Monday, 14 September 2015

Ordinary Is Beautiful!

 “What is your true calling?”, “What is that one thing that you crave to do every waking moment of your life?”, “What is it that you’re meant for Riya?”, he threw one question after another at her.

“Umm…I don’t know. I like to dance sometimes and sometimes I like to read. Sometimes, I just want to delve deeper into aerospace engineering; leave everything aside and just design those magnificent planes. Sometimes, I love to see those planes get lost in the skies as I marvel at their beauty, at the sheer brilliance of their design. Sometimes, I just like to sit and think about…about you and the next exotic place where we will make love and everything you would do to my body and I would do to yours. Oh…I love all of it and crave to do all of it every single day. How do you get to know Rehaan? How do you know what your true calling is?”

“Not like that. I mean…okay, think about this. What if I told you that you don’t have to care about money? Would you still continue doing this job? What if you had all the money in the world and you just had to do whatever you enjoy doing? What will choose to do then? What is your passion? What is that makes your eyes twinkle with joy? What is it that you would put all your heart and soul into and not breathe a word about the hard work that you have put in? What is it Riya? "

“Do you mind if I kiss you before I answer this? I mean…I am seeing you after six months. Do we really need to have this conversation right now?”

“Well…you totally can and my manhood would be put on question if I say no, but I would still say no because I do not think we can go back to having a conversation if you come any closer to me. We need to talk about this first. What do you want out of life, Riya? I have quit my job because I knew I wanted to start something of my own. Quitting my well-paying job, moving from a sprawling 3BHK apartment in gated community with a swimming pool to a tiny 1 BHK which four sweaty boys who do not even bathe every day, was not exactly an easy decision for me. I had to go through the month in 10k and days went by when we would just live on Top-Ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was hard, more hard than my vocabulary can allow me to describe. But you know what, I did not complain. I did not complain at any point of time because I was passionately in love with my work. And I swear to the lords, nothing…nothing compares to happiness I felt when we got the venture capital funding. I was ecstatic. It has been a huge struggle for me and it will continue to be so for say 1,2 or even 3 years…who knows! But, I don’t mind the struggle because I enjoy the work that I am doing. Do you feel that way about your work Riya? Have you come even close to figuring out what you’re meant for? You’re just doing this job because it’s convenient. Because why would you try so hard to figure out what you would really enjoy doing when it is so convenient to let life make choices for you.”

“Rehaaan…stop it. I’m tired of this constant pressure to find a mould for myself to fit in…finding where I belong, finding that one thing that my heart will ache to do even if it’s five in the morning and I haven’t been sleeping well since the past two days because the love of my life chose to surprise me on a weekday. Well, I guess I know what it is…my passion…it’s you Rehaan.”, Riya said playfully and started caressing his hair.

“No, I’m serious Riya. What is it that describes you best? Who are you?”

“Why do I have to be someone specific Rehaan. Why do I have to be rigid enough and find a mould which will fit me? Maybe I am not meant for one particular thing. Maybe I am not meant to be a master. I guess I am a jack and however notorious they may sound; they are not all that bad after all. I like spending hours designing planes on AutoCAD. Sometimes I do it because I genuinely enjoy designing those structures and sometimes I do it even when I am terribly bored because I love a lot; more than I love you, maybe.”, she winked.

“I love to keep taking these notes on my phone whenever a strong thought strikes me and I make sure I write about it whenever I get time. I think writing is an emotional release of sorts for me. I like it as much as I like designing those planes. And then sometimes…sometimes I just want to dance my heart, muscles and feet out. I have no idea whether that line makes sense but yeah…sometimes I just want to dance to my soul’s content, dance till my feet ache and I fall down on the floor exhausted. Yes, I want to continue dancing till then.
And you. Oh, I love you! I can spend hours and days and months just being around you and the most boring job in the world will become fascinating if you’re just around me. I think you define me Rehaan, as much as anything else that I love doing does. I don’t think I want to go ahead and do something extraordinary to make a difference in the world. I just want to do my part well enough and eventually I will make a difference. I don’t know what is that one thing that defines me Rehaan. I think I am bits and pieces of many things put together and all those things complete me. I cannot choose one. It would be unjust to choose one. What do I really want out of life, you asked. I think it is to go to bed each day smiling to myself, content with the way I spent my time. I think this is what I really want out of life. Maybe I am ordinary Rehaan, but I love being ordinary. Ordinary is content, happy and beautiful.”

“You don’t always make sense but when you do, I end up falling madly in love all over again with you. Oh…you were right it has been way too long. I have almost forgotten what your lips feel like. Can we make mad love like today is going to be our last day alive?”

And then they kissed while he caressed each curve of her body and she felt his chest after what seemed like an eternity. And then they made love and it was nothing like ordinary. Yet, it was beautiful, content and happy. Also, it was magical!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Those Missed Conversations

‘Aarti, dinner is ready. We are all waiting at the table’, Anita called out for the fourth time. ‘Yes mom, I am almost there’, Aarti shouted back. Ten minutes for that episode of Game of Thrones to end. Aarti could not possibly leave it at the climax; Joffrey was dying. It was the most satisfying moment that television has ever given her. How could she leave the show for anything in this world; food was way below in her priority list anyway. The show ended and with happy tears, she left for the dining room. Much like every day, everyone was done with their food by the time she arrived.

‘How’re you feeling now, Daddy’, she asked throwing a cursory glance at him and started nibbling away on her food. ‘I am fine, dear’, Ashok replied, just the way he replied everyday no matter how excrutiating the pain was. He knew that the questions were a formal exchange of words that her daughter found time to utter in the midst of her board examinations, friends and Facebook. He knew that his health was far behind in her list of priorities. He did not blame her, it was a hectic schedule she had; school, then coaching classes, then self-study. Where was the time? His sickness was nothing new to them after all. Over the years of prolonged illness, the family had gotten used to it. However, they were not completely immune to the grief. Tears were still shed every time they held the medical report with trembling hands in which at least one vital health parameter was shot way above the normal range. However, somehow the grief had become an ordinary affair for them, especially for Aarti. She could not recall the last time he was healthy. She grew up seeing her dad take some ten different coloured pills during lunch every day. From the age when they seemed amusing to her to the age when she could understand the graveness of the situation; somewhere in between she learnt how to feel pain most deeply and to let it go of as easily.

‘Aarti, Aarti’, Ashok shouted on one of the usual days. She was in the middle of her novel. She hated it when somebody interrupted her when she was reading. ‘Why can he not call mom or the helper for that matter? Why me? I’m sure it’s some trivial work which anyone could have done’, she thought to her herself as she stormed out of her room in utter frustration.

‘What happened dad, why did you call?’ she asked trying to moderate her voice so that it doesn’t come out as rude. ‘Honey, I want to watch the Television, can you please get the remote for me? I feel too tired to get up.’ She handed him the remote and was about to leave when he stopped her, ‘Can you not sit here by me. You’re always engrossed in your own world. I feel lonely sitting in the room all by myself. You never have time for me’, he managed to let it out. ‘Yeah…okay, I’ll just get my book and come’, Aarti said. She sat there next to him for the next one hour, lost in her book smiling away at the adventures that the protagonist of the story went through, oblivious to the fact that someone sitting next to her was yearning for a conversation with her. She kept flipping the pages and at 4 PM, she got her dad his medicines and kissed him goodbye as she left for her coaching classes.


Sometimes in the middle of the night when she would be working on her Mathematics problems or browsing through Facebook and liking all the pictures of this insanely cute guy she had given away her sixteen year old heart to, her dad would come with his coffee mug and sit by her table. She would hate those interruptions at that time, she had to change the tabs and pretend to be going through some educational websites. It was one of those days.

‘Why do you stay up till so late, dad? It’s not good for your health. You should be sleeping by now’, Aarti said in an emotional mix of concern and botheration.

‘I don’t get enough sleep these days. I feel there is no purpose of my life. I am just surviving each day’, Ashok said.

Aarti- ‘Please stop worrying about the purpose of your life. You’ve lived the majority of your life giving back to the society, now is the time to sit back and enjoy. You have played your role brilliantly till now. The school which you started is well established now. It will provide education to millions of students and positively impact thousands of lives each year.Travel the world, enjoy great food, read books and help me in discovering the purpose of my life maybe; stop being too hard on yourself dad.’

Ashok- ‘Yeah dear…I just feel empty sometimes, like I’m not needed anymore.’

‘Coz no-one told you it’s gonna be this way...’, Aarti ‘s phone started ringing. ‘Anjali calling’, it said.

Aarti- ‘Dad will you excuse me for some time. I’ll just take this call and come.’

Ashok- ‘Yeah, sure honey’

The conversation started with how Sameer has been acting strange since the past few days and was giving disinterested, curt replies to Anjali’s messages. It grew with how there were only three months left for the Board examinations and whether Aarti could solve problem fifteen of circle geometry. Apparently, Aarti could and then she started explaining the details of the tangents and radii to her. They ended on a note that they must finish the syllabus in the coming week and start with their revisions as soon as possible.

The phone call consumed some thirty minutes of her time. She realized that she was having a conversation with her dad and rushed to her room to check if he was still there. To her surprise, he was there perfunctorily scanning the pages of ‘An Argumentative Indian’.

Aarti- ‘Hey dad, how are you feeling now?’

Ashok- ‘I feel okay. I think you should sleep. It’s 2:30. I think I will go and make myself a cup of tea.’

Aarti- ‘You should sleep too. It is 2:30 for you too, you know.’

Ashok- ‘I will sleep in a while. I feel like staying up for some reading.’

Having said that Ashok left for the kitchen staggering painfully with each step that he took. The operation for the pelvic fracture was clearly not undertaken properly. The tea took a few minutes to boil; the water gradually swelled up and reached a peak only to crash down when the gas was turned off. He saw the essence of his entire life in that; rising up with passion, reaching the maxima and gradually falling down only to crash down completely when Lord would choose to turn off the gas. He could that feel the end was near, waiting for him to wrap up his roles before he could bid a goodbye. It was probably waiting for him to finish some conversations, conversations he yearned to have.

Aarti did sense some unsaid words that her dad probably wanted to say. Something told her that he was not really interested in reading that book, he probably wanted to have a conversation with her. However, too fatigued with the day’s work, she pushed the thought away and chose sleep over walking over to the living room and engaging in a conversation.

She curled up in her quilt and dozed off. Five minutes later, the phone beeped rather loudly. ‘There? :) ’, the WhatsApp message read. The name on the screen sent a chill down her spine and trashed sleep out of her system altogether. She took no time to respond, ‘Hey, yes. What’s up?’ and the exchange of messages continued till she no longer had the strength to keep her eyes open.


The pre-board results were out. She topped the class again. Ashok could not attend the parent teacher meeting as usual because his health did not allow him.  Anita exchanged the usual pleasantries with the class teacher who told her how brilliant a student Aarti was and how she must be a proud mother. Anita was certainly a proud mother. She treated Aarti at one of her favourite restaurants that afternoon and told her that she was an amazing daughter.

Content with her results, Aarti returned home. Back home it was rather gloomy, her dad’s medical reports had been consistently poor. Funny thing how circumstances make you capable of feeling ten different emotions in a single day and surprisingly you do justice to those emotions. From being elated to being melancholic, she sometimes wondered how it was possible for one person to feel such divergent emotions all at the same time.

‘Congratulations love, you’re my darling. Like father, like daughter. You always make me proud’, Ashok was beaming with happiness

Aarti- ‘How is your health now, dad?’   

Ashok- ‘It gets better the moment I see you, love. I’ll cook the best butter chicken in the world for my darling today.’

Aarti- ‘No, I think you should rest. The cook will take care of the food. Also, I have dinner plans with my friends tonight. This is our last get-together before Boards. I have to go.’

Ashok- ‘Oh, okay dear.’

Aarti- ‘Bye dad, take care. I’ll go and get ready. I love you.’

Ashok did not say bye. He probably did not want her to go. Those conversations were still lying within him, waiting to unfurl someday. That day was taking too long to come. He was not sure if he had that much time.

Days passed by and Aarti got busier with her preparations. The little time that she got now and then was spent over the phone discussing either Sameer or Aditya and asking/answering, ‘How much done?’ questions. Results came out and she scored outstandingly in all her papers. Life had been rewarding on the academic side.


Class eleventh happened and seventeen is the kind of age when friends become family. Somehow our world starts revolving around them. Yes, Aarti did blame the age sometimes. ‘Teenage knocks all senses out of you’, she sometimes consoles herself with that statement. With the board pressure out of her shoulders, the starting months of class eleventh were all about partying, get-togethers and dating. Somewhere amidst all the fun, family took a back-seat for her. No, she was not one of those spoiled girls; she just was not a great daughter, not even a good daughter. A good person maybe, but not a good daughter.

She was in the movie hall, lost intently in the movie when her phone started ringing. She put it on silent mode and kept it away. When she got out of the hall, much to her shock the phone read, ’Ma - 45 missed calls.’  A small part of her knew what those missed calls meant, but every other part refused to accept it. With trembling hands, she called back her mother. ‘Aarti, come home; just come home right now. Please come home’, Anita managed to speak amidst the wailing. Aarti did not ask her what happened. She knew what had happened. 


‘Girls aren’t allowed to go to the funeral pyre’, they said. She turned a deaf ear to them and kept walking ahead. With every tear that fell, she remembered those missed conversations and wondered what they could have been about. Every scene flashed in front of her eyes. Every day when she could have had those conversations which he was taking back with him kept coming back to her. It was pinching her conscience every second and screaming out loud to her about how she failed to be there for him.

She did not cry. ‘Such a strong girl’, they said. She knew that she was not strong. She did not cry because she wanted to keep the pain within her. Crying might have relieved the pain. She wanted to go through it each day and remind herself about how terrible a daughter she was. It was her idea of penance. Some actions are not worth forgetting and forgiving. She did not forgive herself. The regret and pain was for a lifetime and deservedly so. 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Breaking out of the cocoon!

I feel old. No, there isn’t just a truckload of negativity around it. There’s wisdom too, a lot of it that all these years have brought along. Wisdom that I feel proud to have earned by making mistakes, falling down and doing utterly wrong things at the utterly right time. Wisdom that tears and smiles brought along with them. I’m certainly unnerved about what lies ahead, unnerved about breaking out of the cocoon and learning how to live all on my own. I don’t know if I’m ready to be on my own, I don’t know if I’m ready to trash all the innocence and gullibility out of my system and turn myself into a sterner and shrewder self, who is ready to face the big bad world(I know, too dramatic). I don’t know if I’m ready to pass fake smiles to my innumerable colleagues and make bonds that would sometimes be as superficial as ‘you-might-gain-from-me-and-I-might-gain-from-you’ and give it a pretty name called networking. I am painting a very cynical picture of the world that is going to lie ahead, let us just say I’m not in one of my best moods. Without digging any deeper into tomorrow, I feel like reflecting on the lessons all these years brought along, lessons that have shaped me into who I am…the good, the bad and the ugly.

I have learnt about people and about love. No matter how much I learn about love or try to understand it, it will never be enough. Love is an abyss…infinite, indefinite and inexplicable. There are bits that my twenty two year old self could fathom, though. I would share those bits with you. I have learnt that sometimes the magical stumbling upon and falling in love doesn’t happen. Yes, it does happen to some people who just come across the right person on a rainy afternoon, waiting for them with an umbrella. However, those people are lucky, not everybody is. Most of us have to make efforts to come across the right person. We must talk, explore, get to know people; then maybe we’d hit it off with one of them.
As far as friends are concerned however, I understood that we don’t choose the people who are going to enter our lives, that it is often random stumbling upon that brings them to us but we definitely choose who we will allow to stay there forever. This is a choice we must make with utmost discretion because the wrong choices hurt, hurt real bad.
We will always value some people more than they value us. We try to convince ourselves that it is not true, that they probably are just not as expressive as we are but deep within we know that we lie somewhere on the lower half of their priority list while we put them out there on the top. Now, there are two things we can do about it – pluck them out of the top of our priority list and push them back in the same position as they’ve put us or make peace with the fact that we will never be as important to them as they are to us. Making peace means no cribbing, no cribbing after that at all. Sometimes it gives us enough happiness to give in whole heartedly into a relationship without expectations of equal reciprocation and it is great if we can do that but we should be honest with ourselves about what gives us happiness. We must understand, however, the difference between not being on top of their priority list and being an option. We must understand the difference between somebody hurting our ego and hurting our self-esteem. The latter is something we must never make peace with, ever. 
I have always belonged to the people and hence my deepest source of pleasure and pain have most often been people. I learnt along the years that I cannot continue doing this. People are important and sometimes if you’re lucky, the way I have been for most part of my life, we come across some amazing people and we fall in love with them, we always want to be there for them and sometimes we make the mistake of making them the center of our life.  Some of them change, some betray and then it hurts. I have learnt to keep my goals above people unless my goal is some person, in which case there’s nothing much I can do about it. I understood that investing all my energy in goals is always wiser than investing it in people. If I fail to achieve my goals, it’s almost always because my efforts weren’t good enough but with people it’s never the same. Goals are loyal, people aren’t. People change, priorities change. Sometimes you can blame them for it, sometimes you cannot. Change is inevitable; things that held importance for one when they were 17 need not and in most cases will not hold the same amount of importance for them when they are 22. The sooner we make peace with this fact, the sooner we will be able to understand people better and expect lesser.
However, there would always be this one person whom we can keep above our goals, above everything, who will be worth all the suffering and hurt. If we’re lucky we’ll come across that one person and if we’re luckier they’ll never leverage the importance they have in our lives. Everybody else should be at a safe distance where the expectations are kept too low to be a cause of hurt.
Hurt and betrayal bring along with them the chance to forgive. I have learnt to forgive, to forgive someone is the best thing we can do to ourselves. Yes, to ourselves not to them. There is an unmatchable sense of freedom and relief that we get when we truly forgive. Life is too short to live it being mad at someone.
I have learnt that there will always be people smarter, more accomplished and wiser than me. There is so much that I can learn from them rather than being boggled down by their wisdom. These people keep the curious little child in us alive, the child who wants to question, learn and grow. We must take care of this child within us, nurture it and make sure that it never dies because the day this child dies we turn into a human vegetable. We are no good anymore, we’re just surviving.
I am learning how to shoulder responsibilities. Being so used to being pampered and loved, I seldom understood what it is to be on the giving end. Even though responsibilities might sound like a really heavy burden cast on our shoulders, we have to learn to shoulder them. All this while somebody has been there for us, probably the time for role reversal has come and we have to learn to be there for people and make ourselves worthy of being look up to.   
Ever since I have been trusted with the responsibility of taking a decision, I have been a major disappointment to myself. Worrying too much about whether I am making the right choice, I have never been able to take a firm decision. I learnt along the way, though, that sometimes there is no right or wrong choice. There is something to lose either way. The best we can do is to go with our instinct and let the dots connect backwards when we look back in retrospect. That time, it makes sense, it always does.
Mistakes and rash decisions make our life a really interesting story, if nothing else. We’re all stories in the end after all and we are the protagonists of our stories. One day the story is going to be complete. The lesser mistakes, the more the perfection, the more boring the story will be.
I think that it a lot of musing for the day. I feel wise, already J. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Love -To be or not to be!

This is not for you if you have just given away your heart to someone and are letting yourself soak in the beauty of love, convinced that this is the tiny fragment of your life that was missing and now you’re complete in the purest sense of the word. This is not for you if you’re among the lucky few who have found the perfect partner and want to spend the remainder of their life (and if there is a beyond, then even that) with them.  This is for the broken hearts, the one-sided lovers and those who have been to a major extent broken down by the magnanimity of love. People happily in love are discouraged to read any further. This Valentine’s Day, I am going to sit and talk about every possible reason why it’s terrible to be in love.

Love makes you a slave of itself, corrupts the ability of the smartest of people to see through things logically and make wise decisions. You keep denying it all the while and tell yourself that you know how to balance it out right, but you know it all along that although you know how to balance it right, you cannot. Love, arrogantly and defiantly sits invisibly on the top of your priority list lying to you about its non-existence. Gradually, without you realizing, it starts engulfing your work, your decisions, your people and your free time - the  time you once spent having conversations with yourself, getting lost in the creativity of your thoughts is now spent talking to them and if you manage to get some time off that, you spend it musing about them.

Your choices, your beliefs, your ideologies, your opinions- all of them start getting majorly influenced by them. You start moulding yourself into a person they would want to love and without even knowing it, you start losing yourself, huge parts of yourself to them. You want to do anything and everything for that smile of theirs and before you realize it, they become the center of your world and one by one you start throwing people and things out of your life because nothing and nobody else seems to matter. You want to make up more and more space for them, you want your life to be more and more occupied by them and in the process you have knowingly or unknowingly pushed everything else into tiny insignificant corners. Before you know it, it has become about them and just about them.

You valued your self-esteem more than anything else until you fell for this person who was capable of changing it all for you. You realize one day that with everything else that you pushed away, you pushed away your self-esteem too. You start doing things you felt are too crazy to be done by anyone, you start caring for someone more than you ever thought you were capable of and you start experiencing emotions you never knew existed. The chill down your spine at the sound of their voice, the smile that refuses to leave your face long after they are gone, the happiness that simple conversations with them provide and the pangs of jealousy that burn parts of you-  you experience it all for the first time. Love makes you experience the extremes of emotions. Although, the happiness that it gives is incomparable to any other happiness that you have felt before, what you don’t realize is that the pain which the fights and the separation might cause you will also be more devastating than anything that you have ever felt before. But still, you fall prey to all these emotions and you want to keep feeling them for as long as you can. It’s addictive, and once you have got yourself into the habit of it, it’s very hard to get yourself out.

Then, there is this whole thing about owning people we love. Now, your partner may be the most broadminded person ever and how much ever he/she doesn't want to restrain you; mere mortals that we are, we fall prey to insecurities and jealousy and we want our partner to be ours before they can be anybody else’s and our obsession with it touches an extent where we want them to prove it to us sometimes. How much ever romantic it might seem initially to be told by your partner, “You’re mine baby”, it becomes stifling and suffocating when the hormones have taken a back seat and there isn't enough estrogen and testosterone being secreted to make you hyperventilate as your partner utters it. Whether you want to accept it or not, you lose a huge part of your independence and you actually become somebody else’s before you are yours. You've got yourself so deep into it all that there is no easy escape because you've reached this point where you cannot do without your partner and at the same time you cannot be comfortable with the fact that you are so much theirs.

However, gradually you get used to it and consciously or unconsciously you start liking all the good and bad aspects of love; you weigh them against each other and the fact that you have somebody you may call your own seems to outweigh all the negatives.  And, over an extended period of time when you learn to balance things right, when you learn to appreciate love, one by one bring back all the pieces of your life that you pushed aside in the pursuit of love and start leading a fairly stabilized happy life, exactly then my friend, they leave!

Then, you’re devastated like you have never been devastated before. You’re broken into a thousand pieces like you have never been broken before and realize that you had actually become somebody else’s and you’re incapable of independent existence anymore. There’s a void they leave behind, and you try, try every day to fill it back but you fail miserably every time. You try every day to convince yourself that you’re more than their presence in your life and your friends, family, work and all those parts of your life which you pushed away try to bring back your broken pieces together. And, after a long, long time which seems like forever you become alright and embrace life with all its beauty and ugliness once again but although you never say it out loud, that void remains unfilled forever.

All said and done about love, I ask myself if I would refrain from it. ‘Of course, I will’, my mind replies in an instant but my heart hesitates a little and with its eyes cast down and cheeks blushing a Valentine’s day red whispers, ‘It cannot be all that bad, can it?”  

Monday, 26 January 2015

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall!

 Zaara's encounters with the mirror were pretty frequent. She loved to spend hours twirling her hair with the roller, trying different shades of her mother's lipstick and draping one of her dupattas as a sari when no one was watching. She loved the way the girls danced in the rain in the movies. She tried it out too; on some days when nobody was at home, she'd rush to the terrace and run in dramatic fashion with the dupatta in her hand, holding it high and letting the wind form tiny waves in it as it flew.

'Oh, I am beautiful', she thought to herself. When she used to study at her table, she was often distracted. If she turned slightly to the right, she could catch her reflection in the tall mirror and no matter how hard she tried, she could not resist the temptation to admire herself. Zaara was ten and her understanding of beauty was as innocent as her age; a little bit of rouge, a pair of pretty earrings, a flowing dupatta and a sparkling smile could do it all for her.
She was a cheerful young girl. She scored all A’s in her classes, played basketball in the evenings, had a lovely group of friends, loving parents and a beautiful elder sister. And, sometimes when she finished her homework earlier, she would rush to the mirror and play 'dress-up'. There is this strong connection between beauty and femininity which develops at a very young age. In Zaara’s case, she grew up believing that she was beautiful.
As the years passed along, the girls around her became more conscious of the way they looked. The length of the skirts became shorter and the blouses tighter. The hairstyle was suddenly so much important; combs, lip balms and creams were sneaked into the school bag and long queues were made in front of the washroom mirrors during the lunch breaks. Every time she looked into the mirror, a beautiful young lady stared back (at least Zaara thought so). Her mother also told her she was beautiful and she chose to believe it. You don’t really know that you don’t look conventionally beautiful or have the set of physical attributes that determine beauty, unless someone points out in you the lack thereof.
She was told one day by one of her friends that Faraz would never like her back because she’s not pretty enough for him. She learnt that day that sparkling big eyes, chiseled nose, beautifully defined slender lips and high cheek bones are the main parameters of a magnificent face and that she lacked not one, but all of them! She cried to herself all night in a long, long time. She kept wondering about all the possible ways she could make herself worthy of Faraz.
She would apply thick kohl around her eyes to make them appear more prominent and every day when nobody was watching, she would try to squeeze her nose a little with the hope that it would pick a better shape with the continued pressure. Maybe then, Faraz would not mind liking her back, she fondly hoped.
She was in the ninth standard now and the obsession with beauty steeply grew for most of her peers. The queues in front of the washroom mirror became longer and the cosmetics sneaked into school grew in number. There was a certain kind of attention that all her ‘beautiful’ friends started getting which the unusually talented Zaara was used to a few years back. Faraz would be surrounded by all the pretty girls who would flirtatiously talk with him the whole time in the recess and gradually, unnoticeably Zaara was pushed out of the scene. She started ignoring Faraz over the days that followed; she thought it’s better to let go of him herself rather than going through the pain of being shrugged off by him.
She could hear the girls raving about Faraz, about how irresistible he looked with his new ear piercing and the crew cut hair style. It would crush her heart and burn it to a charcoal black every time she would hear them talk about about Faraz. There is strong feeling; a strange mix of envy, admiration, covetousness and hatred that ordinary looking girls feel for gorgeous girls; and Zaara felt it every time, every time for all of them. How the world seemed to just revolve around them and all they had to do was to just pass one of their smiles which were capable of killing with the magnanimity of their beauty to get things done! She would question it sometimes, the unfairness of this treatment, only to realize the futility of her questions. The world was not a fair place; life is unfair and she knew it all along. The only difference was that now the unfairness started hitting her in the face; as long as it was favouring her, she did not mind the unfairness at all. How fair it was after all that she was just born brainier than the rest of them, had an athletic built which made her stand out in sports and a melodious voice which won her so many admirers. Had she ever questioned their admiration for her intellect or her talents? No, she hadn’t, she just felt she deserved it. “I have worked hard to polish that intellect and voice, worked out every day from 5 in the morning to grow my athletic abilities; I did not just magically wake up one day being all smart, athletic and melodious”, she would try and reason out with herself. She could not convince herself entirely though.
She started living indifferently and started hanging out with people whose behaviour and interests did not dramatically change with the onset of puberty. She would look with disdain at those pretty girls, somewhere inside secretly wishing to be one of them. Her own hypocrisy would make her look down upon herself sometimes. She was failing to admire herself like before and she had no idea about dealing with it. She just cut herself off from the Faraz in the hope that the lesser she sees of him, the lesser it might hurt. And, how she failed miserably; every time, every time!
Faraz cornered her one fine day, held her hand and pinned her to the wall in utmost fury contrary to his usual calm and composed demeanour. “Why are you doing this to me, what have I done to deserve your coldness. You shouldn’t have come this close to me, if you just had to leave one day without reason or explanation.” He realized as his breath calmed down that he was holding her hand way too tight. He let go of her and apologized. Never had his fury and grief been a cause of her happiness. This time it was; she felt so elated that she did not even feel the pain of his hand gripping hers so tight. The rage in his eyes never pleased her so much. “I need to know Zaara, I need to know. Tell me what happened”, he exclaimed. “I though you don’t like me anymore Faraz. I am not beautiful like those girls you hang out with. And you’re beautiful Faraz, you are way too handsome. I know I am not good enough for you. You started hanging out with those girls; they were beautiful, all of them and I knew I didn’t stand a chance so I just went away”, Zaara let her emotions out. Faraz looked at her in disbelief. “You’re not good enough for me, did you say? Are you crazy? You’re the most beautiful girl I have ever come across and I could write an entire book about how smitten I am with everything from the way you play with the tiny strand of hair that falls over forehead to the way your smile arrests my breath every time you stretch it all the way to your eyes. Yes, I don’t like you Zaara because I insanely, passionately and deeply love you”, Faraz said out loud in the outburst of love and fury. Both of them stood silent in the heat of the moment, consuming the gravity of the emotions that just overflowed. Breathing hard and with tears rolling down their eyes, there under the school staircase, spellbound, they kissed for the first time.
“What is beauty”, Zaara asked herself many times after that day, and how much ever hard ever she tried, she could never get a definite answer.