36 B, He Wrote

People

36 B, He Wrote

Illustration: Namaah/ Arré

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n a January morning earlier this year, 25-year-old Prakash called his friend in the United States to inform him of the passing of two close companions. “Rukhsana aur Altaf ab nahi rahe,” he said. It took his friend, who had just woken up from deep sleep, a few minutes to process the information. When he realised who the people in question were, he let out a few choice expletives at Prakash, and promptly went back to sleep. Rukhsana and Altaf were the names of Prakash’s left and right breasts. Now they are no more.

“They were a couple because they made love to each other at night,” Prakash explains to me with a grin. Skinny, small-framed, Prakash is still recovering from his gynaecomastia surgery when we meet. “They were a part of my life. They even looked nice on some days, because they balanced out my belly,” he says with a twinge of nostalgia. When Rukhsana and Altaf were around, Prakash hated their intrusive presence, but now that they’re gone, he seems to almost miss them.

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Gynaecomastia, or man-boobs as it’s commonly called, is the biggest body image concern among men after hair loss. Google search auto-completes the query “How to get rid of…” with “man breasts”, throwing up 31,20,000 results with everyone from Men’s Health to GQ weighing in with suggestions on ditching drink, losing fat, and “becoming one with the bench”. Prakash did all that and even turned to mixed martial arts three years ago to cut down on the flab. “I was trying really hard, eating all these dirtily masculine foods,” he said. “My ab muscles were getting defined, all my body fat was gone, but still I had these tits!”

Prakash grew up in Patna, running on the banks of the Ganga and playing every adolescent sport from kabbadi to badminton. Even with a family history of obesity and gynaecomastia, he was never conscious of his health or appearance. In class, there was once a competition to compare who had the biggest breasts among all the fat kids. Prakash stood first. But Bihar was a different world. “People could say something like, ‘You have really nice tits,’ just the way they would tell someone else that he had a small dick,” said Prakash. “We were like street kids.” The atmosphere was comfortable, no one felt singled out.

That changed dramatically when he moved to a Bengaluru art college. There, surrounded by good-looking people, Prakash was first relatively unaffected about his weight or his breasts. But the level of his body consciousness – aesthetic as well as health-wise – increased. Then, when Prakash started navigating the waters of college dating, he found it a little embarrassing to take off his shirt in front of a girl. “This one time a girl told me I could pass off as a she-male,” says Prakash. Another potential partner had a problem because she was less endowed than him. “And if you forgot for a moment that I was a man, my tits did look better than hers,” he says, cheekily.

Male cosmetic surgery was an alien concept for Prakash and millions of other guys like him, possibly because most conversation around body consciousness is focused around the female form.

Ironically, it wasn’t the obstacle course of his sex life, so much as his family that made him seriously consider surgery. Even though nearly everyone on the maternal side of his family had man boobs, it didn’t stop his uncle from calling attention to them. “He once said during a family gathering, ‘Ye kya latak raha hai? Isko theek karo, exercise karo.’” Prakash realised it wasn’t about health or fitness. His family was thinking of his marriage and the dowry he might fetch.

Male cosmetic surgery was an alien concept for Prakash and millions of other guys like him, possibly because most conversation around body consciousness is focused around the female form. It conjures images of waif-like women, doubling over a commode, barfing their guts out. Any exposition on the subject is countered by a dozen other shrieky listicles featuring the words “plastic surgery” and “gone wrong”. Save for Michael Jackson, you’d be hard pressed to find a male celebrity in such a compilation.

Finally, after thinking about the decision sporadically for four years, aided by heavy reading, Prakash decided to take the plunge. The final leap had a lot do with the fact that he could afford to shell out the ₹90,000 the surgery costs at a private facility. A government hospital would have been a lot cheaper, but then a doctor friend who worked in one, told him about a patient whose nipple went missing during the procedure. Private it was going to be.

His parents weren’t exactly ecstatic about the decision. Not only were conversations about the body taboo topics for dinner-table conversations, there was trepidation about electing for an invasive surgery. Prakash didn’t care. He went alone for the surgery. Pumped with anaesthesia, Prakash slept soundly, as the surgeon aspirated the fat through inserted tubes, and deflated Rukhsana and Altaf forever.

Now, more than six weeks after his surgery, Prakash is thrilled with his transformation. He is still waiting to try his new chest out with the ladies and he’s aware that things are going to become easier from now on, but he’s not fully on board with the idea of finding love just because he has a “better” body. Currently he’s too busy exulting in a world without tits that gives him the liberty to wear what he wants. “I’m just relieved I don’t have to play mind games with myself anymore,” he says.  Love and sex are all very good, but for Prakash, a nicely fitted tee is infinitely better.

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