IN SEARCH OF LOST BEAUTY
IN SEARCH OF LOST BEAUTY
Sitting by the window my eyes were glued to the scenery that was moving in the opposite direction, with a velocity same as ours. Isn’t that how the universe works? You have to match the pace or else you will be non-existent. I could hear the loud noise coming from the forceful yet smooth interaction between the tracks and our train. And the loud chattering, laughter, and yelling in the coach next to ours made the environment even more lively and a little too comfortable. Maybe the little kid inside of me missed these chaotic train journeys too much. Flying on a plane is peaceful, but these train journeys carry the most beautiful memories of our childhood. I looked around and realized half of my team was already fast asleep and the other half were working on their assignments. “Ma’am can you please go through this draft once?”, my assistant Kumar said. I nodded and took his laptop from him. The title read- ‘In search of the Lost Beauty’.
Human nature has its own flaws, but the most frightening flaw in us is hypocrisy. Our power of manipulating the facts, the stories as per our own need. And that is what I was going to do for the next few weeks, and that is what my team will be doing on our new assignment. The only difference between me and them is, they are not afraid of being caught but I am. I am frightened to the core that after this assignment whenever I look at myself in the mirror, my reflection is going to mock me for being a coward, for being a servant of what people like is what you serve.
“Ma’am! Are you tired? You can finalize it tomorrow morning if you are tired.”, I heard Kumar say. “You go and sleep, I’ll give it a thorough read and then take rest.”, I replied and he left. One by one they all switched off their laptops and dozed off, leaving me alone with myself in a pitch-black coach of a train. I was not able to get over the title which was very intentionally typed in bold and underlined to make it stand out. The title is the most important thing, isn’t it? “Just like being beautiful is for girls.”, I heard her voice. The voice I was afraid I might hear again. I looked around knowing she can’t be here, but hypocrisy runs in my veins. I tried to ignore the voice and focus on the draft in front of me.
I was trying to read the draft when the letters started their own play. My eyes were the size of a saucer. To say that I was scared and confused would be an understatement. I was petrified. And the dance of the letters ended in forming the face I was still not ready to see again. She was smiling as she used to when we ran in the open fields hand in hand. Her face moved. The side profile was now facing me. Her eyes staring deep into my soul. I should have closed the laptop but I couldn’t. I didn’t even try. Maybe I wanted to look at her face again. “Read!”, she said. “huh?”, came the voice from my mouth. “Read!”, she repeated herself. I came closer to the screen and the letters forming her face, now started to form words and sentences too. ‘You are not the girl I knew’, read the first line. ‘OH! What a coward’, said the second. As I kept reading, my insecurities were attacked again and again and again.
“Why are you back?”, she asked. “You know why I am here. Don’t you!”, I don’t know why I was angry but I could feel the anger rising inside of me. “Still can’t handle your insecurities? What can I even expect.”, she mocked. She was beautiful, even when she was her sarcastic self, she was beautiful. But this beauty was what became the biggest curse to her. She wasn’t the sleek legs, thin figure, fair skin and long hair beautiful. She was chubby cheeks, beautiful eyes, an open heart and a caring kind of beautiful. The beautiful we don’t understand, because we can’t see it in the very first meeting.
She was the beauty we don’t deserve. I looked at the screen and she was gone. The draft was again there in front of me and I looked at the headings under which our contestants would be marked in the first round. It said- ‘waist size’, ‘jawline’, ‘fairness scale’, ‘clean skin’, ‘walk’, ‘cheekbones’ and ‘proportionate body’. “I still would fail in the first round? Wouldn’t I?”, I heard her voice again. I closed the laptop shut and there she was sitting right in front of me. “It doesn’t matter. These shows are all scripted. They can’t define your beauty.”, I replied. “When will you stop being a hypocrite?”, I could hear the hurt in her voice. “You are a bigger hypocrite than me.”, I said. I was waiting to say this to her, I waited so long. She smiled and looked down. She very well knew what I was talking about. “Why did you do that? Why did you leave me?”, I asked. I could feel the tears forming in my eyes. “Didn’t you hear what they said? I was a walking disaster. I didn’t deserve to live.”, she said still not able to look into my eyes. “You don’t kill yourself just because people can’t see your worth.
You fight, you keep fighting.”, I was shouting now. Scolding her like I always wanted to. “Where were you when I needed you the most? Where were you when I needed my best friend right by my side?”, she yelled back. “I was out there fighting for you! I was out there studying to be who I am today and stand for you.”, I was crying now. She laughed. “Take stand for me?”, she asked pointing at the laptop. “You are back to make another innocent girl feel like she doesn’t deserve to feel beautiful because she can’t match your standards of beauty.”, her words stabbed me straight in the heart. I was at a loss for words. “You remember that beauty pageant. Don’t you?”, she asked.
I remember I remember everything. I remember how we saw the poster of her favourite beauty show at one tea stall, I remember giving her a 1rupee coin to call at that number and get herself registered for the audition, I remember how I took my brother’s phone in exchange of doing his homework to click her pictures, I remember how we waited for her chance on the day of the audition and I remember seeing her run out of the audition room crying. I remember it all. I ran after her that day, stayed by her side day and night. Weeks went by and it seemed she was over that incident. But I wasn’t. I knew how beautiful my friend was and I wanted to show them how wrong it was on their side to measure someone’s beauty by their standards. Soon I left for the city to study. It wasn’t even a week when my mom called and she was crying. My brother was waiting outside my dorm to take me back home.
Take me back home to my dead best friend. As soon as our train reached the station, I remember running all the way to her house and finding her body wrapped in a white cloth. I remember breaking down, I remember being angry at her and still begging her to come back. It took me years to get over the shock but I was still not over the loss. I never worked with the channels conducting beauty and dating shows. I was too scared to meet her there again and not able to save her life again. This was the first time I was going to make a show that had anything to do with beauty standards. And my ill fate was that I was going to shoot the show in my hometown. The place which already lost their daughter to one such show.
“You still have it? Right.”, she asked. I opened my bag and took the paper out of my diary. “I will never lose it.”, I said. “Read it again. I didn’t give this to you to keep it safe, I gave it to keep your principles on track.”, she said sternly. With trembling hands, I opened it. The last poem my best friend gave me before I left for the city.
Beauty is a word so serene,
With a meaning deeper than what we perceive.
beauty brings joy to the heart,
but if you play it wrong it can be a scary scar.
Don’t find beauty in long sleek legs,
Or the jawlines that suit your eyes the best.
Find the beauty that is lost,
The beauty of pure heart and caring souls.
“You kept my words close to you but you forgot their meaning.”, she said. I looked at her, we both had tears in our eyes. “I am sorry I let the world manipulate me.”, I said. “I am sorry too, I gave up on myself, on us, too soon. But don’t kill another soul.”, she said. I saw her smile and then she started to fade away.
“Ma’am? We are almost there.”, I heard a voice. “Ma’am we need to start packing, the station is almost here.”, it was Kumar’s voice. She was already gone; the coach of the train was a little too dark for my liking. I clutched my eyes close and opened them again to get blinded by bright light. I flinched. I saw Kumar and others packing their stuff in hurry. The laptop was kept at my side closed. “Ma’am should I mail the draft to the chief?”, Kumar asked. “No, we are changing the headings. We will make a new draft.”, I said and all of them stopped and looked at me confused and scared. “Changing the headings at the last moment? It would create a lot of chaos.”, Kumar said and others nodded. “Call the head and inform him the show will be delayed and we will stay here a little longer.”, I told Kumar. I could feel my team’s disappointment. “We can’t measure someone’s beauty based on our standards. We will make a show where we will not ask the contestants to adapt to our beauty standards but our standards will adapt to their nature of beauty.”, I told them my new idea.
Some agreed to it right away, some were a bit dicey and others were against trying something new. But at the moment I didn’t care of being labelled as someone who was thinking different, I didn’t care that I might get kicked out of the show if they reject my draft. All I cared about was being right in my own eyes.
We reached the station and we went to the hotel. My team was still busy debating on the new idea and I was busy making the new draft. ‘In Search of the Lost Beauty’- said the title, but there were no parameters and no headings beneath it. we decided to let everyone audition and show their talent, their charity work, and the image they hold in their neighborhood, and then pick a few stories we would like to show to the world. Our show will not be a competition but just a window for the viewers to see the beauty that lies beyond the outer appearance.
“Kumar!”, I called. “Yes ma’am.”, he came running. “Go downstairs and get me the trophy we brought with us. We don’t need it anymore.”, I said. He seemed confused but he went and brought it. “Tell the team we left the trophy on the train.”, I said and took the trophy from him. He never asked why and left. After mailing the new draft I told my team I was going out for a walk and left for a peaceful walk in the lanes holding the most beautiful memories of my life. It was the first time I was coming back after my parents started living in the city 4 years back. A lot had changed. I passed by the tea stall and her smiling face again filled up my thoughts. This time I smiled too.
I reached the cemetery. After searching for a while, I finally found it. There it was. The place where my best friend’s last remains were. The stone read, Alisha Johnson (1990-2007). I took the trophy out of my bag and kept it next to the stone. “This is yours. You were, are and will always be the most beautiful girl to me.”, I said and sat there for a while reminiscing the time I was scared to remember for so long. And just like that my journey came to an end with a long chat with my best friend after so long.