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Subconsciously or otherwise, Keerthi realized that this was what would be her friend for life. Her quick grasp and agile brain that assimilated stuff and applied it to the amazement of her teachers.
It was the summer holidays that Keerthi remembered most from her childhood. She loved everything about the summer vacation in Kerala. The train journey, the drive to her grandmother’s quaint village still untouched by the trappings of city life. The lush verdant green of paddy fields, the grazing cattle, the strong winds whistling through the trees. The incessant rain making everything look washed anew.
All her cousins would be around in the old ancestral houses that dotted the countryside. They enjoyed themselves thoroughly, living the Enid Blyton lifestyle for those 2 months. Indoor games like cards and carrom during the mornings, outdoor activities like treks and picnics in the evenings. Learning to swim and cycle. It was the favorite time of the year for Keerthi. An idyllic break from Mumbai.
This year was no different. She had just turned 8. They’d been playing in the outhouse and she was feeling thirsty. As she entered the house, she heard her mother and her childhood bestie chatting. She had to cross the living room to get to the kitchen. As she did, she heard Shobha ‘aunty’ ask her mom, “Good God, Kaveri, what are you going to do about Keerthi? How do you think you can ever get her married?”
Keerthi stopped in her tracks. A slim slip of a girl, she was dusky and took after her father. In a family that had fair and perfectly chiseled features, notably her mother and sister, she did stand out like a sore thumb. But Keerthi was too young to notice. Or care. But today, the dart hit home. She heard her mother answer, “Shobha, she’s just a child. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it! And what wrong with her features? She looks like her dad, that’s all.”
Keerthi never discussed it with anyone but the conversation stayed in her head.
She was back in Mumbai. In school.
One of the things that made her happy was her academic performances. ‘Studies’ came to her with ease. She aced almost every subject in school and school annual functions were a treat as she would be called on stage again and again to receive certificates of merit.
Subconsciously or otherwise, Keerthi realized that this was what would be her friend for life. Her quick grasp and agile brain that assimilated stuff and applied it to the amazement of her teachers. She actually enjoyed the challenges school work presented.
As she grew up, conversations similar to the one she’d heard when she was 8 became more common.
She once heard a lady ask her mother, “How did you manage to have Keerthi for a daughter? Let alone a good face, she does not even have a good figure. Look at her. What a far cry from you. You better start saving up for her future right away.”
Why were her looks so important, agonized Keerthi. Did no one see her sharp brain, her compassionate nature, her helpful attitude? Did none of it matter?
Alongside, her academics flourished as she topped almost every exam at school. The final frontier was the Medical School.
She went on to do a super specialization in the US in Oncosurgery. All on a full scholarship. She’d aced that exam too and was offered a position at the college she’d done her MCh from.
But her heart was in India and soon she returned to set up a cancer center in her hometown. Within months her fame spread and soon, critical cases were being referred to her.
It was about a year later when Shoba aunty walked into her clinic. She had been referred with a rare but very malignant tumor of the ovary. Surgery was the best option but most oncosurgeons were reluctant to take her up as it abutted on the right ureter and the surgery was risky. Risk to the patient and the surgeon’s skill and reputation.
“How are you, dear Keerthi?” “I’m fine, aunty. Let’s have a look at your scans, shall we?” she said, after examining her thoroughly.
The surgery was planned after a week. Fortunately for everyone, the surgery went off well and the tumor margins were declared cancer free after 2 weeks by the pathologist.
Keerthi was happy for her interfering but well-meaning ‘Shoba aunty’.
Today was Shobha aunty’s review after 1 year and she could be declared cancer free if her tumor markers showed low titres and the imaging was normal.
Luckily everything was fine. “Ok aunty, now I need to see you only after 1 year. You are fit to travel or do whatever you want to do.” Keerthi smiled.
“Thank you, dear!” Said Shobha aunty. “There’s something else. My nephew is a renowned Radiologist in US. They’re looking for an ‘alliance’ for him. I’d suggested your name and he’s happy with the details and your picture too. They’re coming home next week. I’ve asked your mother to come over with you. You can meet him and decide. But I doubt you will have any problems, dear. He’s tall, fair and handsome. It will be a Perfect Alliance.” Shobha aunty smiled.
Keerthi suppressed her own smile as she said, “Thank you, aunty. I’ve already met my soulmate. His name is Shivesh. We’ve opened this hospital together. He’s tall, dark and ordinary looking. But our hearts have acknowledged the beauty in each other’s thoughts and views. Thanks, but no thanks.”
She turned back to her intercom. “ Hi Sheela, buzz the next patient in, dear. I’ve finished with this one.”
She had to tell Amma soon, she thought absentmindedly. Before another well-meaning aunty thought of someone else who appeared to be a “perfect alliance” for her.
Life had come full circle. The irony was not lost on her. But Keerthi was now secure and self confident. Not every book could be judged by it’s cover.
She tapped Rupi Kaur’s latest book she’d kept on her table..
A lesson a woman should learn
that since day one
she’s already had everything she needs within herself
it’s the world that convinced her she did not
She’d learnt that a long time ago. Not in as many words but with the same spirit. The same fire blazed in her too.
She would write about it some day. So that no Keerthi would doubt her own self and her ability to take on the world.
Every woman was endowed with that Shakti, that energy without which the world could not sustain itself. It was up to each woman to tap into it and change her own world, first and then the entire universe.
The world would be convinced. Some day.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the June 2019 Muse of the Month contest.
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