The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 2, 2001
Life Ties

Shocking to grab attention
Taru Bahl

NAYANA was a short, podgy child. She was the butt of jokes in class as the bone china porcelain brigade ganged up against her. She would resist and put up a reasonable fight but ultimately find her defenses breaking down. Looking at her beautiful mother and tall handsome father, she often wondered if she had been adopted. As she grew older, her body refused to fall in line with her girlish dreams. Her face was acne-ridden, multiple tires around her abdomen and thighs refused to budge in spite of vigorous running and cycling. Wearing trendy clothes in an attempt to make up for her disproportionate body, made things worse. Her classmates did not openly ridicule her but she knew that they pulled her down behind her back. The scene that she never forgot was when at the school farewell party she forced herself to get into a skirt a size too small. When it snapped and fell to the ground in front of all the exquisitely dressed students, instead of helping her or sympathising with her, they all shrank back as if she were a leper. The few friends she had too did not step forward to ease her shame or make her feel better.

Yet, unlike other not-so-nice looking girls she did not want to ‘resign to her fate’ and accept God’s will. She refused to buy the logic which well-meaning relatives liberally piled her with by saying ‘beauty lay in the eyes of the beholder’ or ‘beauty needs not the aid of foreign ornaments, is best adorned when unadorned’ or ‘it is inner beauty that counts’. She wanted to be beautiful, to attract attention, make heads turn when she entered a room, create an impact and not be dismissed as a frumpy, matronly, pitiable creature.


An avid reader of Mills and Boon romances, Perry Mason, Barbara Cartland and other Victorian literature, she did not just harbour romantic illusions about beautiful women having handsome hunks waiting on them, wooing them and passionately loving them but she actually wanted all that to happen to her. Only she was clueless how to go about it. She wanted to wear taffeta gowns with ribbons and bows, flutter her eyelashes and see men swoon as she wafted past like an ethereal dream. All her attempts at making that happen ended up in miserable encounters. She ended up either looking desperate or wanton. The shy boys ran away from her, maintaining a safe distance. The naughty brats provoked, teased and goaded her into falsely believing that she was attractive. They used this to make her do ridiculous things. She would fall for their ploy and make an utter fool of herself. When this continued for a while, she realised that she had to do something with herself. She was one ugly duckling which was not going to turn into a beautiful swan.

By the time Nayana started going to college, she had become comfortable with her looks. After a lot of hard thinking, she had come to terms with her mirror-image. She knew she could not be the centre of attraction on the basis of her physical attributes. Around this time she got involved in student politics and found that she was effective in garnering public opinion and running odd errands for the college president. She was mobile, had no reservations about meeting people and gaining access to information. In fact, she thrived on her ability to extract tid-bits from rival groups, be up to date on the grapevine and cultivate those who mattered.

Intelligent, outspoken and fearless, she soon became a powerful political player and by the time she reached final year, she was ready to take over as president. Her popularity ratings were high and people regarded her with awe. She was no conventional damsel-in-distress. In her trademark skin-tight denim jeans and khadi kurta with a leather bag slung over one shoulder and a cigarette in one hand, she was a familiar picture on the campus. She commanded attention. The good thing about her was that she was no gasbag. She implemented what she promised and since she had cultivated the knack of bonding with people at all levels.

By the time she was out of college and had picked up her first job as a cub reporter with a newspaper, she had turned into an incorrigible little demon. Incorrigible, because she had no inhibitions when it came to asking prominent people the most delicate, private and embarrassing questions. She had long ago given up attempts at sweet-talking, sugar-coating the truth and molly-coddling those around her. She had earned her freedom, identity and sense of self-esteem in the most painful manner and was not going to make it easy for people who were either directly or indirectly responsible for killing the shy, constantly-seeking-approval girl.

She loved to see a senior politician squirm uncomfortably in his seat as he tried to wriggle out of a tricky question; she revelled in cracking an outrageously sexist remark in front of male colleagues; got sadistic pleasure seeing the shocked expression of her pretty female colleagues when she launched into an abusive tirade. She did not give a damn. In any case she was not there to impress anybody. Hadn’t she tried doing that and gotten nowhere ?

She was well-informed and loyal. Wherever she worked, her employers could not function without her. Not only was she good at implementing things but she was also sharp enough to foresee a problem and when things went wrong she was the best person to trouble shoot. When well-meaning friends told her to tone down, be more ladylike, conform to societal expectations, she brushed them off angrily. All her childhood hurts had not been vindicated yet. Her behaviour, mannerisms, speech, smoking and distinctive style of dressing were all attention-grabbing techniques studiously mastered over the years.

A true-blooded feminist, she had brushed the idea of marriage away saying "what do you need a man for ?" but eventually succumbed when a long-standing friendship took a romantic turn. In the five years that her marriage lasted, she found all her bitterness and pent up anger getting dissipated. Having a daughter, going through the entire process of creating a baby made it simpler still. She felt she had come full circle. She could now finally be comfortable with herself, her femininity and also the way the world had treated her. However, when her husband left her for another younger, prettier woman, the anger and hurt came rushing back. If earlier she could come to terms with her hurt by lashing out at people and by indulging in shocking behaviour, she found herself unable to do it all over again. Maybe age had finally mellowed her down. Or perhaps being a mother had laid to rest all the insecurities and doubts that she had accumulated ever since she had begun to understand life.

Now, her only priority was to bring up her daughter well. It was still too early to tell if the little one would be beautiful or not. But Nayana was not going to let that aspect bother because she was convinced that there was so much more to do, learn, share and imbibe. Beauty was something which could be cultivated with your thoughts, skills, attitude and, most important, by the image you had of yourself. The most beautiful thing in her life had been the birth of her daughter and this was one miracle which had happened irrespective of how Nayana looked. Looks, then, could not be such a big deal.

She was now going to do things for herself because she wanted to do them, because they made her happy and not because she had to prove something to the world and ‘show’ them that she was no less.

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