Unsung heroes: Serving in small ways

/ December 23, 2016 /

In addition to the mental trauma and physical frailty experienced by a patient afflicted by cancer, yet another devastating blow is a side effect of chemotherapy – alopecia i.e. complete or partial hair loss. The harrowing phase that begins when one is diagnosed with the disease comes to a climactic moment when patients start losing hair during treatment. This, coupled with nausea, physical weakness and uncertainty about the future, makes life much more traumatic for patients. There is a distinct cultural and personal attachment to hair for most people, particularly in India where long /thick tresses are associated with feminity and social stigma is attached to hair loss.

An eighth-standard school dropout, Marishetty Kumar discovered a new career option while observing the hairstylist changing wigs of actors during a film shoot near his village. Fascinated by the trade, the 19-year old Kumar left his village for Chennai and learnt the ropes of wig making from his mentor, Shivaji. Marishetty then worked with the Tamil and Kannada film industries as a professional wig maker. In 2005, he left tinsel town and established Natural Wig Works, a wig-manufacturing unit that dealt with natural hair only.

Kumar’s life changed when a female cancer survivor came to him in tears, requesting his help in restoring her hair through a realistic wig. That incident opened his eyes to the aftereffects of chemotherapy and the pain borne by survivors recuperating from chemotherapy. The joy of the woman when she wore the wig crafted by Kumar touched a chord. Thus began the journey of a wig maker who supplies wigs made of natural hair to cancer patients at a reduced cost.

Kumar is helped by his wife Lalitha and an assistant in the painstaking process of weaving a perfect wig that is as natural as possible. Around 6,000 cancer patients have benefitted from the wigs made in his tiny, two-room shop in a bylane of J C Nagar, Bengaluru.

The laborious process of making wigs begins with sourcing of natural human hair from Tirupati where devotees get tonsured. The physical strain on the spine and eyesight are forgotten when Kumar reminisces the gratitude and happiness of his clientele. Though the profit margins are low, Kumar derives great satisfaction from his service that brings back confidence to the ill and needy.

He supplies wigs to patients anywhere in India and even abroad, through apt use of technology such as Whatsapp. His clientele has grown through references from satisfied customers and oncologists. Though not lucrative, Kumar would like to induct youngsters into the trade and help more men and women overcome their infirmities and boost self-esteem. As Martin Luther King said, a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love can help anyone serve.

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