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Story - Beauty: Shreya wondered, ‘Are they talking about me?’ ‘But what is the use of inner beauty if the exterior is unattractive?’ Ravi asked. Her heart skipped a beat, and now she listened with the utmost alacrity.
‘Beauty is skin deep, Ravi. In the long run, it’s the inner beauty that matters. I know Shreya is smart and I find her attractive.’ It was Chetan’s voice.
Shreya had paused for a moment on the open door of Ravi’s flat when she overheard him. It was the morning of 27th March, and she had come to give Ravi his surprise birthday present. She didn’t want to eavesdrop, but the conversation had caught her curiosity.
She wondered, ‘Are they talking about me?’
‘But what is the use of inner beauty if the exterior is unattractive?’ Ravi asked.
Shreya’s heart skipped a beat, and now she listened with the utmost alacrity.
‘I don’t know what is your definition of attractive.’ Chetan said.
‘Her complexion is very dark, and she is chubby. I wouldn’t be able to introduce her to my family. I am not saying beauty is everything, but it is important to me.’
Shreya felt her mind going numb and could not afford to stand there any longer.
Ravi and Shreya were doing an MBA from Delhi and had known each other for over a year. Ravi was tall, fair, and handsome. He wanted a beautiful girl with flawless skin as his life partner. He liked Shreya’s company very much, but wanted to remain just friends with her.
Shreya came back to her flat as if in a daze, not sure what to do.
She unlocked the door, went inside, and dropped herself on the sofa. A mind-numbing tedium ran through her veins, and she switched on the TV-a top film actress wanted her to buy a fairness cream.
She told her that with its regular use, she would become as lovely as she was. In the same advertisement, a fairness scale was displayed next. Shreya’s skin was darker than the darkest shade on the scale.
Shreya switched off the TV and went to the kitchen. Now that she had nothing to distract her mind, Ravi’s remarks came rushing through her mind. She felt so overwhelmed by his words that she just wanted to run away to somewhere peaceful-where no one could hurt her.
She sat in a corner in the kitchen and wept because of the humiliation Ravi had meted out to her.
It was 7 pm and Geetika, her roommate, was back from the office. On looking at Shreya’s swollen eyes, she asked what was the matter. Shreya told her the entire story.
Geetika was astonished to hear that and said, ‘I did not know he was such a self-conceited idiot! But you shouldn’t be bothered by what he thinks about you.’
Shreya shrugged, ‘It hurt me at that moment and I felt terrible. We have spent so much time together, and I liked him.’
Geetika nodded in agreement. ‘Are you going to speak to him about his rude words?’
‘Of course not. He doesn’t know that I know, and I would better have it that way.’ Shreya replied.
Ravi noticed a change in Shreya’s behaviour from the next day. She had stopped hanging around with him. As if out of nowhere, a wide chasm had grown between them. He did not know the reason and had tried to ask her several times.
In the absence of a satisfactory reply, he was left with no other option but to comply with the new situation. However, he missed being with her. She was a brilliant companion and could talk on almost any topic with a command and pace that was hard to match.
Campus placements were about to start and soon everyone got busy with the preparations. Shreya got a job in Bangalore, while Ravi remained in Delhi.
As months passed, Ravi got busy with his new job responsibilities and slowly forgot about Shreya.
It was at a cousin’s marriage that he saw Era for the first time. She was tall, graceful and had a distinctive personality. Her skin was fair and cheeks were pink — as if saffron was spread on milk; her smile radiated warmth and eyes sparkled.
She seemed to cast a spell on anyone who came her way. Throughout the ceremony, he watched her with longing interest and wanted to speak to her, but she was always flanked by her friends. He knew he had to act fast, for the party would be over soon.
‘Hey Ravi, come here,’ his mother waved at him from a distance.
‘Do you like that girl?’ she asked point-blank.
Ravi was taken aback. ‘Ma… I. No I was…’ he was stammering.
Mother laughed. ‘I had been noticing you for a while. Your gaze is fixed on that girl. She is Era, Kiran aunty’s daughter.’
‘Who is Kiran aunty? Do you know her?’
‘I met Kiran and Era yesterday, and as soon as I set my eyes on the daughter, I thought you two would make a perfect couple.’
The next day, Ravi’s mother found an opportune moment and broached the topic with Kiran. Kiran had met Ravi the day before, and she was delighted with the proposal.
Ravi exchanged his phone number with Era, who seemed to like him too, and the two started talking on the phone. Era had been living in Mumbai for over four years and was working in a bank.
Next week, their parents met, and they finalized the wedding date. They got married with much fanfare in a beautiful heritage resort on the outskirts of Delhi.
Era soon found out that though Ravi was a loving and caring guy, he had a nasty habit of checking her WhatsApp messages and keeping a track of who she was with every moment of the day.
He used to come unannounced to her office, a habit that in the initial days of marriage she found cute, but as months progressed, she sensed maybe he was coming to check in on her.
That thought was disturbing. Did he not trust her? One day, Ravi went to Era’s office and found her missing. He called her, ‘Where are you, Era?’
‘I have taken half day’s leave today and have come to the market with a friend. Why, where are you?’ Era asked in confusion.
‘Which friend?’ He demanded, ignoring her question.
She knew he was getting suspicious and wanted to say, ‘That’s none of your business.’ But since her friend Pooja was with her, she told him she was with Pooja. He sounded relieved to hear that and enquired about the market.
After half an hour, Era found someone tapped on her shoulder. She turned and found it was Ravi! He was smiling. He had come all the way to the market searching for her.
She forced a smile when Pooja said what a lovely husband she had got. She knew love did not bring him to the market; suspicion did.
Later in the evening, she confronted him. His response was the same as usual — that he loved her and just wanted to see her.
On several occasions, Era had tried to convince him that she loved him and would never do anything to hurt him. She told him that his behaviour made things difficult for her, and it affected her mental health.
However, slowly she understood that he was incorrigible. Living with an insecure man was becoming an everyday battle for her.
Nonetheless, she tried to compromise with the situation. One day, as Ravi was checking her old Facebook posts, he found her standing with a guy whose hand was on her shoulder.
Like a bulldog smelling something suspicious, he sat upright and wondered, ‘How did I miss this picture?’
He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘Era, come here!’ She was in the kitchen and could not hear him. He got furious, went to the kitchen and showed her the photo. ‘Who is this guy?’
Era said in a defensive voice, ‘He is Abhinav. He was my boyfriend when I was in Mumbai,’ and then looking at her husband’s face added, ‘We were together for over a year, and then we broke up. I have never spoken with him ever since.’
She said to herself, rather surprised, ‘Why am I giving explanations to this man?’
‘You never told me about this boyfriend of yours. Why did you hide it from me?’ He inquired.
Era was feeling exasperated now. ‘Look, Ravi, I hid nothing from you; that chapter had long been closed. I did not tell you because I just found it not worth mentioning.’
‘What do you mean by “we were together”?’ Ravi probed further.
‘We were in a live-in relationship for over a year.’
Ravi’s heart sank. He dropped on the sofa, held his head in his hand and shouted, ‘You betrayed me. You broke my trust. I knew you had been hiding something from me. Was it possible that a woman as beautiful as you, have no past relationships? You are a treacherous… A treacherous woman!’
‘Are you even listening to yourself? He was my boyfriend years back. I haven’t talked to him in ages, you moron. You should consult a psychiatrist… You need help… I am done with your shit.’ Declaring this, she went to her room, packed her bag, and left the house. Ravi did not stop her.
The thought of his wife with her boyfriend tore apart him, and he knew he would never forgive that unfaithful woman.
It had been two months since Era had left. There was no attempt to talk from either side.
One day, while surfing through his social media account, he saw Chetan standing behind a couple and posing for the picture. ‘Why does this woman look so familiar?’ — he thought.
To Ravi’s surprise, it turned out that she was none other than his college friend, Shreya. She looked so different from her college days. The guy standing next to her looked dapper in his dark grey tuxedo suit and leather loafers.
Ravi called Chetan to know the details.
‘Yeah, she got engaged to Dhruv a few months back. They had known each other for many years.’
‘Oh. That’s great news,’ Ravi’s tried to sound cheerful.
After talking with Chetan for a while, he hung up the line and started thinking about his college days. Shreya was a perfect companion; she was knowledgeable, funny, and they shared the same interests. He thought he could have proposed to her if only she was —
After waiting for a few months for Era’s call, Ravi called her one day.
‘Era, I am still mad at you. The thought of you and that guy together still haunts me.’
‘Okay, so…?’ She did not offer any clarification or consolation.
Ravi continued, ‘So?! So, are you not going to say something?’
‘Ravi, the time I spent with you was very traumatic for me. I tried my best to compromise with you, but I cannot stand your controlling and suspicious nature any more.’
‘I was suspicious! You are still blaming it on me? It turned out that I had a reason to be suspicious, after all!’ He taunted.
Era said nothing and hung up the line.
After a couple of weeks, Ravi received the divorce notice. He was devastated and enraged to get them. Instead of apologizing to him for ruining his life, the woman sent him the divorce papers. After a long and lengthy legal battle, they finally got divorced.
Ravi had got into this marriage with so much conviction, so much hope, and it all came down to a naught.
One day he got a job offer from Pune. He moved to that city, thinking that a change of place might distract his mind from Era’s thoughts.
On the first day of the office, when he entered his boss’s room, he could not help but gaze at his new boss in bewilderment.
It was Shreya. Of course, she knew beforehand that he was joining, but he did not see any trace of recognition in her eyes. Her attitude towards him was professional. He had something else in mind, though.
The chance meeting with Shreya seemed like a great opportunity to make amends with her.
He gathered courage one day and asked her out, ‘Can we meet over a cup of coffee tonight at Bistro Café?’ He waited for her reply with bated breath.
Shreya looked at him, and after a brief pause of pondering, agreed.
Clad in an off-white cotton salwar kameez, she came at a commanding pace. Ravi noticed she looked leaner, fitter, and her skin glowed. Though she wore no make-up, she looked a lot more fashion conscious now than when she was in college.
He looked at her in disbelief. How could he let this woman go? ‘Shreya! You. You— look beautiful,’ he stammered.
‘Thank you. How are you?’ She smiled politely at him.
‘I am fine. I am so happy to see you after all these years. And by the way, congratulations on your engagement.’
‘We broke up. We are no longer together. But belated congratulations to you on your wedding. Chetan showed me the pictures. Your wife is very pretty.’
‘I am no longer married, Shreya, I got divorced. Long story. But why did you break up with Dhruv?’ Ravi tried to sound concerned.
‘Dhruv moved to Australia, and we couldn’t maintain a long-distance relationship. So we decided it was better to break up and move on. Although we are still good friends.’
Ravi sensed that was the best opportunity to confess his love. He knew Shreya loved him in college, and Chetan told him she had stopped talking to him suddenly because of her unreciprocated love.
Now that she was single and he a divorcee, Ravi felt as if destiny wanted to meet them after all those years.
One voice inside him wanted to take things slow and wait for a couple of weeks before proposing to her, but she looked so gorgeous that he didn’t want anyone else to stomp on his prospects.
‘Shreya, I wanted to say something to you for a long time. Since our college days, I have liked you. But I don’t know why you had suddenly stopped speaking to me.’
‘Oh, that was a long time back. There is no use in speaking about those things now.’ Shreya replied nonchalantly.
‘We have met again, we are friends again. Remembering old things is important to create new bonds.’
‘We are colleagues and not friends.’ Shreya said as a matter of fact.
‘But we can be friends again. I want you to please tell me what happened all those years back.’
‘I told you I don’t want to talk about it. Probably coming here was a bad idea, after all.’ She got up to leave.
‘Shreya, I love you. I want us to be together,’ Ravi blurted out.
She stopped mid-way, knitted her eyebrows, and looked back at him in disbelief..
He pleaded, ‘Please come back. We need to talk.’ She came back and sat on the chair again. Ravi looked anxious and troubled now.
She waited for an explanation.
‘Shreya you were smart, witty, intelligent and a great companion. Then suddenly one fine day you just stopped speaking to me. You didn’t even bother to give me an explanation. After all these years, when I saw you, I thought maybe destiny wanted us to meet.’
Shreya was listening carefully. After a long pause, she spoke.
‘I am sorry if I had hurt you. But I was right out of your flat when you were speaking with Chetan. I heard your conversation and couldn’t stand to speak with you afterwards.’
‘What words? Which conversation?’ He blankly stared at her.
‘It was your birthday, and I came to your flat to give you a surprise birthday present. That time you were speaking with Chetan about my skin colour and that how chubby I was. How could you expect me to be speaking with you afterwards, pretending nothing has happened?’
Ravi’s face fell, he looked as if someone had hit him with a club. His month went dry.
She gave him a glass of water and continued, ‘I was devastated less because of your opinion, and more because you were discussing it with somebody else. When you made those comments, I felt you cared more about my looks than my other qualities. If you had issues with me, instead of gossiping behind my back, you should have told me.’
‘Shreya, I am feeling so embarrassed right now that I want to run away from here and hide somewhere,’ Ravi said to his coffee mug.
He continued, ‘I know no apology will suffice, but forgive me if you can.’ He was staring at the floor now.
‘It’s okay Ravi. I had forgiven you long ago. Growing up in a joint family, with a fair mother and cousins, my dark skin and plump body were the sole cause of concern for my grandmother!’
‘She made me apply haldi, besan, banana, honey, curd, and took me for walks with her. Of course, all her efforts to make me lean and fair failed, and I used to feel guilty and personally responsible for those failures. I used to blame God all the time.’
Shreya looked at Ravi, and continued, ‘However, as I grew up, my friend circle widened; I read more books and got to know that I wasn’t alone in dealing with body-shaming. I grew confident and comfortable in my own skin; and with my own skin! You came across as a nice person, but hearing those words from you, in the most disagreeable way, was shocking for me.’
‘I was so wrong, Shreya. I apologize.’
‘You don’t owe me an apology. In fact, it was because of you I started going to gym.’ Here, she laughed out loud. ‘There was a time I sought revenge on you. I used to daydream I had become lean and sexy and found a handsome guy; you were alone and unhappy and wanted me, but I rejected you. It sounds so childish now.’
She laughed a bit more, ‘For the first time in my life I had shed off my hesitancy and started going to the gym. However, slowly I realized that I was wrong. I did not want to become lean to be accepted and loved or take revenge.”
“The true awakening for me was the day I realized that I loved my portly body and my dark skin. I had continued going to the gym, but with a different mindset. I no longer wanted to be lean and sexy, I just wanted to be happy. If going to the gym was making me happy, I was all for it.’
‘So I am grateful to you that way. But I have no more feelings for you. We can be nothing more than colleagues now.’
She said with compassion and empathy. Just then, her phone beeped. Looking at her phone, her expressions changed and Ravi could see a flicker of smile there.
‘It’s Dhruv’s message, he said he will be shifting to Pune next month,’ she said gaily.
‘But you said you broke up.’
‘Yeah, but he had been pestering me for a long time to leave my job and move to Australia so that we can be together again. Leaving my job was out of the question, and he knew it. So he decided to move back to India instead!’
‘Ravi, I am so sorry to hear about your divorce. I am sure you will find someone pretty soon. I have to go right now as I have some other engagements.’ She paid the bill, picked up her car keys from the table and left.
Ravi couldn’t help but wonder the irony of her long-forgotten dream.
Image Source: Still from the flim 96, (2018) edited on Canva Pro
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I am an avid reader, a writer, and a yoga instructor. I like to write about social issues, especially women's issues. With my writings, I want to contribute my share in making a truly read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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