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My financial freedom gave me wings, as a harsh reality stared at me. In my quiet moments, my childhood fears haunted me. I was unmarried, dark, alone & 40.
“She is dark.” “Oh. She has a big, pakora nose!” “Iski shadi kaise hogi. What will you do Suman?”
I seethed whenever I heard this. My mum, her friends and sisters often spoke of their children. They did not know I was listening. A quiet, introvert who was suspicious of everyone, I overheard their gossip. Even if the aunties had known I was around, they would not have cared. The adults are mean and cruel. Was it my fault I was born dark? All they did was make me feel ugly.
I grew up surrounded by negative discourse. “God, why didn’t you make me beautiful?” I would cry myself to sleep at night. In the day, I struggled to hide my insecurities. I slogged at my studies to be on top of the class.
After coming home from school, I helped mum with housework. ‘Mummy one day, you will be proud of me!’ I made an unspoken promise. All I wanted was to please her even though she would never answer my question, “Why do you love Bhaiyya more than you love me?”
I was smarter than him. He failed in class, his school had to be changed. My mum still loved him more. I just hated the age-old bias towards the male child.
It was all around me. My relatives pampered my brother. I felt unwanted, and unloved. Every incident ridiculing my appearance made me determined to prove to the world that I may be a dark, ugly duckling but I was the best wherever I went.
“You have topped your batch, Ananya!” the shrill announcement of the results at the end my journalism course, was like a victory march after a long battle. My mother and father clapped. That was my gift.
“Thank you, God, now I can raise my head high and live with respect,” I said a silent prayer. Then, I got a good placement in a top media company. “Super achievement, you did it Ananya!” I praised myself in the mirror.
“I will pay the electricity bills from now on,” I told mum. My first commitment to sharing household expenditure lead to taking on more duties as time passed. “I am no less than your son!” I reminded my parents, whenever they objected.
My mum was proud and showed off in front of her friends. And I listened with a happy heart. My brother never came forward to support our retired parents. Earning more than him was a confidence booster. My financial freedom gave me wings, though my childhood fears popped up in quiet moments. The only snag left in my life was marriage.
“No one will marry her, what will you do?” repeated in my head, as I turned 40. I had a boyfriend and we were fine together with no long term plans. He made me feel beautiful and I forgot the nasty labels when I was with him. We never thought of marriage. It worried my parents, but I didn’t care for societal acceptance.
Auntyji’s dialogues and constant body bashing had left deep scars on my mind. Festering wounds would come out as outbursts for the slightest mistakes made by my team. I oscillated between logic and emotions.
On the one hand, I supported my juniors and trained them, gave them opportunities to grow. But on the other side I was short tempered and lost my cool at the first sign of disagreement. I was having extreme mood swings. And I feared losing my job.
Every morning when I got ready in an expensive designer business suit, I told myself, “Ananya, you are a successful single woman of modern India. Live life on your terms.” The affirmations boosted my belief temporarily. But they did not help me cross the bridge of low self esteem. Forties marched ahead and one day, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Alone in hospital for my treatments, incidents, arguments, judgements flashed in my mind. My illness had given me a lot of time to think. The realities of my relationships dawned on me. I was suddenly lonely.
Discharged after two weeks to recuperate at home, I left the hospital. I could not recognise my face. Depressed at my appearance, I experimented with makeup. Whenever someone from my office came to see me, cosmetics became my war paints. Costly designer wear became my shield.
I dreamt of waking up in a new, beautiful body. My boyfriend saw me going through these phases. He let me be. Occasionally I felt he was there, other times I felt he didn’t exist. I became a zombie, a smiling mask. He, probably, did not recognise me. No one did.
My treatment had ended. It would take time to grow my hair back. I had been wearing a wig and alternating it with a bandana. It made my head hot. I felt sweaty and sickly with the side effect of medicines. The long period of home convalescence came to an end. Harsh reality stared at me. I was unmarried, dark, alone and forty plus.
I was getting dressed to rejoin my office. My mum came to my room. “Help me to adjust the wig,” I said, looking in the mirror trying to fit it on my head. She came and removed it. “No mom let me be! I look uglier without it,” I pushed her hand away.
“Shut up Ananya!” she shouted as she fell back on the sofa next to the mirror. I burst into tears. “Mummy I am sorry, I didn’t mean to push you,” She got up and hugged me. “I am fine. Be quiet and listen!”
Now I was scared. I sat with my head down. My tears flowed. “Ananya, you are not my son. But you are the Sun. You give hope to your old, retired parents. We love you. You do not need a wig or make up or expensive brands to be beautiful. And you have a heart of gold. Stop pretending, just be yourself!”
Something changed in my life that day. Tears, hugs, kisses flowed. Nothing mattered anymore. For the first time, I was comfortable being myself. My parent’s love painted me beautiful forever. I resurrected.
Picture credits: YouTube
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