Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Shadow

It came to my house.
It sat on my shoulders.
Your shadow is yours. I told it so. I said it was yours.
I have carried it with me too long. I give it back
The Shadow

I AM BEAUTIFUL!!! I AM beautiful!! I am beautiful! AM I beautiful?? Am I?? Am I? Am I…..
The affirmative phrase was slowly wearing itself down to an interrogative.
It was supposed to work as an affirmation. The self-help book Sandhya was reading had prompted her to follow this technique. The writer instructed her to stand in front of the mirror and repeat this mantra aloud many times. She tried it honestly, for many days but to no avail.
She was standing in front of her dressing table in her room. It was a sparsely decorated room in black and white. The highlight of her room was the big study table loaded with books of all kinds, neatly arranged on the shelves. It was tidy and well kept always. The dressing table had an array of lotions and cream tubes and jars but no hair bands or ribbons and no make-up. Dad didn’t allow her to apply even kajal in her eyes. “You don’t need more shades of black on your face”, he had said, once.
Sandhya was dark, with curly short hair. Not fair. Now twelve years old, she had a dialogue with God every day. She always asked, “Why didn’t you give me mom’s complexion and hair?”  Her mother was fair with smooth black hair. Relatives and friends who saw either of them for the first time unfailingly commented, “You haven’t taken after your mom.” It just broke her heart. Why didn’t they look beyond her complexion? Her features resembled her mom!
In this modern city there were mostly Punjabis and hill people who had migrated from small towns and brought the traditional concept of beauty with them. Fair was the ideal definition of a girl. It didn’t matter whether she had the brain to do anything worthwhile or not. Sandhya didn’t fit the mould. She was smart, articulate, intelligent and a good student. A topper, a great athlete, loved to read, knew how to play the sitar and was extremely good at dancing.
But did all this even matter?
All she wanted was to be called pretty and that she was not…because she had taken after her father. He was dark. Dad had been dazed by her mom’s fair complexion. That the halo was affecting his daughter was a fact oblivious to him. Every fairness cream in the market was promptly brought home and rubbed on to her poor face even if she hated it. She knew that it won’t make her fair…nothing could. Bright colours like red and yellow were banned from her wardrobe, they made her look darker.
Time passed; she grew up quickly. Now sixteen, she was still dark-that wouldn’t change-but now she was tall and slim and had a neat plait. They had a wedding to attend at Agra-  city of the Taj Mahal. Man, was she excited! She had new dresses stitched for different days, matched her shoes and jewellery and this time she was determined to style her hair and also put on makeup. She hoped in her heart that she would meet someone who would find her attractive. Times were changing from Cindy Crawford to Naomi Campbell and she hoped that at least some people would look beyond this deep set complexion bias.
They reached Agra and from the word go a handsome boy was shadowing her…she was thrilled. Absolutely surprised at the attention..(the hormones were taking their toll). Those three days were a breeze. She was in the throes of ecstasy. But she never responded to the advances. Wasn’t it enough that she could attract someone? That she was not ugly. That she was normal. But no, it wasn’t enough. She needed THIS affirmation in more concrete terms. So she didn’t take any risk.
Over the years she met many admirers but none of them whispered those three words in her ears. None of them told her that they found her pretty. She kept wondering why these words eluded her. “Maybe I really am ugly”, she thought. She had tried to grow up normally like any other girl. Had a developed shapely figure and kept fit. She had learned to put on some make-up and refined her dress sense. Outwardly she was smart and confident but the longing to be called pretty was still burning in her poor heart.
Then she met Rajeev. Boy, was he handsome! Fair, with a Greek God face and big, deep brown, expressive eyes. All the girls in the locality swooned over his good looks and wanted to have a glimpse of his smile. If he condescended to talk to one of them, it was an achievement to be touted about for months. It was rumoured that he had at least six girlfriends.
He teased her on the road and she reacted. He wanted to meet and talk. He conveyed this through a friend. They didn’t have Facebook and cell phones those days. She was floored. ‘The God’ himself wanted to meet her!! She dressed with care and applied lip gloss and kohl. She lied to her father and went to meet him in a nearby restaurant. They had a quiet conversation about mutual interests and hobbies, normal chit chat. Just when they were about to leave he asked, “When can we meet again?” “ Anytime”, she wanted to answer but she didn’t want to appear stupid so she said, “I’ll call you” and left.
They met off and on and had long chats over the phone. It went on for two years but Sandhya was always cautious. She didn’t want to be overwhelmed by anyone but the attention was exhilarating. He professed his admiration and love again and again.
Then one day out of the blue, she asked him,” Why did you fall so hard for me?” He smiled and said, “Because you are beautiful Sandhya and I wouldn’t change a thing about you. I always wanted a pretty girl like you. You are smart and intelligent- that is an added bonus.”
Now she could moult. Now she could come out of her cocoon of darkness and go out on her bright wings. Those few genuine words lifted the veil of darkness from her mind and heart.
Now she could stand in the room and not have to repeat those affirmations. She had heard of simple words having profound meanings….now she understood.
Now after twenty years she could get out of her mother’s shadow and see her own self in her mirror and believe the words- “I AM Beautiful.”