Heat, hearsay and hair loss

With one last festival to partake in in Kanpur involving colourful powdered paint, it was time for my second visit to Kolkata.

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I arrived at the beginning of April, and spent the next 2 months living in a sauna, sweating constantly, as temperatures soared into the 40s, and cafes started discounting cold drinks proportional to this increase. I read reports of hail, ice and rain back home, with the sound of air conditioning units growling beside me as I tried to work or sleep (not so easy)… A lizard crawled into one once and electrocuted himself, we found out from the smell the next day…

Walking through this humble city, with its tumble down old colonial charm, the sun bleached damp stained walls, balconies and shutters looked as if they themselves were perspiring, droplets of moisture rolling down their sides. The streets were filled with bobbing umbrellas protecting their owners from the sun’s power beneath a canopy of lush green trees peering out between the buildings.

It was an exciting time to be back in this city painted blue and white (to reflect the colours of the leading political party), as elections were coming up, and talk of politics filled the air. Stories of corruption, slander, sexism, voting for jailed ministers, outrage as the leading party were caught taking bribes only a few days prior to voting and potential candidates plying the public with booze and dosh to try to win their favour (shame I was unable to vote really), filled my ears…apparently it is not uncommon to turn up to vote only to find your vote already cast…

Amongst this excitement I formed a nice working routine, beginning with yoga every morning lead by ‘spiritual gangsters’ (as read their tshirts), instructing us in Hindi to reach our hands to the ceiling, where I could watch a lizard keep perfectly still on a beam of the bamboo roof, before wiggling his way across and out through a hole where the fans were gently whirring. Then into downward dog position, and instead I found a tiny ant crawling across the wooden floor below my nose in rhythm with the meditation music tinkling softly in the background… All beneath the gentle gaze of a meditating guru sat peacefully on a bed of flowers in a giant portrait at the front. This routine was finished with a glass of home grown, freshly prepared neem or raw mango juice to cleanse our system.

Despite enjoying the heat, and feeling quite well in the climate, I was encountering an increasing amount of hair falling from my head and covering my pillows, bed, sink, desk and floor of my bedroom, bathroom and office, as well as swamping my fingers after running them through it. After hearing various horror stories regarding hair loss and noticing that most shampoos here have replaced the usual “for smooth glossy hair” advertisement with “to prevent hair loss”, I decided to use this opportunity of being in a big city to interrogate a doctor about potential causes. The first I spoke to told me to visit him at a big hospital just 2 hours after we spoke. I rushed over, registered, queued, waited, and was eventually ushered to the front of the queue lining up outside his office. Once inside, the doctor fired a handful of questions at me in between checking his mobile, wrote me a page full of prescriptions for tablets and lotions, mumbled something about the possibility of a steroid injection being developed in the states, and rang the bell for the next patient leaving me back out in the corridor before you could say “bald eagle”. Feeling more scared than reassured looking at my prescription list I opted for a second opinion. This time following the recommendation of a friend I found myself in the front room of a grand house close to where I lived belonging to a sweet elderly doctor. His professional routine checks, patient explanations and mocking smile at my worries left me feeling instantly better. He explained slowly that there are a combination of things causing hair loss in India such as pollution in the air, lack of protein in the diet and high mineral content in the water coming out of the shower. He prescribed me iron and vitamin E tablets, some funky shampoo and told me I should wash my hair more often, which I did, and promptly caught a nasty cold from having wet hair in the air conditioning…

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