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Mansi is from Delhi. She is in her second year of college. Her family is traditional, and she has one younger sister, Tanya, who is in 15 years old. Both of their studies are average. It was the month of April, and the temperature was rising. Mansi and her sister Tanya had hip-length hair, well-maintained. To improve Tanya’s studies, their teacher suggested, “Let’s get our students’ hair cut.” Tanya concentrates more on her hair than her studies. “What about Mansi?” “I’m thinking the same, let’s give Tanya a haircut first and then decide about Mansi.”

One day, their teacher asked Tanya to get ready and took her to the school. Mansi was watching TV at home. After 2 hours, their teacher and Tanya returned, and Tanya’s hair was cut into a short bob above her ears with baby-short fringe close to her forehead. The barber made sure she looked like a kid and completely shaved her back and neck. Mansi was shocked and looked at her teacher. Tanya went to take a bath and returned. Their teacher went to Tanya and said, “Now concentrate only on your studies.” Tanya nodded. Their teacher went out. Mansi went to Tanya and asked, “What happened?” Tanya said, “The teacher took me to the school barber and asked him to reduce the length. Without wasting time, he took me to the chair, opened the clips, and chopped the hip-length hair to neck-length. The teacher saw my hair and said, ‘Above the ears, so she won’t waste her time with hair.’ The barber said, ‘Okay madam,’ and gave me a nice short bob. I was crying.” Then Mansi asked about the fringe. “In between, the teacher went out for 5 minutes. The barber took a comb and scissors, came to the front, and said, ‘Stay still,’ and gave a straight cut to the fringe. It was short. He took a spray bottle and combed my fringe. The teacher came inside and saw me. He was surprised by the fringe and asked the barber. Then the barber said, ‘This will look good on her.’ The teacher said, ‘It’s summer, the fringe may cover her eyes soon.’ The barber took the spray bottle again, sprayed over the fringe, and said, ‘I will reduce the length so that it stays away from the eyes,’ and cut close to the forehead. The teacher smiled and said, ‘Okay.’ Then he took thinning shears and reduced the volume from the top.

Mansi rubbed her head and said, “Don’t worry, it will grow soon.” The teacher said, “I will be visiting regularly.” And she cried. Mansi said, “I will talk to the teacher.” Two days went by. It was Monday. They took a bath. Tanya’s hair was wet after the shower; it didn’t take much time for the dryer. She combed and got ready for school. Tanya got ready. Her school uniform was a skirt and shirt. She came downstairs. The teacher asked about Mansi. Tanya said, “She’s getting ready.” Mansi kept her hair open and came downstairs wearing a tight T-shirt and jeans. The teacher told both of them to come early after school and college. In the evening, Tanya came early. Mansi went out with friends and came back late. Tanya was studying. Her teacher asked, “Did anyone ask you about the haircut?” Tanya said, “Yes, sir, everyone was shocked and said it’s cute. But they said it’s too short. Please let me grow my hair, sir.” The teacher came near and said, “Don’t worry, this suits you better than long hair. You will get used to this. You won’t spend more time getting ready like your sister.” He said and went cooking. Mansi came home after roaming out, feeling tired. The teacher told her to refresh. She took a bath and came in with wet hair, water dripping. The floor was wet. The teacher asked her to dry the hair and cleaned the floor. One month went by. Tanya’s bob grew over her ears. The fringe was almost touching her eyebrows. It kind of looked good on her, and she was a little happy. The teacher told Tanya, “Tomorrow I will drop you to school. Get ready an hour before.” Tanya asked why. The teacher came, touched her hair, and said, “You need to get your haircut. It’s grown and started covering your face.” Tanya pleaded, but the teacher said, “It’s just hair, so sleep now.”

In the morning, the teacher woke Tanya up, and she got ready fast with the school uniform. The teacher took her to school for the haircut. He pulled out a chair and made Tanya sit on it. Instead of going to the barbershop, this time they decided to cut her hair at school. He took scissors and a spray bottle and completely wet her hair. Tanya’s teacher didn’t say anything to the barber. The barber turned Tanya away from the mirror and faced her teacher. The teacher kept his phone down and looked at his student and the barber. The barber asked, “Short bob? Or long one this time?” The teacher said, “You can give her any, she is in your hands now.” And smiled. “Make sure nothing is covering her face.” The barber held her chin and saw her. The teacher asked, “Are you free this evening?” The barber said, “There can be a few customers.” The teacher said, “It’s okay, I will bring my other student, her hair is very long and thick. We need to clean her too.” The barber said, “Okay madam.” And took the clipper and gave Tanya a nice high bob cut. It was shorter than last time, the back was completely clipped and shaved. Her teacher watched and said nothing. The barber gave her a nice bowl cut and showed it to her teacher. He took the spray bottle, held her chin, and said, “I’m going to cut the fringe short like last time.” Her teacher smiled, and the barber removed her fringe close to her forehead. He blow-dried her hair and got her down. Tanya, with a fresh mushroom cut and school uniform with a short skirt, looked cute. Her teacher thanked the barber and said, “We’ll meet in the evening.”

Her teacher dropped Tanya at school and returned home. Mansi came back home in the afternoon, saying her head was paining. Her teacher said, “You never dry your hair immediately; that’s why you are facing a headache now.” He came and touched her hair. Mansi was scared. She said, “If I sleep, it will be okay.” Her teacher said, “No, change your dress and come with me.” Mansi was scared. Mansi and her teacher were walking. The teacher saw her hair, which was longer than hip-length. Mansi asked, “Sir, where are you taking me?” He pulled her into the school barber shop. It was a little crowded as it was afternoon. The barber said, “Madam, I was expecting you in the evening.” She said, “Yes, but she came home with a headache. So I brought her here straight away.” He told them to wait as there were two people before her and three barber chairs filled. A few more customers came in. The teacher said, “I will go out and come back in some time. You take care of her in the meanwhile.” And left. He went to collect a few items from a nearby shop. After 10 minutes, the chairs were getting free. Mansi thought her teacher should return. She was scared. The next person whose turn it was supposed to be. The barber told the person, “Can you please wait for 10 minutes? I will finish this lady; she is having a headache.” Mansi became nervous. The person said, “Okay,” and looked at her. “Don’t worry, child,” they took her hair in hand and said, “It needed to go soon.” She slowly started walking towards the chair, hoping her teacher would return soon. She sat in the chair, the barber pushed the chair higher and tied a cape. Then the barber removed the band from her hair and took the spray bottle. Her heart was beating fast. She was nervous, the barber combed her hair neatly. The person standing next asked, “Did her teacher say what type of haircut?” The barber said, “No.” Then the person said, “Reduce her length, then we will decide,” the barber said, “Nice idea,” and chopped her length. Her hip-length hair was lying on the floor, tears began to flow from her eyes. The person saw that, held her chin, and said, “Stop crying.” She got scared and stopped crying. The barber evened the hair with a long bob cut and blow-dried it. She thought it was over and convinced herself. The person took her chin up and saw her closely. She was scared. They asked, “Is it done?” The barber said, “Yes.” They took a comb and combed her hair for a few minutes. “I guess we need to reduce the length a lot; it’s not good for her health.” Mansi got shocked by this. The barber took the spray bottle and sprayed more than needed. The barber asked, “Do you have anything in mind?” The person replied, “Yes,” and showed him an image in the poster. Mansi thought, “I should have come after this person.”

Years had passed since Mansi and Tanya endured their dramatic haircuts in school. Both sisters had grown and moved on to different stages of their lives. Mansi, now 24, was working as a marketing professional in a bustling corporate firm in Delhi. Tanya, 21, was in her final year of college, pursuing a degree in fashion design. Despite their past trauma, both sisters had grown their hair long again, relishing the freedom that came with adulthood.

It was a hot June afternoon when the past came knocking on their door. Mansi had returned home early from work, exhausted from a long day of meetings. Tanya was at home, sketching designs for her final project. The doorbell rang, and Mansi went to answer it. Standing there was Mrs. Sharma, their old school teacher, who had retired a few years ago. She was accompanied by a woman Mansi recognized as Mrs. Singh, the wife of the barber who had cut Tanya’s hair years ago.

“Hello, Mansi. Hello, Tanya,” Mrs. Sharma greeted them warmly, stepping into the living room uninvited. “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d pay a visit. I see you both have grown your hair long again.”

Mansi and Tanya exchanged nervous glances, the memories of their forced haircuts flashing through their minds.

“It’s been a long time, Mrs. Sharma,” Mansi said cautiously. “What brings you here today?”

Mrs. Sharma smiled. “Oh, nothing much. Just reminiscing about the old days. Do you remember Mrs. Singh? She has a special talent for haircuts.”

Tanya’s heart sank. “We remember, Mrs. Sharma. But that was a long time ago. We’re not schoolgirls anymore.”

Mrs. Singh stepped forward, her eyes gleaming with an unsettling determination. “I’ve become quite the expert over the years. And I’ve learned some new techniques that I’d love to try on you girls.”

Mansi and Tanya backed away, but Mrs. Sharma blocked their exit. “It’s just a haircut, girls. You’ve done it before, and you can do it again. Besides, it’s summer, and short hair is much more manageable.”

Mansi tried to protest. “Mrs. Sharma, this is unnecessary. We’re adults now. We can decide how we want to wear our hair.”

But Mrs. Sharma was insistent. “Nonsense. A fresh start is always good, and you’ll thank us later.”

Before they could react, Mrs. Singh had already set up her tools on the dining table. She motioned for Mansi to sit down first. Reluctantly, Mansi took a seat, her eyes pleading with Tanya for help. But Tanya was frozen in place, her mind racing.

Mrs. Singh started by combing Mansi’s long, silky hair. “Such beautiful hair, Mansi. It’s a shame it’s so impractical for the summer heat.”

With a swift motion, Mrs. Singh picked up her scissors and began cutting. Mansi watched in horror as her long locks fell to the floor. Mrs. Singh worked quickly, cutting Mansi’s hair into a short, sleek bob that barely reached her ears. She then took out clippers and shaved the nape of her neck, giving Mansi a sharp, edgy look.

“There, much better,” Mrs. Singh said, admiring her work. “You’ll feel much cooler now.”

Tanya, still in shock, was next. Mrs. Sharma guided her to the chair and held her shoulders firmly. “Your turn, Tanya. It’s for your own good.”

Tanya’s eyes filled with tears as Mrs. Singh approached her with the scissors. “Please, no. I don’t want this.”

Mrs. Singh ignored her pleas and began cutting. Tanya’s long, thick hair was soon reduced to a short pixie cut. Mrs. Singh took extra care to trim the fringe above her eyebrows and shave the sides close to her scalp.

When she was done, Tanya barely recognized herself in the mirror. Her once flowing hair was now gone, replaced by a stark, boyish cut.

“There, you both look wonderful,” Mrs. Sharma said, clapping her hands. “This will help you focus on what’s important.”

As Mrs. Sharma and Mrs. Singh left, Mansi and Tanya sat in silence, processing what had just happened. They looked at each other, their short haircuts a stark reminder of their past.

But this time, they were determined to make sure it never happened again. Mansi hugged Tanya, whispering, “We’ll grow it back, just like before. And next time, we won’t let anyone take away our choices.”

 

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