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There is a certain haughtiness, an intolerably uppity air about changing room mirrors in apparel stores. Whoever looks into them sees back a rather critical pair of eyes that examine, evaluate and pronounce unsatisfactory their own image.
Has anyone really felt good- looking at their reflection, while changing into a pair of their much-coveted jeans or that sexy clingy top? Either those lights (why are they so many of them, anyway?) made all the zits and pimples visible on your face, or your love handles are jutting prominently in the cramped space, or your hair seems like straw, or you are too short/tall/broad shouldered/wide-hipped, or whatever!
These thoughts crossed Mansi’s mind while closing the door of the changing room. She knew the dresses she had picked for trying out would make her flaws more visible if anything. And true enough! The first one she chose; she could hardly fit herself into. She struggled with the waistline, and at one point it looked like the dress wouldn’t remain intact anymore.
“What the f…k! XL doesn’t fit me anymore? Gawddd….those stupid, useless Zumba classes! Why am I not even losing an inch? It’s just not bloody fair.” Her image was scowling at her, judging her for her kilos, and highlighting all the freckles on her face in full glory.
Always on the plump side, she had hardly cared about her weight a few years back. But now that a certain someone had brought out her feminine desires, she had begun to feel conscious about her size. It didn’t help that Hrittik didn’t even give her a second glance in class. Only when he required some notes their teacher had dictated in Hindi or History class (that he had missed due to rehearsals for inter-school dramatic competitions or some such arty stuff), he came to her.
If only he would see her inner beauty.
Which at the moment, even Mansi herself couldn’t really notice. She stood with the stuck dress and let out a few choiciest cuss words. Then she lifted the dress off her shoulders, and stared at her bare reflection in the mirror. Her tummy paunch had grown or what? It seemed larger than earlier! And what were those stretch marks on her thighs doing? Why was she so huge, for God’s sake, she thought with disgust.
Her mother had a completely different opinion about her though. She seemed to think no one could be prettier than Mansi. She fed her all her favourite goodies and chided her when she complained about gaining weight.
“You are absolutely perfect, darling”. Mom would say. “Who has your beautiful skin, this long lustrous hair, your dreamy eyes? My girl is a stunner, all right! And on top of that she’s so intelligent. Beauty with brains!”
Ha! If only Mom knew what her classmates called her. They would refer to her as the resident Ms. Hagrid, sniggering how she was a know-all matron, too old for her age. And the hunks never looked at her ever. All she got for company was the spectacled baby-faced John, her bestie. He was the only one boy to always look at her with deference.
She cursed her luck, her genes, and her disposition. Then chucking the dress into the storage basket, she put on her old tee and jeans and went looking for a larger size. She didn’t feel like trying the other new ones she had brought for trying. What was the use? They were the same size as the stuck one anyway.
Luck wasn’t on her side that day. The whole store seemed to be filled with skinny sized apparel. Why don’t brands make clothing for all types of bodies, she grumbled to herself. Their generation was anyway better fed than the older one. All her friends were what they called “slightly chubby, coming from well-to-do families”. Who had these small size, model-like figures, she thought grumpily.
When she left the store, disappointed and angry, she had absolutely no idea of the storm that was about to rock her life.
The manager of the store had some rather voyeuristic tendencies. It was he who had inserted reverse mirrors in the trial rooms – that functioned as close circuit cameras. While Mansi was surveying her body so critically, the camera was capturing her bare undergarment clad body for posterity.
This was happening obviously without her getting the slightest idea about it. In fact, that was the last thing on Mansi’s mind when she was critically examining her body. But someone was ogling her, secure in the privacy of his cabin.
The ogler summoned Yamini, a girl who worked part-time as a salesgirl in the store. He had a plan.
When the Instagram friendship request from an unknown profile came, Mansi didn’t pay much attention. She just ignored the request.
“Beta get up. You will miss the school bus!” Mom had the most irritating habit of screaming right into her left ear.
“Let me sleep, Mumma…there’s no important class today. I am not going.”
Then suddenly she remembered she had promised some time to Hrittik for coaching him in Hindi. They had a free period, one of those rare occasions when Hrittik didn’t have any practice to attend. This time had been earmarked for their study session. Just the two of them.
Mansi jumped off the bed with a start and rushed to the loo.
School was typically unexciting till they reached break-time.
Mansi didn’t really notice the sniggers and exclamations that were coming from all sides of the classroom. Maybe others were watching some viral reel on Insta or Snapchat, she thought.
When John came to her, she didn’t notice his peculiar apologetic expression.
“Uhhh Mansi. How are you today?” John asked tremulously.
“I’m good, you dud. What will happen all of a sudden?” Mansi retorted.
“Hey Mans, looking good in the clip!” Tarun gave a sly smile while walking past.
“Tarun, don’t talk like a shithole! You are endorsing these things by watching them! What a shocking violation of a woman’s body!” This was Shalini, the school prefect.
What was going on? Mansi was a little puzzled. What clip was Tarun talking about? What was Shalini so agitated about?
“Mansi, I know this was filmed on the sly. Come, let’s report this to the cyber-crime cell in the thana after school.” Now Mansi was totally confused by Shalini’s words.
Then she noticed it. On Kavya’s phone. Her half-bare body first struggling with the dress, then pouting and frowning in the harsh lights of the changing room.
The world suddenly went black for Mansi. Oddly, she again had the same sensation she had felt when her father had left them after divorcing her mother.
The loneliness, the shame, the sense of rejection, and above all the red-hot anger. Images of her mother crying alone haunted her even now. Her father’s mocking taunt about the way her mother looked, and how that had driven him to someone else’s arms rang in her ears. At least he had the shame to look guilty when he left them.
But her mother struggled with a shattered self-image for years after that. She neglected herself and took absolutely no interest in dressing up. Seeing her mother like that killed Mansi.
She didn’t know from where she had drawn the strength to shield her mother and fend for both of them. Roles changed and she parented her mother, fed her, put her to sleep, gave her medication. And along with her studies, she had kept the household running in clockwork precision for a good two months, till her mother got back to a semblance of her normal self.
“Mans, do you know something? You don’t look fat at all in that clip! Have you lost weight or something?” Suddenly Priya’s harsh sarcastic voice jolted her from her reminiscences. Priya was her chief tormentor, and the class bully.
Mansi knew that a lot of her friends dreaded Priya’s caustic comments and sly remarks. She herself kept miles away from her to avoid her cruel barbs. If someone could make people feel really bad, it was Priya. She was a pro at body shaming.
Except that now what Mansi felt was anger, far more than any shame or humiliation. How she looked to people ogling her in the video was the last thing on her mind. She seethed with rage.
How dare anyone film her without her consent! Her body was her temple, it was beautiful and sacred. That bastard who did it would have to pay for this, good and proper.
She walked past Priya to Shalini, who put an arm around her.
What mattered now was her dignity, her sense of self, her privacy that had been so brutally assaulted. And she was determined to protect all those unsuspecting girls who could become victims of the same abuse similarly.
Mansi would make sure whoever had done it would live to repent it. And yes, get absolutely no scope to repeat this sickening act.
After school, Shalini and she went to the staffroom to consult their class teacher, Mrs. Bose.
“Ma’am, we want to talk to you about something.” Shalini initiated the conversation.
Mansi spoke up, “Ma’am, there’s a pervert on the loose, and he’s preying on unsuspecting girls. I want him arrested.” Mrs. Bose was a little surprised to hear the steel in the girl’s voice.
After she heard about the whole affair, she spoke to a few of her colleagues and the school principal.
Within a couple of minutes, the small group started for Tilak Nagar Police Station to file a case in the Cyber Crime branch against the store management.
I left a successful corporate career in HR and teaching, to focus on my first love - writing. My first book of short stories - Pebbles in the Sand, is available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.in/ read more...
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If her MIL had accepted her with some affection, wouldn't they have built a mutually happier relationship by now?
The incident took place ten years ago.
Smita could visit her mother only in summers when her daughter had school holidays. Her daughter also enjoyed meeting her Nani, and both of them had done their reservations for a week. A month before their visit, her husband told her, “My mom is coming for 4-5 months!”
Smita shuddered. She knew the repercussions. She would have to hear sarcastic comments from her mother-in-law for visiting her mother. She may make these comments directly only a bit, but her servants would be flooded with the words, “How horrible she is! She leaves me and goes!”
Maybe Animal is going to make Ranbir the superstar he yearns to be, but is this the kind of legacy his grandfather and granduncles would wish for?
I have no intention of watching Animal. I have heard it’s acting like a small baby screaming and yelling for attention. However, I read some interesting reviews which gave away the original, brilliant and awe-inspiring plot (was that sarcastic enough?), and I don’t really need to go watch it to have an informed opinion.
A little boy craves for his father’s love but doesn’t get it so uses it as an excuse to kill a whole bunch of people when he grows up. Poor paapa (baby) what else could he do?
I was wondering; if any woman director gets inspired by this movie and replicates this with a female protagonist, what would happen?. Oh wait, that’s the story of so many women in this world. Forget about not giving them love, you have fathers who try to kill their daughters or sell them off or do other equally despicable things.
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