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Riddhi was intrigued with this response, and she had to admit, this had thrown her off guard. She had spent a lot of time preparing and planning for this interview, but she had never anticipated this start.
Riddhi was still in a trance; she couldn’t believe herself. Was she really going to interview Prerna Sinha! It had been just six months since she had joined the publication and this was her first major assignment, added to it was the fact that she would be coming face to face with the woman she had idolised since childhood. Riddhi could not contain the excitement, the interview was scheduled two days later and she feverishly waited for that time to pass.
On the appointed day, Riddhi was at Prerna Sinha’s residence well before the appointed time. She did not want to appear as an excited fan girl, but the moment she saw Prerna walking in Riddhi could not conceal her excitement.
Prerna Sinha was a celebrated beautician and hair stylist. Her salon ‘Prernaz’ was a renowned and popular name across the country. But what made her an inspiration for thousands of young girls like Riddhi was the fact that Prerna’s life was a glowing example of a success story from small town India. She inspired all those girls to believe it was possible, despite the limitations. Riddhi knew Prerna was a completely self-made person and had toiled to reach where she had, but she definitely wanted to decode her secret of “super success” as she called it.
Seeing her idol in front of her, Riddhi was a bundle of nerves. She shook hands and thanked her for agreeing to be interviewed. Prerna sat across on the couch opposite Riddhi and before she could begin the interview, shot across her first question to Riddhi “Your first major assignment?”
This left Riddhi stupefied for a second and before she could respond, Prerna laughed as she said “don’t worry you won’t witness any celebrity tantrums from me, feel at ease.”
Riddhi felt calmness coming over her. “I guess my nervousness gave me away. But I couldn’t conceal the excitement, you know I have idolised you since I was a little girl.” After a brief pause Riddhi added a little sheepishly, “You know ma’am, I am also from your native place.” There was a smile on Prerna’s face as she said, “Seeing that I have a young lady here, making her mark in journalism, a lot seems to have changed there.” This comment puzzled Riddhi, but she decided to start with the interview.
“So you were raised in a small town, so how did you conceive the dream of making a mark in your chosen field?” Prerna replied with calmness, “Why, can’t people from small town have big dreams?”
Riddhi was a little taken aback, but she quickly responded to clear the air, “I didn’t mean that. What I wanted to ask was two decades ago not many people from even the metros thought of a career in beauty and grooming. But your dreams seem to have been way different from the times.”
Prerna responded, “I did not have the luxury of dreaming and conceiving a plan to achieve it. But what I had was determination, that’s what gave me the strength to make the most of what life offered me. There is a saying, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. I had no option but to push myself to the maximum. It was about survival.”
Riddhi was intrigued with this response, and she had to admit, this had thrown her off guard. She had spent a lot of time preparing and planning for this interview, but she had never anticipated this start. “Ma’am, your response has only aroused my curiosity. The world only knows your professional side, for that is all you have chosen to share with them. But after your earlier response, I am really curious to know about your life, before you embarked on your path of becoming the star entrepreneur.”
Prerna laughed out loud before responding, “An entrepreneur I am; let’s leave out the star. My life before I set out on this journey wasn’t exactly rosy, but it all started on a fairly normal note. I was born in a conservative family of limited means. I was the second daughter of the house, so I didn’t get a great welcome or any pampering. My parents and their parents were expecting a son, so the disappointment was evident. But I would never say I was treated shabbily. The essentials were always provided for and there weren’t many material comforts we were exposed to, so I had little demands.”
“I was sent to the neighbourhood school and though I wasn’t the topper but managed quite well. Growing up in the conservative environment, I was expected to concentrate more on honing my domestic skills. Like my elder sister, it was decided I would be married off by the time I was 16 or 17. So my early life was quite uneventful. I would say I had a normal childhood. My life took a drastic turn the year I turned sixteen. My father started keeping unwell quite often and this led to an incessant hurry to get me married. There was a sister younger than me and our marriages were the biggest responsibility on my parents. So, it didn’t come as a surprise when my father instantly agreed to the match suggested by a common acquaintance. The boy was from Mumbai with a fairly well-paying job. This seemed good enough to everyone in the family and within a month I was married off.”
At this point Prerna noticed that Riddhi had a shocked expression on her face and she enquired, “So, you have something to ask?” Riddhi paused before asking the question “Didn’t anybody ask for your opinion? Didn’t you raise your voice? Were you happy with the marriage?”
Prerna sighed. “How much of an opinion would a 16-year-old, who had hardly stepped out of the confines of her home have? I had till then lived only as I was expected to, never seeing the need to rebel, because that’s the world I had seen and that was the only world I knew. As for being happy about the marriage, well I had been raised to believe this was my decided fate, so my feelings did not matter. Nevertheless, I was a married girl and I knew this meant significant change in life. But what I had not anticipated was this change to turn my life topsy turvy. I arrived in Mumbai with my husband and his family, only to realise I had been scammed into this marriage.”
“My husband had no regular job and his family of five lived in a tiny dwelling, which comprised of just a single room. This was still a bearable shock, compared with what was to follow. I realised over time that my husband behaved rather strangely. There were times when he would be cheerful and then get suddenly morose and sit in a corner all day. He would at times leave home and not return for days. I found this really strange, and I decided to confront his parents about it. But the response I got was, I was the wife and had to adjust to his ways. I did not have an option either. Everyday was a struggle, nobody wanted to bond with me, I was simply expected to work all day serving everyone’s needs, and money was always insufficient in the house. As time passed my husband’s mood swings only grew worse and he hardly ever reported for work. Though I had no experience or training at any kind of work other than the domestic one, I decided to venture out. I found work at a neighbourhood beauty parlour. The pay was meagre, but there was at least a source of regular income.”
Riddhi coughed. “Sorry to interrupt, but did you not think of seeking medical help for your husband or make an attempt at freeing yourself from the situation?”
“Free myself and go where?” responded Prerna “I could not go back home and I had till then never known life could be lived on your own. As for my husband’s health, back then there was very little awareness on mental health so I did not even realise he had an ailment.” Prerna paused with a far away look on her face before continuing, “The worse was yet to come.”
“One day my husband left home and after that there was no sign of him. I waited for a week, but when there was no sign of him still, it was worrying and no amount of search proved to be of any use. With this my condition in that house became worse. From the beginning every penny I earned had to be given at home, now for the fear of losing their only source of regular income, my husband’s family started controlling every aspect of my life. At every step I was reminded that they were doing a favour by letting me stay even after my husband had abandoned them. They were sure, this would break whatever little confidence I had, and to an extent they were successful. But then it reached a point where I couldn’t take the humiliation and taunting any longer. I stepped out of the house that night thinking I would end it all. It was an eerily dark night and looking up at the sky I realised how the stars seemed unusually bright. Sitting under the sky on that dark night it stuck me how my life was presently like this dark night. But it was those stars that actually inspired me to rise up and take charge of the situation. The darkest night; the brightest stars, and I wanted to be like that star and shine bright, look at every adversity on the face and defeat it.”
“Wow, the darkest night; brightest stars, that is so inspiring. So how was the journey ahead? It must have been exceptionally difficult setting out into the world alone?” Riddhi questioned.
“When has life ever been easy? But if it was, would we really relish this journey so much,” Prerna answered with a smile and continued, “Yes, it was difficult, but I had to push myself ahead, because going back was not an option. I slept for months together at the little beauty parlour where I worked, as I couldn’t afford the rent for a house. I knew I had to work on my skills and limitations if I wanted to move ahead. I decided to complete my basic education through distance learning. At the same time, I joined courses to improve my skills on make up and grooming and learn the techniques of the industry. I worked on my communication skills, so that I could find work with a better salon. I lead a frugal life for years, with just one dream: to come up as the brightest star. The path was all the more difficult because of all the harsh judgements I faced, being a single woman. But all of these obstacles only made me and my determination stronger.”
Riddhi was completely in awe of this woman in front of her. Here she was cribbing about everyday issues and labelling life unfair for it, and in front of her was a woman who had faced the darkest times of her life, emerging the victor. The respect she had for her idol had doubled. As Riddhi took leave of Prerna, she said, “Ma’am, the title to this interview will be a befitting tribute to you.”
Prerna smiled at her as she turned to leave. A fortnight later as she picked up the latest issue of the magazine, she saw the headlines in bold on the cover: “A star rises from the darkest abyss of life!” Just below her photograph, that smiled back at her.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the Muse of the Month December 2018, but not one of the winners.
Image source: a still from Tumhari Sulu
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