Meena watched the other models as they were getting ready for the Sascha Rodrick´s Autumn Winter show. Technically, they were flawless. Luscious flowing locks, dew kissed skin, full pouty lips, starry eyes and chiseled bodies. Yet, she didn´t envy any of them!
Meena grew up insecure among a bevy of beauties in her household. She stood out like a sore thumb looking like a black sheep amongst them. She was often teased for her skin colour.
“Are you sure that you are not adopted?”
Her nicknames ranged from ´Kali´ to ´Blacky´. Apparently her loved ones thought it´d toughen her up. But, it made her perennially conscious of it.
“Mummy when I grow up, will I turn white?”
Her mother tried reassuring her so many times.
“You look perfect and your tan skin is beautiful.”
“You´re just saying it because you are my mother.”
“Ugly pups make beautiful dogs!”
Meena was seeking an assurance from the people around her, barring her mother, of course! For a long time, she felt that she wasn´t beautiful. She wasn´t fair skinned which was the primary trait for being considered beautiful in India. She was never the popular girl among the boys. In fact, they made fun of her which hurt big time.
Her mother was right. Somewhere along adolescence, things started to change. She was undergoing a surreal physical transformation. People around her started to look at her differently. In fact, she was making heads turn and fetching compliments. However, she still didn´t consider herself to be extraordinary looking. At 14 years, it is rare for a girl to look in the mirror and feel comfortable in her skin.
College life was completely different from her convent school. It was a happening place where the peer pressure was at its peak- to look hot, sexy, be popular and have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Meena found herself at the centre of all attraction. Especially Sunil´s! Now, Sunil was an unassuming looking boy. But he was the stark opposite of his short and skinny stature. He was an aggressive bully and the unofficial class leader. He was attracted to Meena like the rest of the boys. Being an introvert, Meena kept to herself mostly. It was Sunil who made the first move and not before long, the two became the college´s ÍT´couple. In the beginning, Meena was floored by all the love and attention that she was getting from Sunil. He pampered and catered to her every whim and fancy. He was a very attentive and loving boyfriend who loved to flaunt her at every given occasion.
But a year down the line, Meena started to miss her independent life. She felt that the relationship was weighing on her dreams and goals. In stark contrast, Sunil was charting a long-term relationship course for them. Meena wanted nothing more than to get out of the relationship at the earliest. Considering her tall and slender frame, she was contemplating between the options of becoming an air-hostess or model. She wanted to be earn a lot of money, travel and and live the good life. A serious relationship was not a priority at this point of time. Her liberal parents were supportive of her dreams and were relieved to learn that she was planning to cut ties with Sunil. A relationship that they never approved of in the first place.
She confronted Sunil and told him that she was breaking up with him. Needless to add, her decision came like a thundering bolt to him. He didn´t know what he did wrong. Even when Meena insisted that her decision had nothing to do with him but more to do with her own priorities and goals in life, he was adamant on giving their relationship a second chance. But, Meena was firm about her stance.
Sunil was shattered. Coming to class and watching Meena from a far distance killed him. The whole class had known of their break-up by now. Many were shocked at the flimsy reason for their breakup. Meena needed to figure herself out before committing to any relationship. She learnt it the hard way but was glad that she finally got it off her chest. She sat next to another boy, Raghav in the class and the tongues started wagging even more. All this irked Sunil to no end.
He started making desperate phone-calls to Meena pleading with her to rethink her decision. From patiently answering each of his calls and messages to finally ignoring and blocking him, Meena was at cross-roads how to handle Sunil. Things started to take a downturn when Sunil made a class-presentation as part of the English subject assignment. He made up a fictional story, which in fact was a sob story about their love-affair. By the end of the session, Meena was tainted as the opportunistic lover who used the sentiments of a sincere lover. Except for Raghav, the rest of the class shunned her completely.
Meena took it in her stride thinking that there were just a few more months for college to get over. And, this nightmare would be behind her. Besides, she had Raghav for company. Sunil was still pursuing her hard. One day, he approached her during the lunch break. Before Meena could excuse herself and walk away from him, he held her hand tight and whispered in her ear.
“Sunil! My decision has nothing to do with you. I am not sure if I want to be in a relationship in the first place. Please let go and let us both move on from here.”
Sunil stared hard at her and clenched his teeth before taking the mobile phone out of his pocket. He played a video of an intimate moment shared between them in his car. However, Sunil´s face could not be seen while she was in clear sight.
“Meena! Don´t provoke me to do things that I don´t want to.”
“Are you black-mailing me?”
His expression said it all.
“I have more of these videos, Meena. I´ll give you three days time to change your mind.”
“How dare you film these without my consent?”
“Just as you dared to break up from our relationship without my consent!” he said and walked away.
Sunil betrayed her trust and there was no way that Meena was going back to him after watching that video. Three days later, everyone had seen the sex video. She felt raped with their knowing glances and judgemental remarks. Of course, no one knew that the boy that she was making love to was Sunil. The slut-shaming began and was increasing in momentum by the day.
Her parents were aware of the viral video and reported about Sunil´s harassment to the school authorities. But without valid proof of Sunil´s involvement in the video leak, they couldn´t do much. While this was a consensual relationship between Meena and Sunil, her parents knew that this messy situation was all of Sunil´s undoing for which Meena was paying the costly price. They had her back through these trying times.
The harassment didn´t stop there. Every week, Sunil circulated a new video that showed Meena in another compromising position. The more Meena was adamantly stuck to her decision, the more aggressive Sunil became in his efforts to malign her.
During the last week of college, Meena was walking back home when she was whisked into a car by two masked men. They tied her hands behind and drove to a secluded spot. One of the men gave her a menacing look and said:
“Let´s see if your ambitions of becoming a model or air-hostess come true now.”
While one guy held her by the hair, the other took a bottle from his pocket and splashed its contents all over face and body. She screamed in agony but there was no escape. They pushed her on the ground and started spitting and hitting her with their heavy boots. Beaten to a pulp, she was left bleeding on the ground before the car sped away.
A lot had changed since the last two years. After the news of her acid-attack became a heated nation-wide debate, Meena learnt more about countless victims like her. There was Shylaja whose frustrated husband poured acid on her face and vagina because of her inability to bear male offsprings. Or Kavita who was raped and died subsequently after an acid attack for refusing a married man´s overtures. It was Sunil´s vendetta to destroy her life and dreams. Even though it was tough to prove Sunil´s role in the acid-attack, she was relentless in finding a legal closure and putting him behind the bars.
Meena was jolted back to the present by Ashley Pereira, noted hair and makeup artist, as he did the final touches on her.
“You look amazing!”
For the first time, Meena loved her reflection in the mirror. She touched her scarred face, reconstructed to some form thanks to cosmetic surgery. It glowed with strength, courage, resilience and dignity. Her scars were her jewels that she sported with pride.
Meena walked onto the ramp for the very first time as the show-stopper with her head held high and dreams alive.
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