basked in the light of truth and honesty – my “holiday” and newfound freedom had begun!
What I learned from my hairy tale was that the artificial hair I had may have looked better than a few straggles of hair on an almost bald head, but believe me, my slick mop of hair did nothing to make me feel good. I had fallen into a world of make believe which was creating an internal conflict. How could I laugh and be completely natural when I was struggling to find my true identity? Pretending to be something that I was not, hanging on to the facade, took a lot of energy. It kept me from being the real me and it also kept me from laughing freely and fully.
Everybody welcomed my decision; in fact, many of my students in the West told me I looked great without hair. They were not bothered about how I looked, because they perceived me as an enlightened person who goes beyond the outward appearance of the physical body.
So here I am, “The Bald and Beautiful”, ha ha ha!
This article is from Dr Kataria's Book "Inner Spirit of Laughter" . You can download the E Book for just USD 8.95. To Buy Click Here.