DILEMMA OF A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN


…and you see the small wrinkles

under your lashes smudged
with mascara you never get off,
and you make a terrible smile
watching them deepen and lengthen
like thin lines raked in the sand
of a perfect Japanese garden;

you feel everything
being eaten from its surface.

(Shirley Kaufman 1973)

Last night I had a nightmare. Nothing very unusual in that but only that it made me wake up with a start, my heart racing and my skin all clammy. I dreamt that an ugly wart had appeared on my face. I applied all the vanishing creams and skin bleaches one by one, even using a local ‘ubtan’ paste as a last resort but the mole just kept on getting bigger and darker until it finally exploded leaving behind sallow skin in its wake, pockmarked with craters the texture of which would be envied by the moon…

You laugh do you and say that’s nothing in the least like a nightmare? Well, I think that’s more than understandable. What can that possibly mean to you dear readers…you who have never known what it is like to be coveted, many of you who in all possibility will never understand the true meaning of the thrill I now get from the staring eyes around me as I step out of a shiny car, my high heeled shoes tick ticking smoothly on the edge of a sidewalk in one of the posh suburbs of the city, as I enter a shop and find the shopkeepers all attentive to my least query.

But I digress, the dream – well it would be too much to expect you to comprehend all this, after all I am the one who had that blemish on my face, even if in a dream. One single blemish and manifold consequences…

Still not clear? Let me explain. But first, let me introduce myself. I am everywhere. You won’t have to look far to find me. I am in your home, at your workplace, I walk down a street, ride in a bus, a rickshaw, drive a car, go on board a plane and all I feel are eyes, (sometimes hands too), at my back, front, all about me. They look at me and tell me all I need to know – I am desired therefore I must be beautiful. Of course, I also happen to be a woman and yes, God made me attractive – to man. I am as yet a face, a body, and an unexplored mind. Anything else is yet to be found if ever considered important enough that is.

Still I go further away from my original intent, which was to tell you my dream. Well after that mole had exploded and my skin was damaged, I was taken to a doctor by my ever-anxious mother who had been acting for quite some time like the proverbial Mrs Bennet. Whoever would marry me in this state she worried and fussed. The dermatologist prescribed another set of creams and so began the same process all over again. I have to say they worked superbly in filing up my craters but by now I was as dark as the brown mud mask I had been using to improve my skin! Something more to worry about for my mother…

Reminds one of the advertisements in the newspapers doesn’t it? The girl (woe on you if you say woman – the younger the better!), had better be domesticated, tall, fair (in some cases ‘very white’), and of course beautiful. On the same note, has anyone ever seen an ugly airhostess, waitress, customer’s representative? Or it may be as someone once said that there are no ugly women, only those who do not know how to look good. Little wonder then that the Miss World competition has rapidly gained popularity since when it first started in 1951.

I’m rambling again. The dream – no, it’s not over yet so stop rolling your eyes. I will prove that it was truly a nightmare. Where was I? Yes. My dark complexion. Well my poor mother failed to get me married off till I was over 30 years old. When she had given up all hope she decided to consult a ‘Pir’. Heaven knows what the Pir jee gave me to eat apart from the amulet he so lovingly strapped on my arm, but suddenly I became beautiful – fair, green eyed with long shining golden hair – my mother was overjoyed! I would surely be ‘picked up’ now! And believe me I was! On the streets, while out shopping, at the beautician’s, everywhere I went heads turned and phone numbers were exchanged even before I could ever say ‘I do’. And here comes the part, which troubled me the most in the dream, the fact that apart from beauty I had also acquired some opinions. Some thoughts, which whispered continuously in my ear and told me I could be great, I need not marry and spend my life slaving in a kitchen, or as a rich man’s wife whiling away my time – in short being great all by myself. Why limit my charms to one alone when I could be desired by so many. The power had truly gone to my head you see. Then when I just thought I had it all I looked in the mirror and the mask cracked. I saw a middle-aged woman looking back at me, dark, sallow and slightly wrinkled…and that’s when I woke up.

If a dream could ever change one’s life perspective, for me I’d say this is it. No matter if you give me the girl-next-door status and stare at me through the windows or as I sit outside on the balcony, if you pinch me as I work in your house as your maid because I dare not tell, if you stare at me – the sultry model atop a billboard, or even if you send half resentful looks at me as I come out from a multinational dressed in a suit and tie complete with freshly manicured nails. Whoever I am and wherever I am, I’m at a crossroad. My body is drawn to one, the pathway of eyes, at the end of which lies a cosy house swathed in warm sunshine, while my curiosity leads me to the other, free from eyes but with no end in sight.

Ah well…after all it was only a dream…and maybe time is all that is needed to solve this dilemma – the dilemma of a beautiful woman.

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