Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

In search of youth, vigour and beauty

By Roopen Roy Aug 14 2012

Tags: Views

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Roopen Roy

(Views expressed are personal)

My flight was about to take off from Dubai for New York. On long flights, I usually read books. On this flight,I was reading Oscar Wilde’s classic “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. It is the story of a fashionable young man who makes a Faustian bargain to sell his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty.

A distinguished looking gentleman came and took his seat next to me. “My name is Dr. Yan Trokel ,” he said. As the conversation progressed, he told me he was born in Georgia,which was once part of the USSR and now a free country. Yan had left Georgia when he was a little child. But he was proud of the country of his birth. I told him I was in Moscow recently. We had enjoyed Georgian dishes like the Khachapuri ( a Georgian version of pizza), Kinkhali ( a meat dumpling like the Tibetan momo) and ,of course, Chacha the famous Georgian “moonshine” vodka. Some people believe Chacha is as potent as rocket fuel. Dr. Trokel almost agreed.

Eventually we came to the “what do you do” question. I told him that in my profession we focus on corporate transformations. We strive to improve the performance of companies and government entities. As it turned out, Dr.Trokel's focus is not very different. His patients are individuals , not companies. He transforms people. He restores youth and enhances their beauty.

In his own words, Dr. Yan Trokel is an aesthetic surgeon. He is pioneering a new genre of cosmetic surgery. He utilizes surgical and non-surgical methods where "the natural features and functionality of the facial structures remain unchanged but are enhanced." Dr. Trokel is the inventor of a minimally invasive facelift - "Y LIFT®" .“How did this innovation come about?” I asked. “It came to me in a dream,” he said in a soft tone. "For many years, I have been contemplating a method of enhancing the facial region without resorting to surgery. I realized that ageing is not a result of gravity but it is a result of global volume loss." He has a website: http://www.ylift.com. In the website there is a clip in which he actually appears on the Dr.Oz show and performs a part of the procedure before a TV audience and explains how he lifts the face. (http://www.doctoroz.com/) . For those who have not heard of Dr. Oz – he is a Turkish –American surgeon, author and TV personality. He is the vice-chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University. He has authored more than 400 original publications and appears on the Sony Pictures Show called The Doctor Oz Show.

When I reached New York, I read Dr.Trokel’s blog. I then had a follow-up meeting with him one late evening. Based on my discussions with him, here is a summary of what he does : the Y Lift is a minimally invasive and non-surgical procedure and performed under local anesthesia. It takes between 30 minutes - 1 hour and the results are instantaneous with virtually no downtime. The cheekbone and under eye region are instantly rejuvenated; the jaw line is crisply defined and the upper neck improved.

According to Dr. Trokel the secret sauce is in the specialized instrument and the technique invented by him which is used to achieve the instant lift. By structural volumizing, he told me, you not only achieve a more youthful look but a more aesthetically pleasing effect all without the need for surgery. Sometimes his patients fly him round the world to perform the magic. And that is how I met him on the plane.

Human beings have gone to extraordinary lengths in pursuit of youth , beauty and vigor. Pioneered by the market leader Pfizer, pharmaceutical companies like Glaxo SmithKline, Bayer and Eli Lilly have blockbuster drugs catering to the "vigor" market segment. I am reminded of a tale in our ancient Puranas. King Yayati had earned the wrath of Shukracharya, the Guru of the Asuras (the Demons).Yayati had broken a promise. He was cursed that he would lose his youth and become an old man immediately. The demon guru had asserted that his curse once spelt out could not be rolled back. There was. however, one escape route.If Yayati could transfer his old age to a young man, he could extract his youth from him.Yayati was desperate. He requested all his five sons individually to lend their youth to him. All the sons, except one i.e. Puru declined. So Yayati took the youth of Puru. In return for his unswerving loyalty, Puru was crowned his successor . If he was born in the 21st century, Yayati would have turned to the magic of science and technology instead of "stealing" his son's youth.

The business of invigoration and beauty which includes cosmetic procedures and hair transplants is worth several billions of dollars. The size of the market depends on how you define it and how you count its various components. But by every definition and in any manner of accounting, it is massive. You can argue that the research dollars should have gone in eradicating malaria and HIV/AIDs. But the ground reality is that even the present day King Canute i.e. the government and regulators, cannot rule the waves of market forces.

But there is some sweet justice in this. Once in a while , the market is kind to the disadvantaged. The vigour craze can trigger re-distribution of income . It can create wealth for entire rural communities. Here is one example: there is a fungus which is called Kira Jari in India and Yartsa Gunbu in Tibet.The fungus enters the larva of a caterpillar moth, mummifies its prey and eventually grows out of the head of the caterpillar It grows only in the high meadows of the Himalayas.

In 1993 the Chinese athletes broke world records at their national games. Their trainer proclaimed that it was because of the energy booster from the caterpillar fungus. According to a study by the National Geographic, the top-quality caterpillar fungus price has reached the dizzying heights of over $ 110,000 a kilogram. It is infusing massive amounts of cash in rural communities The study notes , “In rural Tibet, the fungus accounts for at least 40 percent of people's cash income.” The caterpillar is giving pharmaceutical companies a run for their money. After China, Nepal and India have jumped into the bandwagon. The cash generation from the wonder "organic" drug is transforming rural mountain communities.

The "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" question is still a stirring and emotive one. To postpone the appearance of old age, many will part with a fortune. It is a pity that even with the current technology , one cannot permanently arrest the march of time.

One is reminded of the famous lines of poet W.H.Auden :

"But all the clocks in the city

Began to whirr and chime:

O let not Time deceive you,

You cannot conquer Time."

And yet humans continue to battle against the ravages of time -as if there will be no tomorrow.

(The writer is managing director of Deloitte Consulting, India. These

are his personal views)