Miracles do happen…

“Yeh saab bhi Vellore jaa ke aaya,” my South Indian barber initiates a cross-conversation, referring to the guy whose hair he was cutting, while I was getting a trim (of whatever little hair I have left) on the adjacent chair by his colleague. He knows I spent close to a decade training in neurosurgery at the Christian Medical College in Vellore; a place of hope, reverence, and spiritual ethos, where, coincidentally, the aforementioned gentleman had had a bone marrow transplant for leukaemia a few years ago, as I came to know later.

For most of when I’ve been in Mumbai, I’ve been going to the same barber. Initially, he was located next to the Dadar Parsi Dairy Farm but now he’s moved two blocks away to a hole in a wall in Hindu Colony. I believe I’ve been his most challenging customer: I have elephant ears that I’ve inherited from my maternal grandfather. While I was younger, the enterprise was to cut hair in such a fashion that the ears appeared non-projectile. Now, the task is to avoid the scalp from appearing scanty. Whenever he failed (which is more often than not), I experimented with some fancy stylists but finally came to the conclusion that after one week, it doesn’t matter who cuts my hair. Being a loyal Taurean, I’ve decided to stick with Pooja. That’s the name of the hairdressing saloon, by the way.


It’s a 10 x 10-feet space with three chairs and one stool to accommodate anyone who’s waiting his turn. The first question that I always ask as I enter and see the chairs occupied is, “Boss, kitna time lagega?” And the answer over 35 years has been the same: “Bas ho gaya, baitho na,” and innocently and foolishly you sit and wait for the guy to finish. Just when you think that someone’s haircut is over, he’ll gesticulate needing two more minutes and bring out a bowl of warm water to finish the shave. And when you think that he’s almost done and alight from the stool after reading three issues of Filmfare, he’ll pleadingly say, “Bas, thoda sa dye karna baaki hai, baitho na!” If it weren’t for the centrefolds of Madhuri Dixit in the ’90s, I would have never waited so long for a haircut.


Whenever someone brings up a Vellore connection, my heart swells. It brings back memories from the best years of my life. For some people, it’s their school that does that; for others, meeting a fellow Parsi in a foreign land fosters these feelings of belonging.


I broke the ice with, “So, what do you do and how did you end up in Vellore?”


“I work for a company and I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia several years ago. My oncologist in Mumbai told me I had only a few months to live,” the lean, middle-aged gentleman told me as we looked at each other’s reflections and continued the conversation amid the ambient background noises of the snipping of pointed scissors. “Several leading centres in the US had concurred with the diagnosis and ‘poor prognosis’ – (a term we doctors use often in terminal cancer) – and to make matters worse, additional testing revealed a malignancy in the kidney as well,” he added. “Someone suggested I go to Vellore–”


“They have one of Asia’s best haematology-oncology departments,” I interjected, as the barber sprayed a puff of cold water on my face, not allowing me to continue with the praise.


This gentleman packed his bags overnight and reached there to be engulfed by a sea of people who had come to seek treatment, several of them, like him, in a final attempt at hope. After his consultation, he was told he needed a bone marrow transplant. “They warned me that I needed to stay there for long and that the living conditions were modest, something a South Bombay guy might need adjusting to…” he trailed off. I understood: when it’s a matter of life and death, one’s perspective changes completely and one is willing to endure anything; however hard life is, nobody really wants to die.


The hajaam gave a brisk little head massage, poking his fingers into my scalp as he always does when he’s finished. “Thoda aur chhota karo,” I told Mutthu, as I didn’t want the dialogue to end, and my neighbour had just about started his trim.


“I returned back to Vellore within a week after the initial consultation, prepared to stay for as long as it was required to get the job done.” While there, he read books on mind control and positivity, and trained his mind to eliminate the cancer. To the doctors’ surprise, the carcinoma in his kidney disappeared immediately after the bone marrow transplant.


“You are a man of science and you won’t like to believe this, but it worked for me,” he retorted, probably after seeing my reaction in the mirror.


“So, what happened after the transplant?” I asked, to seek a more precise explanation.


“I took chemotherapy for several years, but I am now in complete remission.”


“Wow!” I exclaimed in disbelief.


“I lost over 20 kgs and that’s why I look the way I do,” he wound up as his barber dusted off the fallen hair from his face with a powder puff.


“I never disregard alternate forms of therapy,” I told him. Even though I am objective and accurate, there are several things we don’t have explanations for, and medicine is an ambiguous science. We are only now discovering what our sadhus and sages did centuries ago to unlock the potential of the mind. As Deepak Chopra says, “By changing your internal dialogue, you can change anything in the universe.” The spirit of the human mind and the potential of our brains are both unfathomable, and that is why scientists have concurred that we use only 2% of it.


Both of us alight from our chairs simultaneously, he refreshed and me mesmerized. “We should stay in touch,” I selfishly said, hoping I could help some of my cancer patients by referring them to him. “Sure, let’s meet over a drink,” he said, as he handed over his business card. I looked at it as one is supposed to courteously do, instead of shoving it straight into your pocket. It read, ‘Marzin R. Shroff, MD & CEO, Eureka Forbes’. It was indeed a eureka moment. Such a great man, such a fighter, such a survivor… and yet, such a simple man, so humble and unassuming.


You don’t have to be a cancer survivor to be extraordinary. Sometimes, miracles are just ordinary people with kind hearts. This guy happened to be both. It was indeed the most enlightening haircut of my life.


Dr. Mazda K. Turel is a minimally invasive brain and spine surgeon. He is a consultant at Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central, and also an Honorary at Sir JJ Hospital. He can be reached on mazdaturel@gmail.com or +91 993.017.4567.  To know more about him you can visit www.mazdaturel.com

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