Kala Kola is not a beverage as the name might suggest but one of the oldest brands of black hair dyes in Pakistan.

It so happens that most Pakistani men these days, when they reach their 50s or even before, dye their hair, especially the politicians we see on TV. Some have it done professionally while others do it themselves in the privacy of their homes, using whatever in-house help is available.

It should not be my business nor anyone else’s if someone dyes his hair. It is their hair, their heads — and their money. But, as someone said, it’s the idea of one’s leader sitting in a salon, wearing one of those flowered waterproof smocks, their heads covered with that gooey stuff — that picture doesn’t quite tie in with the powerful statesman image.

I wonder if it is the proliferation of electronic media that has made these men with dyed hair more visible than they were in the past or is it a growing new trend? Or, is it a bad job of dyeing that makes them look so conspicuous?

Someone remarked the other day that in spite of the faltering economy of the country, Kala Kola (or its equivalents) seems to be doing a roaring business in Pakistan and so is the business of salons. This statement may have been made jokingly, but there must be some truth to it for even a serious newspaper like Los Angles Times took note of this “gooey” business in a recent report titled ‘Pakistani Men Sitting Pretty’, filed by its staff reporter, Laura King, from Islamabad. The report talked about the growing number of prominent Pakistani men flocking to salons for dye jobs and other facial and hair treatments.

Parvez Musharraf is the most conspicuous member of the Kal Kola Klub. (He is not seen much on TV these days.) He dyes his hair carefully in two tones, gray at the temples and black or brown at the top. Some say, he chooses the shade of his hair depending on the occasion and his mood. If he felt pleased and playful he would dye it a shade of brown, and blow-dry it to give it a tousled look. But when under stress, he would use a darker shade. The grimmer the mood the darker the shade.

A peculiar trait of men is that they are very sensitive about their hair. They would discuss everything among themselves: their clothes, their weight, their ailments, and even their affairs, but rarely their hair. “Unfortunately”, says an expert, “because men are so sensitive about their hair, they can’t ask for advice in the way women do quite openly. Thus, where gray hair is concerned, many men will be tempted to dye it at home, in secret, in a color that they think will work but rarely does. And because men don’t talk about hair, they don’t say anything when another man gets it wrong, and the circle of silence continues.”

Incidentally, this sensitivity of men about their hair is not limited to any particular nationality. It is universal. In 2002 the then German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, otherwise reported to be quite a laid-back politician, sued a news agency for simply implying that he dyed his hair. A testament from his hairdresser was even read out in court to support him.

The other day, flipping through old magazines while waiting my turn at a barber’s shop here in New York (I had gone only for a plain haircut), I came upon an interesting article by a woman writer, a fashion expert, that had some advice and tips the existing and potential hair dyers may find useful:

1. Men can look hotter as they age, and natural white streaks in black hair look attractive on men. So, why use camouflage?

2. If you must dye, just make sure it looks natural. Obvious dye jobs that resemble someone slathering their head with black shoe polish are a far bigger turnoff than gray hair. And, by the way, a bad toupee is a deal-breaker!

3. Use a shade very similar to your natural color.

4. Rub Vaseline along your skin at the hairline and especially your ears and neck. This keeps the dye from staining your skin.

5. Read the directions carefully, which come with the dye, and use gloves!

Note: I wrote this first for ATP in 2007