Aastha Atray Banan
Author of His Monsoon Bride and Games Girls Play
"I have a new pet name for you," he said, one evening, as I stood in front of the mirror, fidgeting with my bra strap. "Ya?" I said, looking at the roll of fat around my belly, and the dark circles around my eyes that had come from staying awake till too late. "Podgy," he smiled, and then laughed when he saw my horrified reaction. "What! It's cute, and it suits you," he laughed. "You can't call me 'Podgy'. It's not even a cute name—it makes me feel like I'm a pig. Nooo!" I wailed. "But I like podgy girls...so you're 'Podgy'," he growled into my ear, turning me on with just his touch. But I wasn't going to be okay with this name. I spent hours dressing up for him, doing my hair, smelling good...even buying pretty underwear. Sure, I was a little plump—but podgy. No way. This was depressing me. "You are not calling me 'Podgy'. It makes me feel ugly," I said, as I turned on my side, a tear rolling down my face. And then, he hugged me from behind, his hand going around my muffin top, cupping it with his fingers. "It is affection. It's love. Your body is beautiful to me. What would I do if you were like other girls, and didn't eat pizza with me? Or share my whiskey and Coke? And your dark circles—they're proof that you love me. Because, after, a long day, you still sit and talk to me... Your body, your face, are a testament to who you are, my lover," he said, as he snuggled closer in. And then, he dug his fingers deeper in my flesh and said, "So cute...my little 'Podgy'." I smiled falling into his arms and then mock-scowled, "Only you can say that." And then he said, "Because you're mine. All mine. That's why only I can say it." Finally, 'Podgy' was happy.
Lom Harshni Chauhan
Author of Visa, Stickers, and Other Matters Of The Soul
"You're very beautiful, you know," he said, this near stranger.
His voice, soft, was close to her ear as he pulled her in towards him for the first half of a bouncy, swing-dance step.
He wasn't her husband, or even a close friend. And, despite her being momentarily in his arms at that time, these weren't words of flirtation from a suitor either. Just a near stranger she'd known a scarce day at a dance festival, a fellow dancer with whom she'd shared a few dances and a lot of effortless conversation.
She was no raving beauty, but neither did she consider herself at the other end of the spectrum. The India of her childhood, however, was uncomfortable acknowledging beauty, and it was no wonder her budding sense of beauty had gathered close to its bosom (a need to deny) its existence—often in the guise of humility and modesty, virtues of much social value for girls. Unsure about how to take compliments, she'd spent more energy effacing her personality instead of exploring what she had. It was only recently that she'd started feeling comfortable with herself, without needing modesty to lean on.
Oh, she'd received compliments before, been in love and, sometimes, even been loved back. Yet, as she moved away from that near stranger in the outward momentum of the second half of the swing-out, it struck her that she had, possibly, never been called 'beautiful'. His expression conveyed an honesty that made her believe that the words were a projection of his thoughts. At that moment, at least, he did find her beautiful.
His words reached out to her recently-discovered confidence. Her inner world and outer environment came together in perfect harmony, and even though there were plenty of women around who dazzled brighter than her, at that moment—she felt beautiful—independent of the brightness shining around her. She smiled and said, simply, "Thank you".
Author of Leaving Home With Half A Fridge
It was a tiny office, six foot by six foot. The light came in through a slit in the wall, thinner than a cheese slice. She sat there, surrounded by files, perfectly ordinary, till she lifted her face. Even in that dim light, her beauty decoded God and tempted man.
The office stored land records, which hadn't been computerised. Age-old documents, crumbled at a touch, the inky signatures barely legible. Very few people came here, for very few disputes required clarification from another century.
This was her first job. Her mother, frightened by her beauty, had sent her away to a boarding school run by nuns. They looked at her, and sighed piously. They told themselves they had no choice when they locked her up for 12, long years.
One day, she woke up, and she was too old for school. They found her this job, and hoped she would age like the files, without getting into trouble. She almost did, but her boss walked in on her, looking up at the clock. It was the first time he had seen her face, and, predictably, he wanted to sleep with her.
That night, at the nunnery, where she still slept, she took a knife and carved her cheek. It was like the slicing of a plum, a sharp piercing, and then an easy slide. The blood felt strangely cold, and ran down her jaw, over her neck, staining her bra. Only the nuns screamed, she kept quiet as six stitches sutured the smile on her cheek.
Her boss walked in the next day. Cheap perfume clouds and an elastic leer danced off him. He saw her and froze. He couldn't understand, for the life of him, why he had found this scar-faced, meek, clerk attractive.
He left in a hurry. She smiled, she was safe now. Her beauty couldn't hurt her anymore.
Author of What Lies Between Us
As a younger woman, she sported pixie cuts, asymmetric dos and various shags. She was bold. She made her mother shake her head over the hair she spilt. In her 40's, however, she unconsciously adopted a 'safe' hairstyle. As a brown woman this meant, of course, glossy, midnight hair that fell down her back.
One night, she looked in the mirror and suddenly (and desperately) wanted someone else to look back. The studios were closed, and she know she couldn't get an appointment for the next two weeks, anyway. She didn't feel like spending `1,500 on a cut. It felt unfair that her husband could get a `50 haircut, but that, as a woman she'd have to spend significantly more.
Impulsively, she opened up Youtube and typed in, 'Cutting your own hair'. She found a video of a beautiful brown woman. The woman on the screen carefully combed her hair into a ponytail at the very front of her forehead. When she had a sheet of hair in front of her face, she picked up a pair of scissors and cut it cleanly across. When she released her hair, she had gorgeous layers falling around her face.
She wanted to know what it felt like to be that audacious. She combed her hair into a ponytail in front of her face. It fell down to her chest, thick as a stallion's tail. She breathed deeply to steady herself, and then picked up the scissors with her heart thudding in the cave of her ribs. Before she could stop herself, she started to work the scissors across the bottom of her hair. When she released the ponytail, it fell around her face and it looked...lovely! She had to repeat the process and chop her new bangs a bit more to create a prettier silhouette. She now had bangs, and she instantly loved it. The haircut made her eyes huge, it made her look younger. When her friends saw it, they loved it too. People were shocked that she did it herself. Over and over women kept saying, "I would never be able to do that. I'd be too scared. What if I messed up my hair?
She felt a little sad for every woman who said this, because her impulsive haircut reminded her of what her younger self knew—beauty has so much to do with playfulness, and the ability to craft a self. She was learning that, as in life, in beauty, the audacious are rewarded.
Author of Happy Birthday!, One & A Half Wife and The Trouble With Women*
Uncle tells me that he has two gifts for me: a pink doll and a red lollipop. But he will not give it to me until I sit on his lap.
I go and sit on Uncle's lap. I hug the doll, I stroke her hair and call her 'Mindy'. I unwrap the lollipop and put it in my mouth. Uncle pulls the red lollipop out of my mouth.
He rubs it on Mindy's cheeks. She doesn't say a thing. "Pretty girls always wear rouge," Uncle says. "Do you want to be a pretty girl?"
I look at Mindy with her red cheeks and tell Uncle, "I want to be a pretty girl!"
Uncle rubs my cheeks with the lollipop. "Do I look pretty now?" I ask Uncle. "Not pretty enough," he says.
Uncle rubs the lollipop on Mindy's lips. "Pretty girls always wear lipstick," he says. He looks at me. "Do you want to be a pretty girl?"
"I want be a pretty girl!" I say. Uncle rubs the lollipop on my lips. "Do I look pretty now?" I ask Uncle. Uncle shakes his head and says, "No! Not pretty enough," Uncle removes Mindy's frock. He rubs two dots on her chest. "Pretty girls have nipples. Do you want to be a pretty girl?" I don't say a thing. He removes my dress and rubs the lollipop on my chest. "Not pretty enough," Uncle says.
He parts Mindy's legs and pushes the lollipop between them. "I don't want to be a pretty girl," I tell Uncle. But no-one is home. n