Monday, March 5, 2012

The enemy in the mirror

The mirror was an enemy these days. Had been one for a long time now. Nargis took one last look and averted her eyes. There was no point. She could turn this way and that for many more hours but the mirror, the enemy, would hide no flaws. It had ceased to do that a long time back. When she moved from that sickening state called pleasantly plump to being fat. No other descriptor to take away the edge these days. Nothing to hide the ugliness that hid in that one word. 


Nargis bent down and retrieved the weighing scale from under the bed. The scale spent all its life hiding under the bed like an undeclared pet. Hidden from the family's eyes with only Nargis for sympathy and comfort. Nargis touched the scale almost lovingly and then put it down. She realized she was holding her breath and forced herself to exhale deeply. She climbed on the scale. The needle moved rapidly, the different numbers flashing by as it tried to find the match for Nargis. It stopped. Nargis took a look and her face crumpled. She looked up and the mirror, the one that had ceased to be her friend, seemed to leer at her. Nargis stepped off the scale and in a sudden burst of rage, rage at that stupid number that the scale had declared for her that day, kicked it back under the bed. Like a helpless puppy, the scale slid inside without complaining. Nargis felt sorry for it and contemplated taking it out again but there was no time.

In a moment, Ammi would knock at her door, asking her to get ready because it was time to reach Dr Shetty's office. Dr Shetty was Nargis's therapist, the only man who possibly really believed that a person's weight, or appearance, or complexion did not matter. Dr Shetty was really nice but he was not the world. The world was made up of thin and beautiful girls and boys who admired them. These girls were tiny, their collarbones stuck out prettily from under their blouses. They moved about in packs, shopping for tiny clothes and drinking coffee from takeaway cups and knew that wonderful things were waiting to happen to them. All because they were thin.

Not like Nargis. She braved another look at the mirror. Her naked body was exposed to her eyes in that look. The first thing that struck her, yet again was her stomach. Soft and fleshy, as if it had known many babies when it had actually known none. Her eyes wandered up and down, taking in one flawed limb after another. None of them scarred, none of them marked and yet made unsightly by the abundance of flesh. The jiggling part under her upper arms, the part that made wearing fashionable sleeveless clothes an impossibility. The thick waist that rolled itself up into tyres when she sat down, making her look self-consciously at her navel. Not for the first time, Nargis wished she had a pump that she could insert in her body and suck out all the flesh, all the fat.

Ammi knocked at the door.

"Nargis, chalein kya beta?"

Her tone was affectionate and careful, guarded. As if she expected Nargis to throw up her hands one of these days and throw a tantrum, much like she did when she was a toddler and was denied shrikhand. Well, she had paid a steep price for the shrikhand, no one could deny that.

"You go on ahead, Ma, I will be out in a minute."

She could hear Ammi making her way down the staircase. The second and seventh step creaked under her weight. Of course all the steps creaked under her own.

She looked at the voluminous salwar-kameez that lay on the bed. It was blue, a colour that her mother said brought out her eyes. Mothers lied to their children. Nargis had a sudden desire to take a pair of scissors to the clothes. She sighed and slipped the two garments on. Then without taking another look at the mirror, she went downstairs to join her mother.

Dr Shetty was his usual self. Nothing ever changed inside his cabin. It was brown and wooden and warm. It was a relief to come here and stare at the massive clock that ticked away laboriously, possibly tired all the time. All that ticking.

Nargis lay on the couch and talked about all that happened since she had last come into this cabin. Dr Shetty listened carefully, inserting only a probing word here and there. He heard her as she described how she had felt every morning when the scales had gone against her, how even her largest clothes, like this ugly blue salwar-kameez scraped her skin and made it sting, how she was conscious of her girth every single moment of her life. It was dreadful, she said, that there was no way out and that she was trapped in this body till her dying day.

Then she talked about what a relief it would be to be rid of this body when she died.

Dr Shetty looked up from his white notepad at this.

An hour of this over, Nargis went out to the waiting area where her mother waited, flipping pages of unread magazines. She stood up expectantly when Dr Shetty followed Nargis out.

"So Nargis, that was a useful session. Why don't you go out and book the next session with Seema while I chat with your mother?"

Nargis knew what this was all about. Her little remark about dying had raised an alarm in Dr Shetty's mind. Well, she didn't think there was anything wrong in it. People made too much of dying, they did. She, Nargis was not afraid of death.

She went out to find Seema, the receptionist. Seema looked tired and sad. She smiled at Nargis and opened the familiar leather-bound case that held together Dr Shetty's appointments and much of his life. Nargis liked Seema. She wondered if Seema ever thought about her body. She guessed not. Seema penciled her in and Nargis went back to the waiting area to wait for her mother.

Inside the cabin, the doctor spoke to the worried mother in a quiet tone.

"She seems to have taken a turn for the worse. Anything new at home? Any triggers that you can think of?"

Nargis' mother's brows furrowed.

"I can't think of anything. She just spends a lot of time in her room these days."

Dr Shetty thought for a moment. He was not given to asking questions to which he knew the answers. He knew she must have done everything to draw Nargis out of her shell in the last few days.

"Well, maybe its time to seek another opinion. She looks even thinner to me, do you know if she..?"

The middle-aged woman looked away.

"I know she weighs less than forty kilos now. All her bones are sticking out. It's there for everyone to see. I plead and plead but she refuses to eat..." Her composure gave way and sudden tears fell down her cheeks. Dr Shetty's years of training came to the fore and he spoke in a soothing tone.

"Mrs Khan, anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric disorder. We will take some time to get to results. In the meanwhile, we need to do everything we can."

Outside in the waiting room, Nargis averted her eyes from her reflection in the glass window. 

My first piece of fiction on this blog. Depending on feedback, I could make this a regular feature. So, yes, let me know. 


unpredictable said...

Nice! You must do more of this!

Shalini said...

Beautiful!Keep writing.

sukanyabora said...

You got me there, Parul. I enjoyed the story's turn at the end. Nicely done.

Obsessivemom said...

That was lovely.. waiting for the next one.

The Soul of Alec Smart said...

Whoa, that shook me up. You must put up more.

Kakali said...

very unexpected! Loved it.

Anonymous said...

Very nice.. Keep it up..

Art said...

loved it.... And please do make it a regular feature... :)

Also, drop by my blog... your feedback would definetly help

Ramya said...

Loved it! Very well-written.

MomGoneMad said...

No, collate and publish, woman:-) Really enjoyed this!

Anonymous said...

Really good. I actually felt sad for nargis :( Please keep writing.

Anuradha said...

Nice one.

Anonymous said...

i was anorexic once (and then i was bulimic, but thats another story). its a psychotic disorder for sure, but we dont really believe we are THAT fat. we stop eating and count calories (even sips of lime water) and obsess like a madman over a gram we gain, intensely fear over what may happen if we get over 43 kilos .. but we will never believe we are fatter than, say, vidya balan... however we will admit she looks good while we never will till we lose more more weight.. some more.. some more.

we will spot tiny bulges where nobody else can see them (infact they'll claim we're too thin), but if you look verrrrry closely there WILL be a teeny-tiny bulge. we dont really see things which arent there. sometimes we just dont see the overall picture (that we're stick thin).

aside from that bit of exaggeration (creative license), loved the twist. you definitely should continue to write short stories. just a bit of advice (if i may be so presumptuous, me, non writer, giving advice to author of two published books and a godawesome blog!) - don't have a set style e.g. of having 180 degree twists in all your stories, because then we'd be able to predict them. (like jeff archer, or that lovely serial The Wonder Years).

not giving out my name for obvious reasons (but am i regular reader, fan, and commentor)

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. Enjoyed the twist. You should definitely keep writing

Shobana said...

I like the unexpected twist to the story! Keep writing.

Sri said...


First time continue!

Anonymous said...

Loved the story! Please continue writing fiction. I have been a regular reader of your blog and this was unexpected :)

KD said...

Good one.

Keep writing.

Living in Gurgaon said...

I was sleepy and not really in the mood to read anymore when I came to your blog thinking..okay just this last thing and then I'll sleep...was hooked when I started reading though and loved the twist! Must keep writing!

subbulakshmistoned said...

Brilliant, as always!

roshni said...

That was a lovely read. You must write more fiction :)

Roli Bhushan-Malhotra said...

Very very nice. I thought of Shallow Hal....

Choxbox said...

Me too - thought of Shallow Hal.

Awesome by the way. Want more.

Choxbox said...

Me too - thought of Shallow Hal.

Awesome by the way. Want more.

taa's mom said...

want more but why in the blog. You can sell these as a collection of short stories in a book. This one was that good.

Information on anorexia by anon was priceless.

taa's mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dipali said...

Kya brilliant twist tha!!!
Pliss to write many more:)

Anonymous said...

Very nice esp. with the O.Henry-like twist. please write more.. and publish short story collection next like someone said.

Parul said...

Oh wow, thanks guys! More coming up soon then.

sulekkha said...

Just when I was feeling sorry for Nargis and relating to her because of my weight, you turned the tables on me.The element of surprise in the story is what makes it great.

OrangeJammies said...

P, LOVED it. You must write more of this genre, you must! I don't know if you do this intentionally, but the last two characters I've seen come from you (this and the other one we talked about) have been less than common, from minority communities, and I enjoy your exploration of these. :)