The cute child
“Bachche Chacha Nehru se pyaar karte the! Chacha Nehru khoobsurat the. Bachche har khoobsurat cheez se pyaar karte hain!”
I listened, admiring my beautiful Hindi teacher reading out a chapter on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The teacher was very fond of me. “You look like a doll!” She would say. I would blush.
An attractive teacher talking about a charismatic personality. A reasonably cute looking child listening intently. The beautiful atmosphere was interrupted as a girl in shabby clothes and slippers walked in along with our class teacher. Her hair was brown, with knots, lacking any kind of nourishment. Her complexion was dull. She looked dazed as if she woke up on another planet. Her skirt looked more like a lehenga reaching her calf, matched with a miserable, baggy, shirt. It must be her father’s, I thought.
“This is Champa. She would be joining your class today.” The teacher said hurriedly. “Let her sit next to the class monitor for few weeks till we assign her another place. Meghna, you sit next to Komal for now. Tanvi, Champa will be sitting next to you. Please help her with the books, uniform etc.”
I was horrified! Champa’s admission was part of a reach out program, wherein a child from a nearby slum would be selected for education free of cost. Some of us had heard about this proposal. We had no idea it would be implemented. I had no idea it would affect me. Directly!
The next few days were difficult for me. But how difficult was it for Champa to fit in? Kids made fun of her brutally. They asked her if she ever showered. There was an outbreak of lice soon after she joined. She was alleged to be the origin. Guilty until proven innocent. She bought chapati or chuda for lunch. She ate alone. She was different.
I was conscious of my behavior at school. I was never mean to her. But deep down I found her repulsive. I hated sitting next to her.
One day, after lunch I was playing with friends. Tag. Then on the Merry Go Around. The first bell rang as an indication to us to go back to our classrooms. As I was running, I felt a weird sensation. Within a few seconds even before I realized, I had vomited. In front of everyone.
There was some vomit on my perfectly ironed white shirt. And probably some drool on my face.
One teacher commented, “Such a big girl! Cannot even control herself!! Don’t you know there is a toilet?”
Some kids laughed. Others said “Ewww” and moved away in disgust.
I had tears in my eyes. As I made the walk of shame towards the washroom, someone held my hand. I turned in surprise.
There she was. Champa. As expressionless as ever. But holding me tight and safe. She held my hand and helped me clean up. She did not say a word. But stayed with me throughout.
Few days later, she stopped coming to school. She disappeared as abruptly as she had appeared. Some people said that parents had complained about the reach out program. Others said the management felt it was not working out. Some said her parents had decided that studies would not do her any good. Nobody knew for sure. I never saw her again.
The ugly duckling
Few years later, my father got transferred to the United States. I was a teenager by now studying in a junior high school at New York City. One of the poshest cities in the world. With people from all over the world. All races. There were blonde beauties. And Hispanic beauties. And Asian beauties. Girls my age had voluptuous bodies. My breasts had refused to show up. My buttocks were also equally flat. I wore glasses. And braces. I had round chipmunk cheeks. I was one of the shortest people in the class.
Kids were at the age where they bully. My school was no exception. Some desi kids like me who did not fit in were told ‘You stink’ to our faces. Some would express reluctance to sit next to us. While walking home, there was this once particularly big guy from a senior grade who would scream at me every day, ‘You are UGLY!!!’ just in case I had forgotten.
For the first time in life I felt what it feels like to feel inferior. In every way. I felt like I was at the absolute lowest strata of society. Being popular, being liked by the opposite sex, getting proposals on Valentine’s Day could only be a dream. I would be grateful if the day passed without any major humiliation.
Is this how Champa felt..?
I became quiet. I was still a very good student. Being intelligent was my pride. The few people who got to know me said I was a ‘very nice girl’. I had few friends. But they would all vouch for me.
Another few years passed. I was back in India. I blossomed late. But I finally blossomed. I looked much better in college and in my 20’s. I was now on the better-looking side. This ‘above average’ spectrum had its own set of issues. Women felt jealous and made mean comments, totally unwarranted. Random people thought that if a girl is into her looks and puts on makeup it means she is dumb and shallow. I got attention from boys who were not at all serious and I had to deal with their obnoxious attitude at feeling rejected. Some people found me arrogant when it fact I was just an introvert.
Was this still better than being on the other side of beauty…?
I have been on different sides of ‘beauty’ at different phases of life. Here are my thoughts:
Beauty is never isolated. It is not just about the shape of your eyes or the symmetry of your face. It is about what is considered acceptable. It is a combination of other related factors such as social, financial, racial privileges. Someone who has features from another part of the world may be different therefore considered not good looking. People who have more money have access to fashion and cosmetology and end up looking the best possible versions of themselves.
When you HATE what you see in the mirror, nothing else matters much. Most of the times you do not see what is truly there, but what others have told you about yourself. You see your insecurities. For someone it is a big nose. For someone it could a dark skin-tone. For someone it is the weight. And it takes years, and years to become comfortable with it. I used to pray regularly as a child, having studied in a convent school. The last wish in my prayers (after well-being and health of parents and sibling) was ‘God, please make me pretty!’ Like most kids, my prayer was memorized. Even today, at 31, when I am distressed and start praying, this ‘wish’ repeats in my mind involuntarily in the sequence.
When a lot of people find many different ways of telling you that you do not look good, you give up on your looks completely. You deliberately decide not to put in any effort. Loose clothes, pony tail, no make-up- Beauty becomes a game one that we choose not to play. You cannot lose when you are not playing, can you?
Champa’s face haunts me still
We may have been treated badly. But that is no excuse for how we treat others. A lesson I learnt from Champa. A lesson I would like to convey to young people. Hang in there. There are people who will see you for your inner beauty. But first you need to see it. Be kind to others. And yourself. The people we like to talk to, hold on to ultimately are the ones who are pleasant and positive. We also need to become that person first.
A happy face looks beautiful and is a culmination of peace with self and others.
This article has been written for a contest organized by Women’s Web for the Naturals Salon.
I believe every woman has TRUE BEAUTY within her in all the roles she plays. For over 18 years across 650 plus salons across the country, Naturals has been helping the Beautiful Indian Woman get more Beautiful.
Today Naturals Salutes the Beautiful Indian Woman.
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