Society Life & Style

Crowning glory: Why people in their 20s are shaving their heads

Rishita Marripalli with Shiva Kumar of ‘Hair Donations for Cancer Patients’  

In the months before joining college, 17-year-old Rishita Marripalli shaved her head.

Her inspiration was her 21-year-old sister Priya, who was motivated after seeing her aunt go through the treatment for cancer. “Rishita watched me cut my hair to donate for a cause and decided, on the spur of the moment, to do it too. But she went a step ahead and shaved her head completely,” says Priya, from Hyderabad.

While Rishita’s was a spontaneous decision, 20-year-old Vinitha Madhav’s was not. “Two of my cousins and I decided to donate our hair, so we grew it through the lockdown. The feeling is awesome,” she shares, from Bengaluru.

These hair donations are helping NGOs produce wigs to be given free of cost to people with cancer. Hair loss is a common side effect of cancer treatment that includes chemotherapy and radiation.

Priya Marripalli

Priya Marripalli  

Wearing a wig to conceal the loss may restore some sense of normalcy. However, wigs made with natural hair can cost up to ₹45,000 depending on the length, an added expense for people who may already be burdened with the cost of treatment. A synthetic wig, though cheaper, can be uncomfortable.

Thanks to social media and word and mouth, there has been an increased awareness about hair donation, and this is helping NGOs scale up their production of wigs.

Lockdown experiments

Hairstylist Shiva Kumar who founded the Hyderabad Hair Donations for Cancer Patients in 2014, says, “I’ve been campaigning for hair donations for years, but there’s been a four or five times rise in donations in the last few months.”

While working at his salon in Chandanagar, Hyderabad, Shiva felt the hair that went into the bin could be put to better use. That’s when he started sending hair to an organisation in Mumbai that makes wigs for underprivileged people with cancer, free of cost.

However, during the lockdown when logistics came in the way of delivering the wigs, Shiva decided to do it himself in Hyderabad; he spends his own money to make them. “I believe in God, but I feel that instead of tonsuring at temples, devotees should consider donating their hair for a cause like this,” says Shiva, who convinced his sister Pavani to shave off her head and donate her hair to him. He criss-crosses the city and the nearby districts to visit donors at their homes, to cut their hair, give them a new look and come back with the donated locks. “I do not charge anything, but if if the donors wish, they can pay towards the making of a wig, which costs ₹3,000,” says Shiva, who has collected hair from 400 people and delivered 37 wigs to the needy.


This is how you do it
  • Length of the hair should be at least 10 to 12 inches.
  • The hair should be washed, braided and secured with a rubber band. Cut an inch above the band.
  • The cut braid should be wrapped in a newspaper and placed in a polythene bag before being despatched.
  • Based on the thickness of the hair, it should be divided into different ponies before cutting. Normally, one person’s hair lends to two ponies and it takes six to seven ponies to make one wig. Often the split ends of the hair go waste, hence not all of your hair goes into the making of a wig.
  • Some organisations accept coloured and grey hair too.

Harish Kannadhasan of Hair Donation Bangalore (HDB)

Harish Kannadhasan of Hair Donation Bangalore (HDB)  

When mechanical engineer Harish Kannadhasan, based in Bengaluru, was moved by a video of a child undergoing cancer treatment, he threw himself into researching chemo-caused hair loss. In 2018, he started a Facebook page called Hair Donation Bangalore (HDB) to take forward the campaign. The donations he generates are sent to The Cherian Foundation in Chennai.

“We guide donors on the rules of cutting and packing their hair for this purpose. We maintain a register of the donor details. Often, we pay for the courier charges,” says Harish who receives at least two calls a week from Electronic City, Bengaluru, as well. “Not many courier companies function here, so most donors send their hair through Dunzo and we courier them to Chennai.”

Spaces that facilitate

‘Gift Hair Gift Confidence’ is an ongoing campaign by The Cherian Foundation, spearheaded by one of its trustees Sarah Benjamin Cherian. Started on February 4, 2014, to mark World Cancer Day, the Foundation’s first donor was a student of the Women’s Christian College, says Vijay Charles Wesley, senior project coordinator of the Foundation in T Nagar, Chennai.

“Our campaigns have been mostly in colleges, schools, corporates; till today we have donated 700 wigs to underprivileged cancer patients free of cost in collaboration with Adyar Cancer Institute,” says Charles. The lockdown saw a surge in donations and in October and November 2020, Cherian Foundation donated 200 wigs.

In collaboration with the oncology departments of various hospitals, people are given wigs after obtaining a referral letter from their respective doctors. Charles shares that the campaign has now spread from colleges to communities and neighbourhoods, where grandparents and grandchildren come forward to donate hair.


To donate hair or ask for a wig, contact:
  • Hyderabad: Shiva Kumar, at Hyderabad Hair Donations for Cancer Patients’ Facebook page and DBS Uday Kumar, at Hyderabad Hair Donation’s (HHD) Facebook page
  • Bengaluru: Harish Kannadhasan on Instagram, @Hair Donation Bengaluru
  • Chennai: The Cherian Foundation, visit

DBS Uday Kumar of Hyderabad Hair Donations (HHD) with donor Rakesh Guntoj

DBS Uday Kumar of Hyderabad Hair Donations (HHD) with donor Rakesh Guntoj  

Hyderabad-based business development professional DBS Uday Kumar is a familiar sight at the Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai every month. He hands over parcels of hair to Dr Surendran V at the oncology department, video records every stage of the transaction and on his return, presents a certificate of appreciation to his donors.

Uday and his friend Venkat started the Hyderabad Hair Donation (HHD) after a close friend succumbed to cancer. “I watched him struggle to cope with the trauma of losing hair along with the weakening of the body. After he passed away, I registered HHD and started raising awareness. I visit all parts of Telangana and AP to collect hair,” he says.

Shreeja and Rojee Devarapalli (mother daughter)

Shreeja and Rojee Devarapalli (mother daughter)  

His services are free, but recently when the hospital said there were no funds to make wigs, Uday started collecting ₹200 from each donor towards courier charges and handing over that money to the hospital. He is happy that during the lockdown, many young boys came forward to donate their hair.

Twenty-three-year-old Rakesh Guntoj learnt that his male colleagues at the workplace were growing their hair for a cause, and decided to join in. “It was not easy at all, especially during summer. Since my hair is curly, when I leave it untied, I would look weird and people would look at me with suspicion,” he laughs. He’s happy he could donate his hair in July 2020 after growing it to a length of 15 inches.

The longer the hair, the more wigs can be made, realised 32-year-old Rojee Devarapalli who didn’t think twice before donating her 38-inch-long hair along with her school-going daughter Shreeja’s. The mother and daughter went for a total shave. “When you think of the happiness it gives to those who are already suffering, sacrificing our hair is no big deal. Hair will grow back in no time,” says Rojee, smiling.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 7:30:40 AM |

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