Lipstick Under Her Burka
The scar on her broad nose is ugly. Her face too plain, had it not been for the long, straight hair that frames it. She never forgets to apply the dark red lipstick or the eye liner. Her short, stout frame doesn’t stop her from wearing the tightest of jeans and shortest of tops. The laugh lines make her look much older than she actually is.
To me, she is the worst possible manifestation of the ‘North Indian bimbo’. Crass, loud, plastic. In short, no taste to speak of. She’s a colleague I have to coordinate with on and off.
The years have taught me to not let personal misgivings and opinions get in the way of professional relations. If fact, I have become quite adept at hiding my ‘cultural snobbery’.
Moreover, Jaipur is not exactly the salaried person’s paradise. Most people take up a job more as a means to earn some extra ‘pocket money’ than to really make a career out of the education they received. The general attitude is laid back.and in some cases outright frustrating.
However, being a little more chatty and a little less stiff can usually get your work done. So far, this trick has worked well on ScarNose. Lately, she’s even started giving me an Eclair every morning! One of these days, a sustained network failure opened this window of workplace camaraderie a little wider. She accompanied me to the cafeteria to have an early lunch.
A few weeks back – a day after Eid to be precise – she’d brought an extremely delicious rendition of sewai, that she said was brought by her ‘friends’, the previous night. As she munched on a french fry, she casually told me she’s dating a guy, she doesn’t intend to marry.
Papa goli maar denge. Waise bhi, maine usse ek bar poocha shaadi ke baad mujhe burkha pehenne bologe kya? Usne haan bola, tabhi maine decide kar liya tha…
She tells me all of this very lightly, a hint of a smile playing around her lips. There’s no emotion attached. She takes her lover’s name frequently.
Ab to shaadi hone wali hai uski. Taalta reheta hai. Uske Mammi ko kisi Guru (she probably means a Maulvi) ne bola ki yeh zaroor kisi ladki ke saath ghum raha hai and usne ise kucch khila diya hai…
She laughs out loud when she says this. Never once does she stop munching on her French Fries. The disposable glass of brownie shake is half empty by now.
Aise religion ke alawa, kucch bhi issue nai hai. Good-looking hai. Bahut bada business hai…she trails off.
ScarNose hails from a well-known town a little over 2 hours away from Jaipur. Her Father is a Government employee and runs a (not so scrupulous) business in her hometown. Every weekend, she boards a local train dreaming of fat paranthas with safed makkahan made out of the buffalo milk. Her folks rear cattle at home. She has an elder, jobless brother living under the shadow of a dominating Father who wants him to get a Government Job. Her younger brother is still studying. She hardly ever speaks about her Mother. Probably because she’s just a mere presence relegated to the background.
As we head back to the office, she prattles on about her weight issues. I chuckle and marvel at my ‘small talk’ skills.
A day later, I am at the plex watching the movie of the moment. And I am constantly reminded of her. She has a secret life. She enjoys the little freedoms of that secret life. But is she empowered? Can she make a stand for herself? Can she come out of her burkha and show the world the color of her lipstick?
I look at her and so many others, whose stories I do not know. Dressed the exact same way, comfortable in their skin, leading double lives…
And then, I am reminded of the elderly (gentle?)man who thought it was his moral duty to ask me if I smoked at the kiosk I was purchasing cigarettes from. The readiness with which the shopkeeper joined in – with snide remarks – to ‘shame’ me.
And I am not quite sure anymore, if ‘symbolical empowerment’ is such a useless thing after all…