PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Mohammad Shahid’s eyes lit up when he saw his once bald cousin come home one day with a head full of hair and a strutting gait to match.
A handsome but follically-challenged young man, he decided the time was ripe to restore his honor, battered by years of taunts that follow the barren-headed and the beardless in Pakistan.
In the northwestern city of Peshawar, home to underground Taleban hideouts and a gateway for trade to Afghanistan, men go about their business in the crowded dusty streets, their faces covered by bushy black beards that would make Captain Haddock proud.
The city’s roads are filled with giant billboards of celebrities once bald but now all smiles. They extol the virtues of manhood restored surgically with a few well-placed tufts of hair.
“When I saw my cousin return from his procedure, I was in shock. I said to myself: I have to have it too,” said the thirty-something excitedly as he prepared to have the procedure at a local hair transplant clinic.
“Hair is like our weapon against society.”
In Pakistan, hair is synonymous with virility to the point that even some Taleban fighters buy ointments to give their long locks and beards a lustrous finish.
Woe to those without: they are labelled “ganjas,” a deeply derogatory term.
“Here, calling someone a ‘ganja’ is a stigma but over there (in the West), saying ‘bald’ is not that bad,” explained Dr. Humayun Mohmand, one of the first doctors to offer the treatment in Pakistan.
Mohmand opened his practice in the early 2000s, but transplants, done under local anaesthetic, did not take off immediately.
The breakthrough moment came at the end of 2007, when Nawaz Sharif, who was balding when he was deposed as prime minister by General Pervez Musharraf eight years earlier, returned from exile with a full head of hair.
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