‘One day I will look like Sridevi.’ Nine year old Lata mumbled while coloring her lips dark red.
‘Why Sridevi?’ asked Raghu, who was six years older than Lata.
Lata was surprised and was equally happy at Raghu’s interest in her matter. She was surprised because Raghu had never engaged in such conversations with her before; he only commanded her, that too, in a word or two. And she was happy because Raghu’s question gave her the much sought chance of letting her imagination breathe some life. On other days, Lata would talk to herself aloud and theatrically while Raghu would not even look at her. She would brief out her plans of marrying some actor from Bollywood, visiting some hill station where it snowed so that she could make a snowman resembling Raghu but with a crooked nose and stooped shoulders (that was the way she wanted to punish Raghu for his temperament) and eating Chinese noodles till her stomach protruded outwards just like Mrs. Kamala Chaturvedi’s (so that she too could walk like Mrs. Kamala, limping slowly, with her right hand gently stroking her belly and her left hand supporting her back; her body tilted a little backwards).
For today, Lata’s interest was Sridevi. And for the first time, Raghu cared to regard her aspirations. So naturally, she was in high spirits.
‘Yesterday, I saw a movie at Mukta’s home, Chandni. Sridevi was looking so beautiful in that movie – tall and fair. I wonder if she really is a woman or a doll.’ Lata said excitedly.
Raghu responded with a faint smile gliding over his face. This encouraged Lata even more and she went on exploring her fantasy.
‘See, don’t I look as beautiful as Sridevi. She too had applied the same color of lipstick in Chandni.’ She pursed her lips tight and moved her head sideways; her eyes dancing with amusement. Two deep dimples settled on her cheeks.
‘Do you think she was looking beautiful only because of lipstick? She must have used the whole make-up box. All the actresses do. That is why they appear beautiful.’ Raghu stated in a matter-of-fact tone.
‘Will I look like her if I too use the make-up box? Can I get one? Will you help me in finding it?’ Lata ran out of breath.
Raghu came near her, his face unexpectedly turning emotionless. It frightened Lata a bit. It was not that she was afraid of Raghu yelling at her or for that matter, combating with her. She was sure that she had enough strength to deliver few punches, if required. But only because for the first time Raghu engaged in a conversation with her in such a friendly manner, seeing his colourless face, she feared he might descend to his old temper- gloomy and inimical. She had always wanted Raghu to interact with her so very much.
Raghu looked around her and uttered scornfully, ‘You are slow.’
‘Slow in what, becoming Sridevi?’ Lata giggled.
Raghu stared at her for a moment and then went back to his spot. He pulled the opening of his gunny bag together and tied it with a shred. He then hunched forward and saddled the gunny bag on his back.
‘Wait, I am done.’ Lata cried. She quickly slipped the dilapidated lipstick in her pocket, thrust the stuffs in her gunny bag and tied it rakishly. She then pulled the ladened bag with her tiny, rough hands.
‘I too am coming’, she yelled at the top of her voice and followed Raghu to the next heap of trash.
— N. Madani SYED