She stared at the picture for long. Her eyes narrowed as she took in the curves and lines and strokes. Her head tilted from the right to the other, taking in the picture from every angle. Yet, something was amiss.
In front of her eyes stood a work from fifteen years of experience. Around her, in rows that ran to infinity, hung every picture that she had taken over the years. They sang tall tales of glory and of raw beauty. Anyone who had stepped into the cozy little, dark and damp room had never failed to remark how peaceful the place felt like. They told it felt like falling down a black hole filled with wonders.
Colours – bright and dark; people – so innocent and beautiful – the sheets of paper felt like a wonderland of memories. The people trapped in the pictures, spoke for themselves.
Each night, she would sit in the broken, wooden chair and under the light of the red fluorescent bulb, she’d watch her pictures come alive.
Yet, today, she frowned.
It was a bad picture.
Her brows furrowed and she paced.
Beside the tall camera that rested upon the mahogany table, there lay a crumpled paper. Amidst a forest of majestic trees, stood a lonely girl. Her cheeks were sunken. Her eyes were grey. In between her thin lips, slept the lazy butt of a lit cigarette. Perhaps it was the smoke or the haze, but her hair lacked colour. The mascara was smeared. The sick, old, brown hat with its tattered ends clung helplessly to her hair.
Amidst a swirl of vibrant colours, she stood – without a trace of red or blue or gold. It seemed as if the artist had left the painting there. It was incomplete, indeed.
She walked to the far end of the room, ducking several rows of drying photographs and stood in front of the mirror. Her hand shot up and traced against the curves of her cheek. They moved down the bulge of her lips. And she gasped in horror.
Turning around, she didn’t bother to duck this time. With every step, she ripped every photo from its place. Carefully, with hesitant steps, she walked to the table and lifted the paper up. In horror, she cried.
Looking around, she saw those million beautiful pictures and then stared at the ugly one she held in her hand. It was not the fault of the sun who cast an unnecessary glare; neither was it the fault of the specks of dust at the corners of the lens. Now she knew why. She was the ugly one. She was the one who made the picture look rather incomplete. Because though she captured justifying beauty through her lens, deep inside her, she was nothing, but a void.
And like the million times before, with the picture clutched firmly in her hand, she walked to the very corner where rested a little tank of water.
And laughing and cheering in merry, she shoved the photograph into it.
As the colours faded away and mingled with the clear water, under the faint red light of the room, she saw her reflection down under.
I’ve always been impressed by women with strong voices – women who are not afraid to speak for their own rights; women who can handle everything in the universe; women who start out as little girls playing with Barbie dolls and grow into utterly perfect young ladies and move on to become mothers who are ten thousand times stronger.
Anything that sets us back physically, actually gives us a boost mentally. We are always striving to reach to the top, no matter what. We are always ready to speak out loud for our own rights and for the million women like us.
And in today’s world, we DO get a say.
However, there had been darker times in the past.
My brother and I, growing up far away from our grandparents, didn’t really have a close relationship with them. We visited them once in two months, only for an hour or two and interactions were pretty much limited.
My grandmother was a petite woman with graying hair and a thousand wrinkles covering her face.
The many times she would call me to her room, she would spend away every minute asking me how my studies were going on. After a couple of small talks, there would be nothing to talk about, so I’d stand up and simply walk out of the room.
Conversations with her were usually small and I couldn’t blame her for it. There was a huge generation gap in the first place and second, I wasn’t really good at conversations.
So when my grandmother came to stay with us for a week, I decided to take the opportunity and get to know her better. The entire prospect of having someone in the empty house and not having to spend silent hours, thrilled me.
Every day after Mom and Dad would leave for their work, she would call for me and my brother and tell us a story.
No, the story never had princesses or horses in them, but they spoke about the lives of strong women and how they fought against the differences in the society in the past. As teenagers, the stories never caught our attention, but we heard them nevertheless because she seemed so happy while telling us those little tales.
It was the last day of her stay. My parents had taken a day off. While Mom was busy in the kitchen, Dad was talking to me. Grandma sat next to Dad, muttering something to herself as she flipped through the pages of the newspaper.
“I really think you should go there,” Dad said as he looked down at the folder containing a list of my preferred colleges.
“No, Dad! I want to go to a co-ed college!” I snapped. “I’ve told you so many times that I don’t want to go there.”
“But it’s a good college!”
“I don’t care!”
“Why are you always so adamant?”
“Because,” I spoke in a louder voice. “You don’t listen-“
“Theya!” my grandmother snapped suddenly.
For a woman as calm and collected as my grandmother, it was an unusual reaction.
“Keep your voice down,” she said.
A part of me was terribly irritated and the other part of me was embarrassed. Fighting the little tears that had started pricking at the corners of my eyes, I turned to Dad.
“I’m not going to that college, “I spoke through gritted teeth.
He sighed, shaking his head and standing up. This meant that we were not having this conversation today.
After he had left the room, Grandma motioned me to take a seat beside her. Grumbling, I complied.
“You didn’t have to talk like that to your dad,” she spoke.
“But I should have a say in what college I am going to study in!”
“You do have a say. That is why your parents are still waiting for your final decision.”
“But is it wrong to raise my voice? Is it wrong to stand up for my own wishes?”
Pulling me close, she shook her head.
“No,” she said. “I’m happy to see that you’ve a strong voice. You are growing up to be a strong woman. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Back in our times, though we had a voice, we never got a say in things.”
I looked up to meet her glistening eyes.
“Why?” I asked.
“I was born in an era of voiceless women. We were strong, but we didn’t have a voice. All we did, was sit in the kitchen and hear to the decisions being made. Back in those darker days, women were thought to be weak. The one or two who dared to speak up were looked down upon.”
“It’s surprising,” she continued, “to see how much things have changed! Women have made their mark in every field and they have struggled a lot to get there. I see the little me in you, Theya.”
By then, her voice had been breaking at places.
She held my hand and gave it a little squeeze.
“My father decided not to send me to school after the fifth grade. I was adamant to go. Yet, I didn’t know how to speak out in front of him. I was afraid of what he might say when he listens to me. So, all I could do was cry silently for several days. I had a voice, only, I was afraid to speak out. And so were many other women.”
“I don’t believe it,” I muttered.
This caused her to laugh.
“Oh, no, you don’t! Times have changed, hopefully. Women have always been strong. Back then, they had been strong as well. Only, without a voice,” she said. “When I see pretty young ladies like you, liberated and not held back by any constraint, it makes me immensely proud.”
That day, I saw my grandmother as the woman she was – strong, bold and beautiful. Though it was hard for me to believe that there had been a time like that, I could feel her pain. I could feel how it felt to not have a say in anything.
“So,” my grandmother began again. “What would you do if you lose your voice today?”
Later that night, when she was packing her stuff, I wished she could’ve stayed a bit longer.
“Grandma,” I said as I walked to her and offered to help with the packing. “I think I would probably go mad if I lost my voice for a day. I mean I can’t imagine that you’ve gone through all that!”
Shaking her head, she smiled to herself.
Her question kept me awake for the entire night. Indeed, what would I do if I lose my voice for a day?
('cause caffeine is known to solve problems of the world)