Shyam got up from the bed and rubbed his eyes. He took up the toothbrush from its holder and looked into the mirror. What stared back at him was a stocky and hairy mass of fat. He looked into its eyes for a few seconds, the brush waiting to touch his yellow teeth.
In office, his mind wandered back to his physique. Although he had shaved and got a haircut later that morning, he didn’t feel good. Yesterday he had overheard Nimmi and Himani going gaga over a film star’s packed abs and bulging biceps. What did he have in comparison? No one ever praised him, except the boss when there was work to be done, or when the appraisals were done and dusted and he wasn’t given the increment his year-long efforts deserved. Why?
That weekend, Shyam caught the train to his hometown to meet his parents. His mother had cooked his favourite Bhindi Masala for him. Many marriage proposals were coming for him but he wasn’t in any hurry.
“Beta, why are you rejecting every proposal? Mahender ji’s daughter is well-read, fair and tall. She knows you from your school days. What’s the matter? Girlfriend hai kya koi? (Do you have an girlfriend?)” His mother asked between morsels of food.
“No, mum. It’s not like that.”
“Then? Are you gay?”
“Mum!” Shyam looked at her, offended she even thought so.
His mother laughed mirthlessly. “Relax, son. Tell me what’s the problem?”
“I am concerned about my body image, mum. Despite my best intentions, people don’t look at me the way I expect them to – with admiration. I mean they do admire me for my work but I want to be noticed for my looks too.”
“You are handsome, son. I love you.”
“Of course you do, mum. And I love you too. But I’m talking in general terms, not about us.”
“Get married, and you’ll get all the love and admiration you want,” she said naughtily.
“Bah! The panacea to all ills – Marriage! I don’t want my wife to admire me just because I’m her hubby. As a person too, I want that admiration.”
“And what do you think you should do to get that admiration?”
“Don’t know, ma. I tried gym once but that’s not my thing.”
“You see, son. This skin is an illusion. What matters is how you are as a person, what you have in your heart for others. An attractive face with a dark heart will always be poorer than a beautiful heart. That’s what matters in the long run. And you have that beauty inside you.”
Shyam felt slightly better hearing his mother say that but it still didn’t do anything to improve his self-appraisal.
Enter Beena! Beena who? Beena i.e. Mahendraji’s daughter. She was Shyam’s schoolmate. The two bumped into each other at the local market next morning. Shyam was feeling awkward but if Beena was feeling so too, she didn’t show it. In fact, she looked ecstatic.
“Well, well. Mr. Manager himself,” she ribbed, referring to his designation.
“How are you, Beena?” Shyam asked, then noticed her.
“I’m good. Trying to deal with the rejection of my proposal.”
“Um, err..,” Her reputation for blunt talk hadn’t prepared him for this. He was finding it hard to avoid staring at her. Gone was the school’s Hidimba (a fat demoness from the Mahabharata). She was transformed. He cursed himself for rejecting her without asking his parents for her photo.
“Something the problem, sir? Any female friends in the city who are waiting on you for the saat pheras (marriage vows)?”
He noticed her slender waist and strong forearms, plus the redistribution of her body mass in the right places. “It’s not like that. I actually don’t want to marry at this time.”
“At this time? You’re 30, for God’s sake, not 20. What’s the right time for you?”
“Forget about me, what about you? What’ve you been up to? It’s been what, 12 years since we last talked?”
She sighed audibly,”How time flies!”
“Yeah. Tell me, how did all this transformation come about?” He said, motioning with his hands.
“You mean my weight?”
“I care for my body, Shyam. This is my temple.” Shyam shot a quizzical look.
“I run in the mornings, 5 km daily. After office, I play tennis in the academy near the cricket ground. 2 hours. Daily!”
She paused for her words to take effect. Shyam’s mouth was agape.
“And I cycle at nights three times a week, after dinner.”
“What?” He was incredulous.
“Yep. I had to take up something given the way I was ballooning. I had crossed the century mark. I was the butt of jokes even more than in the school days. My self-esteem was at rock bottom. I resolved to fight my obesity. And here I am, four years later, fit as a horse. Now I have the confidence to take on the world.”
“Great,yaar. You’ve changed spectacularly. You look, er, gorgeous now.”
“Thank you. But what about you? What led to this condition? You’re looking like a Devdas (hurt Romeo).”
Shyam told her everything over a cup of tea. He also ordered samosas, which she refused (he devoured them!). As Beena elaborated on the benefits of sports in daily life and their role in improving one’s self-esteem, he started developing a mental blueprint for his future. There was a swimming pool a stone’s throw from his apartment in the city. He used to see people running and walking in the park next to his building. Now he knew what he had to do. A while later, Beena said, “I gotta go. Mum would be waiting for the veggies.”
Shyam hesitatingly said, “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” she said nonchalantly.
“Beena Thakur, will you marry me?”
She smiled wryly and said, “Let’s talk about that a year on from now.”
Shyam watched in amusement as she started her Activa and zoomed away.