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Was she merely following the dictates of a society that had conditioned both males and females to get turned on by reddened lips, darkened eyes, painted toes and glossed hair?
Rinki looked deep into her own eyes in the mirror, the reflection giving her an equally intense kohl lined stare, then glanced away at her magenta tinged lips, curved in a slightly sardonic smile.
Ready, the reflection asked, raising a finely shaped brow. Almost, she replied, and rubbed away what she thought was the vestige of eye shadow a trifle too dark.
She flicked open her smartphone camera, turned to selfie mode and then spent the next fifteen minutes adjusting her tresses, narrowing her eyes and hiding that tiny scar on her chin to get some reasonably good shots. Uploading the selected few pictures on the dating app was the next step. That done, Rinki relaxed her face for the first time in hours. Unconsciously, she rubbed at her tired eyes and away came a dab of kohl and eye shadow. Bugger, she thought, and went and scrubbed it all away and came back with a happy, relaxed, washed face.
Ping, said the phone. She had almost forgotten about the app! Some quick flicks and she was face to face with four guys who had already liked her face and the short bio she had set out on her profile.
Ha! She was a veteran at this game already. A year into the online dating world, she had learnt to camouflage herself well before she began the hunt. Plain, demure Rinki who found it tough to string two coherent sentences together when she met a guy at a party turned into a confident daredevil under cover of relative online anonymity. It helped that she was a writer and the repartee that never occurred to her lips, flowed from her fingertips and into online chats seamlessly. Rinki the online persona was the Hyde to Rinki the regular girl’s Jekyll.
Most of the guys she encountered on the dating apps were taken in by her pictures, she knew.
There was Sameer, all of 32, who didn’t know and didn’t care that she was 45 because as he said, ‘she looked hot’. She played along for a while, learning the language of sexting from him, trying out her own little fantasies on him. After years of having been on her own, there was comfort in being told that her eyes were twin pools of dancing dolphins he could drown in. That was the first time when she looked carefully at her own reflection and realised that her eyes were truly limpid, beautiful. She started using kohl when he suggested it made them look smokier, and her sexier. For days, they parried online and then one day, he disappeared. Just like that. Her friends told her she could expect no better in an online fling. She smudged the kohl, crying her eyes out for several days.
Then she met Kingshuk on another app. Wittier than she, Kingshuk entered her online world like a whirlwind, talking books, music and art, sweeping her off her feet. In the first of the video calls that sprung from the long distance friendship, he breathed in when he saw her for the first time.
“Why have you been hiding that pretty face for so long?” he demanded. She was glad she had bought the coffee coloured lipstick and put in highlights into her hair just that day. The witty repartee that shot between them was what sparked their chats, but she took care to line her eyes and brighten her cheeks when they face timed. Sometimes, she hated herself for that. Would no one like her square nails, blunted by years of typing copy, if they were unpainted? Had the rules of the game come belatedly to her?
War paint, that’s what it is, she told her reflection one day. Is that what the grandmothers of yore did in hunter gatherer communities when they went out for the kill? Not meat, but to snag that prime specimen to mate who would give her the healthiest offspring, bring home the fattest boar and hoard the largest logs for the cold months? Is that what the earliest female homo sapiens rely on to win the battle of the sexes? Of survival? Is that what she was doing?
But why? She had no need for a male to supply her with either offspring or a fat bank account. Was she merely following the dictates of a society that had conditioned both males and females to get turned on by reddened lips, darkened eyes, painted toes and glossed hair?
She soon tired of Kingshuk and his compliments on her hurriedly made up face, which itched to be scrubbed clean of the chemicals as soon as the chats were over. Was there nothing more meaningful, nothing deeper than a made up layer of epidermis, she thought tiredly, and dropped off the app resignedly.
For days, she stayed away. And then one day, with all the interesting shows on Netflix caught up with and no friends to meet, she flicked open the app. There they were, tons of messages from Kingshuk, all wondering why she had suddenly ceased contact. The last one was just an hour old, saying he was in her city for a day and wouldn’t it be great if he could see her in the flesh, just once?
She was tempted and repulsed, all at once. She would have to have her war paint on again, wouldn’t she, so he wouldn’t be disappointed? But the temptation to see him at least once was strong.
Okay, Rinki replied, we can meet at the Starbucks at BKC at 7 today.
Great, came back his quick reply. A pause, and then, another message. Just one request. I think you look great even without any make up on. I would want us to see each other just as we are, without any embellishments. Would that be too much to ask?
No, she grinned. Not too much at all.
Editor’s note: This story was shortlisted for the October Muse of the Month contest.
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Aparna is a journalist based out of Mumbai. She loves history, travel and books, not
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