She walks in beauty. I noticed her at the Lakme Fashion Week and wondered how I could have forgotten she was going to be there. She has the characteristic stride of someone who has been doing this a while. I loved the way she held a pose and whipped around to walk back. But something had changed.
I loved a lot of things about her. I loved the way she swung her shoulders back confidently and sashayed down. I loved the expression in her light eyes because they were completely open and honest. Most of all, I loved the innocence in her face because I knew it was genuine.
I used to know her a long time ago. In a way, she and I kind of grew up together. Our fathers worked in the same place and they were close friends. So it was natural that I meet her at the occasional office party.
When we were younger, I would wonder about this light skinned girl who was always lost in her happy little world. A pampered spoilt child slightly older than i was, she was treated well at home even if the world took liberties with her. Her semi foreign lineage, white skin and frail figure got her noticed and college and at the grand old age of 17, she was a ramp model. With her globetrotting and mine, I hadn’t seen her for about ten years by then,
The next time I met her, I was a struggling junior journalist and she was trying to get a foothold in the industry. I was to interview her. She recognized me immediately and we got chatting. I remember her telling me that her becoming a model was one way of telling all the people who tormented her to take a hike. Why would people torment her? She was quiet, she was naïve and she wasn’t the bright spark in the class. Peers can be cruel. For them, she was just someone to tease all day, never realizing that the sheltered girl was sensitive and often went home in tears. Was she angry with them? Oh no. They were nice. She just didn’t understand the jokes and was scared of them.
I had a grudging respect for her. Although she wasn’t the best looker, she had managed a glamorous career. She was nowhere near famous but she had managed to stabilize herself in this fickle industry. She didn’t sleep her way to the top and the sudden fame and money had nothing to change her. As the token ugly ducking everywhere, I was in awe and just a bit of envy. But as the years went by, we lost touch again.
I was invited to her wedding but I didn’t go. I wasn’t in the country at the time. My folks were away too. She was marrying this foreign academician and was to have a lovely future. She was to move back into the country of her mother and start anew there. She was to be very happy.
A few months ago, I heard from the radar that she was back. Divorced and with a kid. Her husband has beaten her up repeatedly. I longed to call her and ask her how she was. But it had been 6 years since we’d spoken. I wasn’t sure if she’s recognize me if I passed her on the street. I was right. She didn’t.
I was standing outside the NCPA hall when she passed me. In full make up, she was obviously on her way somewhere. She swept up the stairs and bumped right into me. For one minute, she looked at me and I saw the spark of a sudden familiarity in her face. The I realised what had changed. The innocent had lost its openness, its warmth. They had acquired a hard steely quality which can only be described as ruthless. We stared at each other for a minute and then someone yelled out to her. She was due for hair. She apologized for bumping and went by. That well of innocence that had been inside that child was lost.
I saw her again that evening. She was walking the ramp for a famous designer. I thought about the guts that it has taken this fundamentally shy and naïve child to abandon a brutal husband and move back home with a child. Into a society that already judges her because she’s a model, that judges her because she’s divorced, that tormented her as a child. I saw her put away her hopes and dreams and start life anew. I saw her go home to her baby after a show and not stay to party with her fellow models. I saw all of those sacrifices.
As she walked, shoulders squared, pelvis pushed out, looking more beautiful than I have ever seen her, she looked straight in front. She held a pose, whipped around and strode back into the wings.
The child is gone.