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Not Just Covering Up Shefali’s Scars

Posted: November 3, 2019

The mascara that she had painstakingly applied had smudged around her eyes. Nobody would believe that she was a new bride if she showed up in front of everyone.

Undressing herself, she walked towards the one that she thought could calm her now. Her body was tired from all the events that took place. She turned on the knob and water gushed out of the shower. Those hot water droplets that glided off her skin calmed her senses and relieved her off the body ache.

But her inner turmoil? How was she supposed to soothe her heart that was at loggerheads with her mind? The demons inside her were screaming at her to free them.

She felt liberated and wanted to let go of them. But the past still haunted her and she was scared.

What was she supposed to do?

Few hours ago…

“Mumma!”

“Mumma! Mumma!!”

Shefali was broken out of her reverie when she heard the voice of her five-year-old daughter. She realised that she was supposed to make dinner for her child. Standing near the kitchen countertop, forgetting the task in hand, she was lost in her own world and thoughts.

She quickly wiped her tears, put up a smile on her face and turned around to face her daughter. “I am sorry, Ru! I got busy with some other work and forgot about your dinner. Mumma is very sorry.”

Ruhi or Ru, as Shefali called, was the only solace in her otherwise mundane life. Once when she thought

She looked at her innocent face that was trying to figure out why there was no food on her plate yet.

“Bacchha! Give me ten minutes. Guess what we are going to have for dinner? Your favourite paneer parathas!”

The gleeful look on her baby’s face made Shefali forget her own demons and cherish the few happy moments she was blessed with.

When she finished preparing the dinner, she went in search of Ruhi to feed her. She found her sitting with her grandmother and listening to what she was saying. But the words that her mother in law was saying only took back to earlier days when her grandma also said the same words.

12th October 2012, 6.30 pm

As the pheras got over, the young couple went around seeking blessings from the elders and congratulatory wishes from younger ones. Shefali, looking resplendent in a red and gold lehenga, had a content smile on her face. She was happy. She was happy that her parents were happy. At the end of the day all that mattered was her parents’ happiness.

She was brought up that way. She was taught to be obedient. She was taught to listen and serve her parents until her wedding, post which she belonged to her husband. She must serve him and take care of his needs.

Being the naïve, young girl that Shefali was, she decided that now her husband was her world. She would be an obedient wife and serve him, just like how her mother and grandmother did.

Shefali looked at Ankush, her husband, admiring the way he was holding her hand tightly while interacting with the guests. He was tall, dark, handsome and well built. He was just the way she had dreamt about how her husband should be, inspired by the characters from innumerable romantic novels that she had read.

She constantly kept stealing glances at him the entire evening. Her heart was bursting with joy and sent a silent prayer to Gods. But she wasn’t aware of the battles ahead of her, and that this was the last day of fulfilled happiness for a very long time.

12th October 2012, 10.30 pm

Shefali was nervous but she was also excited. She was a mixed bag of emotions. She had heard stories of wedding nights from her friends. They told her about how their husbands showered their love on them. She wanted to experience the same kind of love and waited eagerly for her lover to enter the room.

Shefali looked gorgeous in a beautiful ivory soft silk saree with an exquisite maroon colour border complete with golden zari motifs. She had dressed just like the way her friends had instructed. They had advised her to apply generous amount of makeup because husbands loved their wives who are dipped in shimmering powders.

She sat on the huge bed, twisting her hands in nervousness, awaiting her husband’s arrival. As she listened to the sound of the clock ticking, door of the room burst open. Shefali was startled by the sudden sound and jumped up. Ankush entered the room with a glass of whiskey in his hand.

Shefali was shocked to see the glass of alcohol in his hand. As far as she remembered, Ankush was projected as a teetotaller by his parents. This huge revelation on her wedding night shook her.

Ankush finished the drink in his hand and examined Shefali from head to toe. His gaze did not make her feel loved. It only made her uncomfortable and conscious about her.

“Is this how a husband looks at his wife?” she thought.

He slowly moved towards her while she clutched the pallu of her saree tightly out of fear. He examined closely and smirked.

“Hmm, that makeup reminds me of the time I spent with that whore Mita in this brothel, the name of which I forgot. I like it when whores like you cover yourself in makeup. I start salivating.”

Shefali was in utter shock after listening to his words. She didn’t expect this kind of verbal whiplash on her wedding night. Her body went cold when she thought that he related makeup with prostitutes.

“Does he think that all the women who wear makeup are sex workers?” Shefali thought to herself.

But before she could come to a coherent conclusion, she was pushed onto the bed and the force of the push made her stumble on the bed and hit her head against the headboard of the cot. In a matter of few minutes her saree was peeled off her body, the blouse was shredded apart and her body and her soul were ravaged ruthlessly by her monster of a husband.

By the time she could make sense of what happened he was already satisfied and snored away to glory beside her.

Shefali quietly gathered her belongings and limped towards the bathroom.  The pain was terrible. She withered in pain from all the bruises, but the emotional pain was more than the physical pain.

She looked at herself in the mirror and was heartbroken to see her makeup smudged face. The mascara that she had painstakingly applied had smudged around her eyes. Nobody would believe that she was a new bride if she showed up in front of everyone.

She opened the shower and tried to wash away the feel of his fingers on her body. She felt disgusted but all she could do was silently cry and dissolve her tears in the water.

She dressed herself up and curled into a ball against the door of the bathroom.

“Is this what marriage all about?” she thought to herself.

But she remembered her grandmother’s advice. “Shefali beta! You are getting married and hereafter you should behave more responsibly. You belong with your husband hereafter. It is your duty to act according to his wishes. Come what may do not come back to your parents crying.”

Shefali decided to carry on with her duty and leave everything else to her fate. But what she didn’t realise that this decision of hers was going to cost her so much. Her self-respect, her self-esteem was going to be tarnished every second and her soul, bruised repeatedly.

From that night onwards, makeup was mainly used to cover up her bruises from the assaults of her husband. She had to put up a façade of being happy and content in her married life in front of others. Ankush put up a great act of being the ideal husband, and everyone couldn’t help but go gaga over the fact that how lucky Shefali was. Nobody knew the real Ankush except for her.

She sailed through the verbal whiplashes during the day and sexual assaults in the night. Yet she never uttered a word. She was alive outside but was dead inside. But somewhere Shefali hoped for freedom from this hell. She craved for freedom. She wanted to cover herself in makeup out of happiness and not to hide her bruises.

9th May 2014, 9.30 am

Shefali had finally given birth to a beautiful baby girl and she couldn’t be any happier than she already was. Her daughter arrived like little sunshine in her otherwise grey life. She expected Ankush to change at least with the birth of their daughter, but she was proved wrong yet again.

“What’s the big deal? A whore gave birth to another whore.” Ankush stormed out of the house after spitting venom.

Shefali held her daughter close to her bosom and cried her heart out. But the life wouldn’t change for her much. She had one more person in front of whom she had to carry on her façade. She tended to her daughter’s needs while satisfying her husband’s demands too.

Present day..

Shefali was distracted from her thoughts by a phone call. As she picked the phone to answer the phone, the message that was passed on to her made her go cold. Was she hearing the truth? Was she hallucinating?

“Oh God! Ankush had gotten into an accident and has gone into a coma for an indefinite period” she recited the words to her mother in law and walked off towards the bathroom while Ankush’s mother was wailing behind her loudly.

Post the hot shower she made herself comfortable in the chair in the balcony. She didn’t want to go to the hospital and visit him. She picked up Meena Kandasamy’s Mascara poem and started reading it.

“She believes—
Cosmetics were
once. . .
War paints.
She awaits their resurrection.”

When she read these lines, she felt she had to take a decision for her sake and as well as her daughter’s sake. She didn’t want her daughter to undergo the same pain that she underwent. Shefali wanted freedom and she had a chance now. She had made her decision.

Next day she woke up, dressed herself up beautifully and applied make up for the first time not to hide her scars but for herself. She finally decided to walk out of the marriage.

Editor’s note: This story has been shortlisted from among a large number of entries received for the October 2019 Muse of the Month contest.

Image source: shutterstock

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