Cosmetics, Motor Grease, And War Paint, Are All A Woman’s Weapons!

This world was such a contrast from her restrictive, often oppressive life that she enjoyed the release it offered tremendously. The thrill seemed to be an outlet for her.

This world was such a contrast from her restrictive, often oppressive life that she enjoyed the release it offered tremendously. The thrill seemed to be an outlet for her.

Reema stood at the door waiting for the metro to come to a halt. She just made it out of the door before a rush of people swarmed inside, as usual, without sparing a thought for those who needed to exit. After the cool environs of the air conditioned coach, even the brief blast of July heat and humidity, added to the fatigue from the hurried morning.

After helping the twins with their school bags, she had hurriedly finished preparing chappatis for her father’s lunch box for office and had reminded him to come early from work so he could take Sudha for her doctor’s appointment. She had been about to ask him to try and arrange advance payment but, not wanting to pressurize him, decided not to.

Lunch preparations over, she had gone to check on her mother.

Sudha was folding away the laundry which Reema had hung out to dry the previous evening. Not allowing herself to think about how frail her mother had become, she had reminded Sudha to take her medicines before packing her makeup kit and leaving.

Things had never been easy for the family, but they had never been as tough as they seemed to have become in the last year. Her father had managed to retain his job as a clerk in the company but the recession had ensured that he was handling the work of two people, and new jobs, especially at his age, were scarce. Income had always been meager in their household and she had never really questioned her parent’s decision of sending her to the local government school only till she passed her tenth standard exams.

Her mother’s health had also deteriorated around that time, and it was almost natural that she take on her share of domestic responsibility without draining the family’s finances further. Rashi and Rohit were growing up and their needs were increasing, even as hospital expenses rapidly depleted their meager savings. The small time sewing and mending jobs local tailors would send to her mother had also dropped due to her inconsistent health.

Life simply was what it was, and thinking about what should have been was itself a luxury that she could ill afford. She had managed to learn makeup techniques and took up freelance home assignments in an effort to supplement the family’s meager income, but these were few and far between.

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When she visited her clients, she was sometimes filled with an angst that she hadn’t realized she could harbor. This too, was more a result of her feeling powerless over their circumstances, rather than resentment against the curveballs that life threw their way. If only, her parents had been able to invest in good education for her, she could have contributed more, but she also realized that they had been limited both by circumstances and their mind set. How could she grudge them her struggles and limitations when she knew that they had been shared those burdens equally?

She stepped out and headed for the restroom. Quickly changing out of her salwar kameez into T shirt and shorts, she walked out of the station, and was relieved to see Rakesh waiting for her. She couldn’t help smiling as she reflected how much he meant to her. He had always been her partner in crime, comrade, best friend, mentor; all rolled into one. Right from childhood, they had shared everything. She would devour his glossy text books and private school experiences, and he would willingly walk back from school saving his bus fare, so they could secretly see the latest Hindi movies together.

She had been his anchor in the tough months when he had been unable to find a job after completing his engineering diploma, before he got an opportunity to work at a local factory. They had both been saddened to realize that the job came with the caveat of being residential with on site accommodation, but they knew that it was a good opening. Besides, it was a short distance away, and he was in the neighborhood every other day. Based on his shift duties, they managed to catch up fairly often and planned these outings accordingly so they became her mental and physical escape from the drudgery that life seemed to have become.

She looked forward to these getaways, and her makeup artist jobs made for a good cover for these. Today was a rendezvous that she was especially looking forward to, and she was excited, though a little nervous too. She took the helmet he offered her and they took the highway to the outskirts of the city. The sea breeze on her face, and the comfort of Rakesh with her made her forget the morning chaos and she began to anticipate the thrill that today might bring. Each time the joy and excitement that the day promised managed to overshadow the fear of being found out by her conservative family. Familiarity with turns and curves of the road, and the low traffic on the outskirts, ensured they reached soon and she surrendered to the day ahead.

Before she knew it, dusk was setting in and it was time to do a rerun of the morning’s journey, in reverse order. The metro was even more crowded in the evening, but she hardly noticed it. The day had been so exhilarating, with almost electrifying excitement that nothing seemed to matter; not even the gloomy environment she was returning to. Allowing herself to be optimistic that with her new found source of income, that would also change soon, she entered home and began helping the twins with their studies. As expected, her parents had gone for the doctor’s appointment, and would would return late at night. She was tired by the time she finished cooking and clearing the kitchen, and after laying out the plates for her parent’s dinner she fell into a deep sleep, thankful that it was a weekend and she could afford to sleep in.

Contrary to her expectation, however, she was woken up by Rakesh’s voice, early next morning. She realized he was on his bike, in the narrow lane just below their house, obviously in a hurry to reach work, and was calling out to her. Sleepy eyed, she motioned to him to come upstairs, knowing her parents hadn’t seen him in quite a while but he just threw a rolled up newspaper towards the balcony and drove off.

Surprised she opened the city edition of the Daily Chronicle and was dumbstruck to see a picture of herself. The photograph showed her alighting from the bike, taking her helmet off, hair strewn across her face; almost eclipsing Rakesh on the seat behind her. It must have been taken when they reached the venue. There had been some people with cameras there, but she hadn’t really registered their presence. She supposed one of them would have taken her picture. Maybe it was the young lady who had later on asked her a few questions, just as she was leaving in the evening. She hadn’t thought about it, as they had been in a hurry.

She sat on the charpoy and began to read the article titled
“She believes—
Cosmetics were
once. . .
War paints.
She awaits their resurrection.”

It felt surreal to be sitting in her corner of their tiny house and taking in the story of her winning streak at local biking rallies and yesterday’s spectacular performance at the maut ka kuan or well of death.

The article mentioned that she had been biking for a few years, and she recalled how Rakesh had introduced her to this parallel universe, where surprisingly, she felt she belonged. This world was such a contrast from her restrictive, often oppressive life that she enjoyed the release it offered tremendously. The thrill seemed to be an outlet for her. It made her feel in control of her life, the captain of her ship, giving direction to rudderless routine. Here, torment of her powerlessness could be replaced by the potency of being in command.

She had learnt quickly from Rakesh, who had always encouraged her, initially silently and then actually facilitating her dream. The joy rides on his beatup scooty had changed into serious motorcycle rallies and her joining biking groups. Together they had saved up for the down payment for the motor cycle. She would use the money from her makeup assignments to fund the EMI towards the loan he had taken from his company for the bike.

She had emerged winner of a few biker rallies, won more laurels in races, and then she had discovered the maut ka kuan. The audience that the sport still commanded away from the main city and the fact that it could be a means of translating her passion to earnings were revelations, and increased her determination to make a mark in this totally male dominated sphere.

She had always believed that she could do everything that boys could, better than them. The disadvantage society and even her family put her to was decidedly unfair, and what made it worse was the fact that questioning these seemed to be an exercise in futility. While she was aware that everyone had limitations, she also knew, given the proper opportunities, that she could be the best and better in whatever she chose.

Rakesh seemed to be the only one who only agreed and shared this conviction in her abilities. Rakesh, her brother, younger to her by just a year, had never flaunted the privilege of being born a male. He had seen the disadvantages that she faced just because of her gender, and he understood the privileges that life accorded him, without having to struggle for them. He had resolved to minimize Reema’s struggle for opportunity as best as he could. Wasn’t that family all about allowing each other to fulfill their wishes and desires, to be the best versions of themselves? She had risen to the top of her chosen pursuit in a short span of time as a result her commitment; her dedication and her hard work that had made her overcome the barriers of social mindset and gender stereotyping.

The article featured her as the only female contestant and winner of yesterdays Maut ka kuan contest where she had convincingly defeated the current champion. She had been so busy last evening and hadn’t even had time to put away the cheque of 1 lakh rupees, the prize money that she had won, along with a one year advertising contract to be the face of a leading motorcycle brand.

In spite of the fame and adulation that the newspaper gave her, she suddenly felt nervous, wondering how her parents would react to the news. Well, there was only one way to find out! She decided to face them, like she had faced life, with the courage and conviction of truth, and went to share the news of her success and future plans with those who mattered most.

Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted in the October 2019 Muse of the Month contest.

Image source: pexels

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About the Author

shalini mullick

Shalini is an author and a practicing doctor specializing in respiratory pathology. Her book Stars from the Borderless Sea (2022) was longlisted for the AutHer Awards 2023 (Debut category). Shalini was awarded a Jury Appreciation read more...

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