A Rapunzel’s Journey

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[I don’t know how this thingy works. I felt like writing from two perspectives at the same time. Was fun though.]

“Madam… are you next?”

cff901106d20edc092187375d31f1d74The respectful voice broke into Sandhya’s thoughts. reminding her where she was: in a barber shop… in a small village. Hours from the big city where she lived and worked. She had accompanied her friend Vidya. Recently promoted at the bank where both of them worked, Vidya had vowed to travel down to the temple of her ancestral village to offer her hair. However, her parents were on a six month visit overseas. They were travelling to help her sister with the new baby. And an excuse for them to get in an overseas vacation. Left with no other choice, Sandhya accompanied her on a three day trip.

Vidya had taken the chair after the last group of women had left the shop. Only the two of them remained, and it was getting quite close to noon. The shop would soon close for lunch if the time written in peeling letters in the window was still accurate. Sandhya stole a glance at Vidya. Her barber was securing a large white cloth cape around her neck. Hanging behind the chair, was her flower decked braid. The shearing was imminent.

Sandhya hesitated. She had never been in a barber’s chair in her 23 years. Nor was she under any obligation to offer her hair as well. The chair however, looked mesmerizing, calling out to her. Taking a deep breath, she stood up, and walked to the chair. As she walked barefoot across the floor, she felt the soft locks of shorn hair underneath her feet. Like bits of soft wet felt. About a dozen women had offered their hair in the past hour. Some cuts, most of them shaved. And now, the barber was waiting for her.

Vidya was looking at her, shocked. Her mouth was open in surprise and she was pretty much unable to speak. She was about interrupt, telling the barber that Sandhya wasn’t going to offer her hair. However, she was stunned as Sandhya got up and came to the chair. Her own barber had picked up a comb and a pair of scissors. She saw her friend step up on the foot rest of the old barber chair and sit down. She caught a smile from Sandhya’s face as she settled into the chair. Completely dumbstruck, she was about to call out to stop her when she felt the firm pull on her braid. Followed by the barber firmly turning her head forward. She took a deep breath and obeyed her barber as he firmly bent her head.

“Madam, please keep your head down as a mark of devotion. This is the biggest sacrifice you can ever make. So please keep your thoughts on the Goddess. Do not have any regrets while your hair is being cut. Your friend is perfectly capable of making her choice.”

Her barber’s advice made her more aware of her own commitment first. Vidya silently nodded, bending her head further down. She sat straight and tried to keep her eyes down, but she found herself trying to make eye contact with Sandhya in the other chair. She felt her braid being lifted clear of her neck. The firm pull became just a little firmer.

Sandhya stepped onto the footrest of the old barber chair that had definitely seen better days. Turning around she sat down, feeling her feet come off the footrest. She felt a gentle touch on her shoulders, pulling her back and she scooted back in the chair all the way. Looking over, she saw Vidya’s barber turning her head and advising her. She could not help smiling as she saw her friend sitting in the chair; her pride and joy in the barber’s hands. Looking in the mirror, gestured to her barber to wait a moment. The barber smiled and waited as she turned to watch her best friend.

From her vantage point she could see the barber place the scissors up snug against Vidya’s nape. The blades were over the flowers that were tucked into a strand of hair. Fresh flowers, barely put in her hair an hour ago on the way to the barber shop. She let out a quiet sigh of satisfaction as the blades closed, making the first cut into her braid. Vidya closed her eyes, her head shaking gently as the barber slowly cut through her thick heavy braid. For a while, she felt like there was no sound in the world, but the scissors slicing their way through the thick heavy braid.

Vidya felt the scissors pressed against her braid. She stole a glance at her friend, who was just sitting in the chair at this point, watching intently. “Maybe she will still change her mind,” she hoped as the scissors bit into her braid. She closed her eyes reflexively as the cutting continued. Slow long bites into her braid as the scissors cut through. It seemed like an eternity but lasted all of twenty seconds to separate thirty six inches of pampered, luxurious growth from her head. She felt her braid come loose. The barber folded it over and laid it in front of the mirror where the other tools of the trade lay awaiting their turn.

Sandhya relished watching every second of the cut. As the braid came off, the flowers fell at the barber’s feet. She looked wistfully at the cut braid as it was folded neatly and set aside. Looking at her barber in the mirror she nodded to him that she was ready.

Vidya’s thoughts came back to the present. She was the only one supposed to offer her hair. What got into Sandhya? Why was she in the barber chair? Did she want to offer a symbolic just-two-inches-off-the-ends-please? She tried to say something but Sandhya’s barber spoke up.

“What is your offering, madam? How many inches?”
“Uh… umm… can you please take all my hair off?”
“Sandhya, are you crazy? Why are you doing this? You don’t have a vow or anything! What will your mother say?”
“Clean shave madam?”
“Yes please.”
“Sandhya, you idiot!!!”
“Madam, an unrequited offering is the highest sacrifice you can make at this temple. This will surely shower you with divine grace.”
“Thank you,” said Sandhya.

Sandhya just looked at Vidya and smiled. She gave her a little wink that she hoped the barber wouldn’t see. Vidya was perplexed. Sandhya bent her head to give the barber access to her bun as he proceeded to remove the hairpins that held it in place. A firm tug brought down a cascade of thick soft black hair that would typically have fallen to her mid-thigh. Vidya was looking at Sandhya’s barber. She wasn’t surprised to see his face light up with the length and thickness of hair that she was offering up.

‘Yeah, right. Make sure she doesn’t change her mind. You’re just happy that she is in your chair,’ thought Vidya rather uncharitably. A shiver ran down her spine as a cold mist hit her head. Followed by the barber’s firm fingers massaging water into her chin length hair. Spray after spray of fine mist as the thick hair was massaged till it hung in straggly locks, dripping wet. Water was running all over her face, but she had to bear it. It was almost over. The barber parted her hair down the middle with the comb and neatly combed her wet hair. She kept shooting glances over at Sandhya, who had in her opinion, gone temporarily insane. Her friend’s barber was slowly finger combing her hair.

‘A connoisseur of fine hair, apparently.’ Vidya thought to herself as she saw the barber stroke and run his fingers through Sandhya’s hair; almost lovingly. She felt the teeth of the comb enter her wet hair. Her barber comber her hair, parting it neatly down the middle. She saw the barber load up a fresh blade in the straight razor. She let out a sigh. Once again, the gentle pressure asking her to tip her head down. Vidya obediently bent her head. She took a deep breath to calm herself and focus on getting her shave done as she felt the barber stretch the scalp at the crown. She felt the scrape of the razor as her shave began.

Sandhya was in an adrenaline rush. She saw Vidya’s braid getting cut without a second thought or question. And now she was going to be shaved. The barber gently turned her head forward, away from the action. The barber’s firm grip on her hair, finger combing it was enough to make her giddy with excitement. True, she loved her hair a lot. Yes, it was beautiful and she never grudged the time or expense of its upkeep. And she knew the looks of envy and admiration that her hair drew from other women, and it would be a lie to say that she didn’t enjoy it. She also had a wish to lose her hair to a barber at least once in her life. At least a haircut, if not bald.

She saw her barber reach for the comb while holding her hair firmly at her nape. Her eyes were drawn to the cut braid lying on the counter. Over two feet long, auburn, it belonged to the woman who was in the chair before her. Lying across the braid were a pair of scissors: the same ones that would shortly feast on her hair. She looked at the barber starting to shave Vidya, her thoughts drifting into her past. Nine years ago, when her wish was born…

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