Hair transplants grow in 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 honour, battered by years of taunts that follow the barren-headed and beardless in Pakistan.
In this country, hair is synonymous with virility. Woe to those without - they are labelled "ganjas", a deeply derogatory term.
"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 30-something Shahid. "Hair is like our weapon against society."
Humayun Mohmand, one of the first doctors to offer the treatment in Pakistan, explained: "Here, calling someone a 'ganja' is a stigma. But over there (in the West), saying 'bald' is not that bad."
He 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 had been balding when he was deposed as prime minister by Pervez Musharraf eight years earlier - returned from exile with a full head of hair.
"After the hair transplants... of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif (his brother, the Chief Minister of Punjab province), this has become very popular," said Fawad Aamir at his Peshawar clinic, among a group of patients seeking new manes.
"(Before,) they were very afraid of this, that something is going to happen, that cancer will develop, that infection will spread to the brain."
Since 2006, Dr Mohmand has conducted 8,000 operations, compared with 1,000 in the previous five years.
Today, there are nearly 120 hair-transplant clinics in Pakistan, according to official figures. The operation generally costs from US$400 (S$516) to US$1,000, with some top clinics charging up to US$6,000 - a fraction of what it costs in the West, but still well out of reach for most Pakistanis.
Hairless heads aren't the only worry. Asif Shah said he has also performed a number of beard transplants on patients keen to show their piety with a healthy growth.
Dr Fawad Aamir recalled with pleasure the visit of a Taliban commander's son, who had grown frustrated with his patchy beard while fellow Islamist rebels proudly sported bushy specimens.
"A doctor (said:) 'You don't grow a beard because this is the beard given to you by God,' " Dr Fawad Aamir said.
"And (the son) said, 'No, I want to have this like Muhammad, peace be upon him.'
"So we went ahead and, six months later, he had a very big beard and he was very happy."