Some weeks ago, as Soumya Prasad Mondal walked the slow walk from the classroom door to his last-row seat, much like Virat Kohli’s long walk from the pavilion to the 22-yard cricket pitch, he was received with envious hoots from the boys and shy, appreciative glances from the girls.
“I watch a lot of cricket. Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya don’t just play well, they look really cool too. I wanted to be like them. So I went to a barber shop near the school and asked him to give me Kohli’s haircut,” says the Class 9 student of the Nayaput Sudhir Kumar High School at Contai in East Midnapore district. That’s how he ended up with one of the coolest looks in school — hair slicked back and fades along the sides.
But now, Soumya can’t wait for his hair to grow back. Late last month, his headmaster Basanta Kumar Ghorui warned him and about 20 other students not to sport fancy haircuts. The following day, the parents were called in for a “counselling session” where they were asked to persuade their children to have “normal haircuts”. His parents — father is a businessman and mother a homemaker — had nodded as the headmaster spoke, occasionally darting angry glances in Soumya’s direction.
Principal Ghorui went a step further and, on August 2, issued a notice to two barber shops near the school. The notice, in Bengali, asked the barbers to give “uniform” haircuts to students from classes 5 to 12, adding that “under no circumstances are students to be given… stylish haircuts. Please discourage them.”
The next day, Ghorui held a meeting with the hairdressers and requested them to “help the school maintain discipline”. The Nayaput school is among two in West Bengal that were recently in news for their campaigns to dissuade children from sporting fancy haircuts. Around 450 km away from Contai, in Murshidabad, the New Farakka High School organised a “sensitisation programme” for 40 local barbers in the presence of police officers.
These days, Soumya is on the defensive every time the subject is brought up. “I was not the only one with hair like this. My classmates got such haircuts too,” he says.
Headmaster Ghorui hopes he has tackled the “problem”. “We have been facing this problem since the last one year. Boys come sporting these stylish haircuts that go against the culture of this school. Look around you. We have these statues of Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, ours is a plastic-free zone. We didn’t want a few children to influence others. So we spoke to the students and parents, and issued notices to two barbers near our school — one of them is a former student,” he says.
Established in 1947, the Nayaput school is spread over 10 acres. More than 1,500 students, both day-boarders and hosteliers, study here. “Children have to be disciplined while in school. Once they go to college, they are free to cut their hair any way they want,” says librarian Subrata Gupta.
A few metres away from the school gate is a men’s salon, its air thick with the smell of aftershave lotions and shampoos. As he gives a teenager a “normal haircut”, Kartik Barik, 26, says it’s unfair that “all the blame is on us hairdressers”. “Students come with various demands… say they want a Kohli haircut or that they want to look like Pandya. What option do we have but to do as they say?” says Barik, himself sporting a stylish cut.
Pointing to photographs of models sporting taper fade haircuts stuck to a mirror in the salon, Barik says, “These cuts are for between Rs 50 and Rs 70. The ‘normal’ ones are for Rs 30.” He earns around Rs 12,000 a month.
“Now I will be careful,” he says, carefully snipping hair off along the teenager’s ear. “I hope they just bring their parents and force us to give them fancy haircuts.”
Principal Ghorui, however, believes he has the parents on board — “most of them do not approve of such haircuts”. Debasish Maity, whose son Snehasis is a Class 11 student and sported a taper fade haircut until recently, says “I don’t want my son to be scolded again for his haircut. He will have to wait till he gets into college to have these haircuts.”
Back at the school, a few students walk along the ground, their heads bent, many with closely trimmed hair.