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5 Jun 2011

Real Beauty

She wakes up at 5 in the morning. Being a middle-class single mother of three at the age of 40 in India doesn’t give her the luxury of sleeping in.

After the daily rituals of bath and lighting the lamp, she makes coffee for the whole brood and sits at the window watching the rising sun, the only time of the day she has to herself. She thinks back to happier times of her childhood when life was simple and ordered. She wonders what she did wrong and wipes an unbidden tear away. Life had dealt her too many khota cards and her shoulders bowed under its weight.

The calm and the nostalgia lasts all for about another minute as her youngest Nini, all of eight, tugs at her sleeve and says ‘Good morning, Mimi’. She ruffles her hair fondly; she’s the only one of the three who takes after her, looks and character. She starts the routine off – cooking breakfast and lunch, packing an assortment of tiffin boxes, water bottles and snack boxes, waking up the two older ones, hair-plaiting, recovering lost socks and all the rest that goes with the territory.

‘Ma, dekho, he’s stole my Netconnect. College starts in half an hour and he’s going to make me late! Vaapas de, nahi toh ek thappad lagaoongi! ‘I didn’t take your stupid netconnect, jhooti kahin ki’… With a sigh, she simmers down the gas and goes to the kids’ room to play referee like every other morning. “Nitin, give her stuff back right now and GO for a bath, kitni baar keh chuki hoon? And Naina, keep your important things away from the kids, for the nth time, I won’t be rescuing anything if it happens one more time. Ab aake nashta karke nikalne ki soch”. With identical huffs, the two disperse in opposite directions. When all three finally make it out of the house without any major mishaps, she heaves a huge sigh of relief.

No respite though, she has to be at work in exactly and hour and she hadn’t even started getting ready yet. Today was a special day, her performance appraisal results were due and she was the office favorite for the plum promotion. She usually didn’t allow herself or her children to count chickens before they hatch. But this one time she had already started dreaming of the improvements she could make in the department.

But more important to her was the pay raise. She could almost see Naina’s huge ear-to-ear smile when she got her new white Corby and those pumps which she’d wanted forever. And those new Ben10 limited edition sets for the kids. And now she could finally take them on vacation somewhere. The children never bothered her for stuff; they understood and loved her too much to break her heart over small, immaterial things. But she was their mother; she understood every unspoken word, unshed tear and untold wish. And it cut her up inside every day that she wasn’t capable of giving them these small pleasures, deny them the happiness of childhood. Now all that would be past, their lives would finally get better.
She took particular care with her clothes today, something she hadn’t done in a long time. The sari she’d gotten for Diwali four years back was still good enough and had a matching blouse as well. People said the rich brown brought out her eyes. She lined her doe-eyes with a hint of kohl, applied a coat of lip balm and rolled on a little of attar. The fragrance always calmed her down and quelled the butterflies. She inspected the reflection in front of her; the face was lined now, the youthful glow was long gone and the eyes spoke of too many sorrows. She looked for a long minute and then shook herself and said to herself this is my life now.

The bus ride was, as usual, a struggle for survival…. one of the few times she regretted giving Naina her Bajaj Spirit. By the time she got down at M.G Road, she felt like she had been through a juicer-mixer-blender. She walked swiftly inside the office, greeted her best friend and set her things down at her cubicle. My last day at this desk, she thought. She was jumping inwardly. So many benefits to the promotion… the company car was available to the managers, she could be back home soon –more time with the children.

The excitement in the air was palpable. Everybody had taken their seats around the table and Mr. Chaudhry had the envelope in his hand. He welcomed them all and started droning on and on about the position and the responsibilities that go with it. Blah, blah, blahkitna baat karega takla, said Geetu from her right. They both giggled quietly and she thanked her silently for trying to dispel her jitters; Geetu was her guardian angel from God, her rock, her best friend. Finally the takla got to the point , ‘And after grave consideration and discussion, the senior members have decided to award the position to Ms. Kirti Prasad from HR.

There was silence. Then a smattering of applause as Kirti got up. She straightened her crisp Prada suit, sashayed down to the head of the table and extended a perfectly manicured hand for Mr. Chaudhry to shake. The rest of the table just sat there with expressions of disbelief. She felt her throat close. She hadn’t gotten it. She felt Geetu squeeze her hand underneath. She needed to get out of there.

She heaved in the ladies’ room with Geetu holding her. ‘Naina… Ben10… all broken… all gone’ she blubbered. Geetu tried consoling her, she was filled with cold rage knowing that they had given Kirti the position that her friend deserved only because she had slept with half the board. But she didn’t know that they would stoop so low as to take it away from a deserving candidate.

Three hours later, she was at her desk. Filing files and writing reports and continuing as if nothing happened. She was used to disappointment and pain. Her only regret was that she couldn’t fulfill her children’s dreams. That’s ok, she told Geetu. I’ll be getting a bonus on my company shares, I’ll make do with that. And there’s always another post, another promotion, another appraisal.

Her sole reason for living was them. Her happiness was in those times they spent rolling on the beds, pillow-fighting, the star gazing she did with Nini, the times she beat Nitin at NFS and the long woman-to-woman talks she had with Naina. They were the reason she put one foot in front of the other every day. They were the reason she pushed forward and performed better. She wanted to give them the world because they were her world.

This is my idea of a real beauty – She was born a princess and raised as one. She was used to the crème of material things; designer clothes, foreign holidays, elite parties and the latest in everything. She left all that for love and lost all of it when he left her high and dry for a younger ‘piece of meat’. Yet she picked up the broken pieces of her heart and moved on. She brought up their children, loving them so much that they didn’t need a father, ever. She is one who lives for others, one who puts the past away and moves on. She has developed that inner strength to take on whatever is thrown at her, life had hardened her to sorrow. All she cares about are them, their well-being. She’s the most amazing of mothers and she’ll do anything for them. A true beauty, a force of Nature…. one to reckon with.  

This post is a part of 'What is real beauty to you?' contest by Dove and Indiblogger.

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