It was not a secret for her family per se. But, ever since she was thirteen, she was expected to tuck away this little secret of hers in a tiny box and instead wear a garb of normalcy.
The fifth winner of our October 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Meha Sharma.
Bhairavi opened her eyes and yawned heartily. She peeked at her phone which lay on the nightstand and sprung from her cozy bed. It was eight already. She wondered why she did not receive a frantic call from her mother as yet.
She knew she must brim with excitement and ought to be a wee bit nervous too but she felt that it was nothing but a dreary imposition. She had to meet a boy and decide whether she would want to marry him and spend the rest of her life with him. Of course, he too would gauge her and make a mental note whether she ticked all the ‘ideal match’ boxes. There were so many things to mull over after all when one is looking for a ‘match’. Other than the looks (which make for the crucial first impressions) there was the family stature, kundli, to name a few.
In her thirty one years of existence, Bhairavi had been told umpteen times as to how important it is for a girl to be married and to be married right. She tried to feign oblivion to the ‘marriage angle’ as long as she could but, when she got a job in a reputed advertising firm in Delhi, she had no choice but to succumb to the pressures of the matrimony charade.
And so began the groom hunt, with her parents steering the reins with full throttle, while she tagged along in meek submission.
It had been a few years since ‘project matrimony’ commenced (as she liked to call it mockingly), but to her parents’ dismay, all their efforts had hitherto been in vain.
The phone rang and shook Bhairavi from her reverie. She did not have to even look at the screen to know that it was her mother.
“Bhairavi, are you ready? You have to meet him for breakfast, remember? And please wear that red salwar-kameez which we bought last Diwali. Your complexion shines in that colour. And don’t you forget to put on make-up”.
Bhairavi did not protest and played along; after all she was now a veteran. But, that did not mean she would abide by everything her mother instructed. She did dress up in a red salwar-kameez. Then, she stood in front of the mirror gazing at her reflection. Slowly, she picked up the concealer and started painting her face with the array of cosmetics that seemed to be peering at her with all their colours and contours.
And as she finished giving the last touches, she inadvertently smirked. Here she was looking flawless and beautiful. But, something was amiss.
She inevitably felt ill at ease whenever she stared at her decked up persona. A knot formed at the pit of her stomach and that was her cue to turn away from the mirror. Always.
It was almost ten. Bhairavi hastened her steps and reached the café where she was supposed to meet the prospective groom. She knew the drill. The meeting would pan out to be in the same fashion. Conversations would differ but the response of the man would invariably be the same.
Now, Bhairavi’s parents always felt that their daughter’s marriage could not be fixed owing to a number of factors. At times, the horoscope didn’t match or the boy rejected her because he was looking for a girl who would not work post marriage and so on and so forth. But, never in their wildest dreams had they conjectured that it could be something more.
Bhairavi had a secret.
It was not a secret for her family per se. But, ever since she was thirteen, she was expected to tuck away this little secret of hers in a tiny box and instead wear a garb of normalcy. For a naïve teenager it was but natural to listen to her parents and be the ‘good girl’. And they wished her well, she knew.
But, slowly and steadily, it became an extension of her. It became a part of her skin, her very being and soon it became her.
As she grew old, life showed her varied paths. There was light, there was knowledge. She was a voracious reader and it opened new realms to her. It made her realize that, being your true self was liberating. She grappled to be someone who was unfettered by the diktats laid down by the society.
But, years of conditioning hindered her spirit. Still, she tried in earnest to lay bare her soul and so unbeknownst to her parents she let out her secret to those unsuspecting grooms.
As she entered the café, Bhairavi was dumbfounded. She had never been to this place before. She glanced at the table where a man sat flipping the pages of a book.
Is he the one, she wondered.
She stood at a distance and called the guy she was supposed to meet. And as soon as she dialed the number, the guy put his book down and looked at his phone. Just then, she waved and approached his table.
“Hey, good to see you. Hope, you didn’t have any problem finding this place”, he said.
“No, I didn’t. But, I have never been to this place.”
“Oh, yes. It is fairly new. But, I often come here. I love it here.”
She looked around. The café was called ‘Phoenix Café’ and to her bewilderment it was run by acid attack survivors. Everyone employed at the café had been a survivor and Bhairavi suddenly found herself welling up.
“You ok? We can order now”, Viren the guy asked her and she was suddenly embarrassed.
“Yes, I am ok. Let’s order”, Bhairavi managed to blurt out.
She was prepared to follow the set procedure but somehow, she stopped herself for a while. It can wait, she mused. The guy had a pleasing demeanor and though not handsome in the traditional sense, he had a certain vibe which made Bhairavi sit and listen to him in rapt attention.
As they sat chatting about books, Viren started talking about the book that he was reading just before she had walked in. He told her how he was reading ‘Hunger’ by Roxane Gay which he found candid and a must read. The discussion steered towards body-shaming and sexual violence and Bhairavi soon realized that they had been chatting for an hour.
It is time, she decided.
“Viren, what do you think of me? Do you find me pretty?” she caught him unawares.
“Aa… yes I do. You are a wonderful person. Poised, confident and well-read”, Viren managed to say with sincerity.
“No, I meant, you find me beautiful?”
“Yes I do”, Viren smiled.
“Then let me share a secret with you. I will be back in a minute. I do not intend to forge a relationship with pretence.”
Before Viren could react, Bhairavi reached the washroom.
She washed her face vigorously.
She looked at her face in the mirror. It was bereft of any cosmetic. A couple of grotesque burn marks appeared beneath her ear, which were till now concealed by the glorious gallimaufry of creams.
She knew what would unfold next as she had experienced it numerous times.
As she sat down at the table, Viren stared at her.
“So, as you can see this is my little secret. This is me in my full glory. She chuckled. I understand if now you do not find me attractive and would in turn not want to marry me. I would appreciate it, if you do not tell your family about my scars and just give them any other reason for rejecting me. I do not want my parents to know that you saw me like this. They would be crestfallen.”
Once she finished speaking, she felt relieved.
Usually, this was the end of her rendezvous with the prospective groom.
“Bhairavi, you know what, now you look truly beautiful”.
Bhairavi looked at Viren befuddled.
“Yes, you are no more cloistered in a mask. Can someone wearing a mask look pretty? I do not want to marry a decorated doll. And, hey, look around. Look at these women, what do you see? Does this place tell you nothing about me? These are real women Bhairavi and I want to be with a real person, not someone who is hidden behind those creams”.
Bhairavi looked at Viren unbelievingly. And even before she realized an errant tear trickled down her cheek.
Unwittingly she thought of a verse she had read somewhere:
She believed, cosmetics were once war paints, she awaits their resurrection…
And yes, today they were resurrected, in the true sense of the word.
Editor’s note: In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month got bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry.
The writing cue for October 2019 is this quote from the poem Mascara by Indian poet and author, Meena Kandasamy, known for her writing on feminism and caste annihilation, often reaping from her own life.
once. . .
She awaits their resurrection.”
Meha Sharma wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: shutterstock
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