The powder on the face felt cakey. The cameraman hadn’t given enough time, Devi thought to herself. They used to make better powders when I was a kid.
Devi’s younger days were chirpy. She was always on her toes. Wherever she went she sang melodies and tapped a feet to the beat. Her floral print skirts were a rage in the small town of Chitradurga. Devi’s father owned the only grocery store in the village. Her mother, “Amma “, sat at the back of the store cleaning pulses and grains. She had no siblings although she yearned for one, at least just a year younger than her. But life went on as usual.
She remembered the day vividly. She was going along with Amma to the town fair. Amma gripped her hand. Devi was worried about the bangles breaking, but Amma’s grip gave way to a larger fear. As the young men’s pace caught up with them, Amma’s grip tightened.
The return home was quicker. In the light of dusk, Amma rummaged through the suitcase and brought out something that was like a saree, a little shorter in length. Devi’s movements around the town were more restricted. She never knew why? Amma removed the mirrors from the walls. Devi engaged herself by talking to the walls as if they were here confidants. She could not understand why Amma would not allow her outside. She sewed, cleaned, cooked. Her days very predictable, and boring.
Days grew into months, and Devi could see herself grow. Appa passed away in sleep one night. It was a shock for Amma, who suddenly aged faster. She took on the responsibilities like a man takes a plough. She managed the groceries at store, and Devi the home. Life was a plateau of the usual.
Manikandan was from a nearby village. His family owned lands, but Mani went away to the city to earn a few more coins. He was good looking, and took the coffee from Devi’s hands without a flinch.
“She is beautiful” claimed the old lady near the door. “What a flawless complexion.”
Devi walked back into the kitchen. The wedding over, she climbed onto the state bus with a heavy heart. Who doesn’t feel the pain when waving to parents, even if the new home is just a street away?
Life moved on with the usual humdrum. Devi and Mani moved into a one room house in the city. Cooking cleaning kept her occupied. She never moved out alone, Mani was always with her as Amma was before.
It was a Saturday; Mani’s superior at the agency came home to drop him.
“My wife, Devi” said Mani. “Say hello...” he turned towards her.
Sir broke the silence “I say she would be a perfect face for Tulasi soap, Mani “
Devi lifted her face for the first time.
“Devi, some coffee for us”.
The next day, Devi and Mani went to the studio. As Mani left her hand to go behind the camera, Devi looked straight into the black glass.
“Smile”. Popp went the lights. Devi closed her serene eyes, enjoying the moment. Her face was a cameraman’s delight. Something about her eyes which were capturing and an infectious smile so captivating.
Magazines, papers, products she was everywhere. She smiled into the camera, as if it never existed. Some said she was Mona Lisa of Hyderabad; some revered her like the real Devi.
She seemed unaffected by the adulation and went on with life as usual as before.
It was a tiring day and Devi rested her back on the chair. She bit her lips to bear the pain that was searing through her.
Mani…………….she thought before she fell asleep.
Devi woke up to a humdrum of activity around her. The lights on the camera suddenly seemed above her. It took her a while to realise she was lying on a table.
“Devi you have a beautiful baby girl. She looks just like you.” – the doctor’s voice boomed.
Mani brought the bundle of joy to her.
“A reporter is here to take your photograph with the baby.”
Pop, click went the camera. The new born slept undisturbed in her mother’s arms.
“Very beautiful photograph madam, the baby is very beautiful.” – The reporter said as he was leaving.
The powder on the face felt cakey. The cameraman hadn’t given enough time, Devi thought to herself.
The silence of the room was broken by the drum of the fan. Mani and Devi held on to their bundle of joy. Devi turned towards Mani and spoke softly, only into his ears.
“In all my years on this earth, I have never felt this joy in my heart. Frankly not even at the time of the marriage. Mani, I am so happy and excited today. Holding on to her I feel I have achieved something big. “
She hugged the baby closer. Moments passed, a tear rolled down those cakey cheeks.
“I feel like tearing this black screen in front of my eyes. Really Mani, I have never missed my vision in all these years as I am missing them today.”
As the tears rolled on faster, Mani wheeled his chair closer to her. The three held on to their creation. Life today didn’t seem usual.