It is tremendously awkward when your fiancée runs into you at the supermarket while you are cradling a can of Rogaine Advanced Formula in your hands. Having had this unfortunate encounter over the weekend, my friend Ajit calls me out to the coffee shop in a state of panic.
"She is getting cold feet now. She thinks I'm bald!" Ajit says.
"Are you balding?"
He bristles taking offense, rather surprisingly: "Can't you see the hair on my head?"
I can see lots of seemingly flawless flowing hair on a tall frame and recall back in the college days girls swarmed him like he was a mythical hero.
"Then, why were you buying Rogaine?"
He answers curtly: "For a friend."
"Are you stupid? Rule # 0: In matters of hair oil and butt creams, only shop for yourself."
"I just didn't expect this - just imagine the odds of running into her at a random store. Now she is wary of me. She is trying out tests to find out if I'm really bald."
He leans over and drops his voice. "She pretended to trip and grabbed my hair for support. I'm sure she is testing if it is a wig."
"Nonsense! She could have tripped for real."
"No. The day after that, she insisted on going all the way up Mt. Hamilton."
"You know how windy the summit is? She took me there to get my hair to blow in the wind so she can get a closer look at my scalp."
"That is preposterous!"
"I'm telling you – that is what her plan is." Just then, the man in the next table gets up from his chair accidentally dropping a quarter that rolls down and stops at Ajit's feet. When Ajit instinctively bends down to pick it up, the ugly truth reveals itself to me. I reel in shock!
"Dude, I saw it!"
Ajit is puzzled. "Saw what?"
"I saw the patch. The open field. The milky way. The deforestation at the very top! Very early, but you are balding. And you know that!"
"Darn it! Listen, you cannot tell this to anyone. Do you understand?"
He pauses, looking away for a moment, and continues in a hurt voice: "This hair is all I have you know. Some guys write music, some guys have PhDs, what I got is long hair. God gives me this gift and He is now taking it all away from me. Why?"
Cruel. He shrugs. "Now I found Rogaine. They say it works. Only time will tell, but I don't have much."
"Hair or time?"
"Both, I guess."
"How did you manage to hide it from her?"
"Not easy. I'm tall so she can't get the top view that would bust the whole thing up. I never get ahead of her when we are climbing up or down a staircase. The other day at the mall, she got onto a busy escalator going up before me. If she just turned around, I'd be below her and the spot clearly visible. I acted quickly, I took the parallel staircase two steps at a time just to keep the top of my head above her line of sight."
"Wow! But, you can blow it all by bending down to pick up a coin."
"Stupid of me."
I scratch my head. "But, dude, why are you hiding this? If you are going to marry her, she deserves to know the truth. You know, women don't really care as much you think they do."
"Not with this girl. Two things instantly happen. She will dump me on the spot, and I kiss goodbye to the career I really want."
"Her father is the CMD for Sunsilk the Shampoo company. Women in their family choose husbands based on hair texture."
"There is a real kicker – my wedding gift from her father is GM of their new division. Think about it – a great career, rich in-laws. I'm set for life."
"Now, put yourself in his shoes. You are the CMD of a shampoo company. Can you afford to have a son-in-law in charge of the Herbal Hair product line when his own hair is eviscerating?"
"This is serious shit."
"It is. Now, I need a small favor." He takes out a notebook and a Verner Caliper from his bag. "Can you measure the size of the hole?" pointing to his bald spot.
"Are you crazy?"
"No, seriously. This is the only way to find out if Rogaine is really working. I'm tracking the size day by day down to the mm. It hasn't changed much either way so far."
He drops his head and juts the bald spot right in my front of my eyes. I take the Caliper and reluctantly measure the dimensions (last time I used the Caliper was in the high school Physics lab.) He studiously jots the readings down in his spreadsheet. I get up to leave.
"By the way," he says, "I told her the Rogaine is for you."
A few day later, he convinced me to carve a hole in my head, and then we manage to create a scenario where I run into his fiancée at a store while holding a can of Rogaine. The next day, he calls me again.
"Thanks for your help. She is finally coming around. She really thinks you are the one who is balding. Whew! We are off to India for engagement and wedding. The engagement is a private ceremony at their house and the wedding is on the next day."
"Oh terrific! Congratulations! I'm delighted for you, buddy. How is the Rogaine working out?"
"It is not. The spot is only getting bigger. I'm just learning to accept the inevitable."
"But what are you going to do after marriage when she finds out?"
"Once I am the husband, there is nothing they can do about it. Ok, so he will transfer me. Maybe I will be the GM of their skin cream division, who cares?"
"Good luck! Send us pictures."
A couple of months of hearing nothing from him, I run into Ajit again at the coffee shop. He is sitting alone reading poetry.
"DUDE!" I shout. "I've been trying to reach you for weeks! How did it go? No party, no announcement … where are you?"
He looked up in mild surprise. "The wedding is off, friend. I'm all alone in this world."
"Oh no! What happened?"
"Everything was going fine at the engagement ceremony. We got through the formalities and rituals. We got through the picture session. And then … " his voice trailed off.
"The part I did not forsee – getting blessings from the elders. We bowed down to touch her father's feet."
"Holy crap! He saw it."
"Like the sun breaking through the trees. I got my blessings. I was thrown out of the house in 10 minutes."
"This is terrible. I'm really sorry."
He bends his head down philosophically, now making no effort to cover his baldness, to read a passage from Emerson: "Experience is the comb that nature gives us when we are bald."