A Beauty in Vikram
I spent two months in India, the summer after my grandmother passed away.
That May, she had laid on her bed pushed against the wall in our tightly packed living room in New York City. She remained motionless for many minutes, her glowing skin had become wrinkled and her eyebrows drooped down to her eyelids. Her soft and thin hair covered her large forehead. I sat on a wooden chair next to her and my grandfather sat on a sofa across the room. My body felt uneasy at the sight of my grandmother’s unbearable pain.
I wondered how our world could be so cruel to inflict such grief on an innocent, beautiful human, a throbbing pulse began beating in my heart and I felt attached to the pain in her body.
The disastrous cancer overcoming her fragile body frustrated me and for a few days I had lost all hope. I began to doubt the power in god that my family believed could cure her, and I even cursed at the hospitals and doctors she had visited. I clenched my teeth tightly and squeezed my hands together until I couldn’t feel them anymore. It was frustration that drove me to do things I would have never done before in those 3 weeks before her death. I would sit next to my grandmother and read her the story of the Hindu goddess, Parvati. We only made it up to page 55 before she died. The book still lies on my shelf and the bookmark sticks out of the pages, not even halfway through the novel. I remember her calling to me when I entered the room. She would say “Maya” softly.
Maya Vikram Pandit is my full name. I had never felt worthy of such a powerful title until the weeks surrounding my grandmother’s death. Maya is officially defined as another world with separate objects and people, which gives the illusion that it is the only reality. My grandmother’s sickness led to my realization that I live in many worlds. One, in which, pain is vivid. The other, in which, sorrow is nonexistent and hope conquers all. There were very few times where I would slip into the other world. I started to think that as long as I had faith in the people who surrounded me I would be able to overcome all pain. Just the idea that there was hope kept me calm and I found happiness in the moments where I thought about this second world. It was from here on that I began living in a fantasy world as well as the real world. My mind is still often overwhelmed with dreams. Dreams of the universities I would like to attend, the people I long to meet, and the places I want to visit. At that time, with this second world, came fear. I began to fear that my hope would not be enough when seeing my grandmother sleep with such pain under her eyes. Out of this fear and pain, came courage, or as they say in Sanskrit,Vikram.
Vikram was the strength inside my mind that let me bear the sight of my grandfather’s sadness. Vikram was the courage that entered my body and allowed me to be the life for my grandfather in those weeks. His saddened eyes lit up when I came home from school and his idle mind began to work as I explained my homework assignments to him. I gave my grandfather strength through our small dinners, just the two of us eating cantaloupe and Indian sweets at our empty dining table as my grandmother slept, as my brother did his homework. Those days seem like the darkest and weakest days of my life. The very long pauses of silence filled my heart with gloom, and the stillness in that living room caused me to worry. I worried about the years to come, if my grandmother would live long enough to see me graduate from high school and college, if she would live long enough to see me get my first job and if she would live long enough to see me get married. These worries crowded at the base of my throat and a thick feeling of nervousness filled my stomach. It was Vikram, courage that allowed me to swallow these feelings for the sake of my grandfather. I was his strength, if I broke down, then so would he. I spent my afternoons with him, drawing with new sketch pencils, painting with old watercolors and writing stories based off of Hindu mythology. We found happiness in small things, like a 50% sale at Staples or a bargain with the fruit vendor. We continued to sleep with pain in our stomachs and live during the day with the unbearable sight of my grandmother on her death bed. We continued to worry for three weeks.
On May 17th 2006, my grandmother died. We filled our home with pictures of her framed in wood and protected with shiny glass. On my grandfather’s computer table stood an upright portrait of my grandmother from when she was a teenager. The photo is black and white and I was glad it wasn’t color otherwise the girl in that picture would have seemed too real. Her skin was perfectly smooth and bare. Her eyes were surrounded with dark circles, but not like mine, because hers blended in so softly and beautifully. Her hair was light and was tied back loosely with a darker shawl draped around it. Her lips were pursed in a subtle smile. I stared at that photo frame feeling so close but so far away from the girl in that picture. I saw my eyes soon blend into the glass and into her eyes. She was beautiful and I was confused.
Glass separated two girls, one who was real and the other who was fake, but I didn’t know which one was which.
My grandfather broke down, often crying in his sleep and staring out into the sky. There was little I could do to ease his pain, but I knew that moving on was the only way to heal his sorrows. We started by cleaning her closet. We folded her soft shirts and her hospital clothes and packed them away in boxes, before disposing of them permanently. The sweet scent of her clothes lingered in that space and brought tears to my eyes. I blinked away the stinging in my eyes and we continued to dispose of her belongings.
I sat near the kitchen table with my feet up against the cold marble counter. My mom leaned onto the counter with the phone between her shoulder and ear. Her face looked tense. She spoke to her sister on the phone and explained a trip to India we would be taking. The sentences on the details of our stay rambled on. The conversation seemed like a sigh, my mom felt relieved when thinking about the two months we would spend in India.
I had always loved India. I packed very heavy bags, taking everything that I would regret leaving behind, even the emotional baggage of my hardships. I kept the image of my grandmother close to my heart and that photo often appeared in my thoughts. That girl seemed so similar to me and yet so different. I wished I could know everything beyond the surface of that photograph.
Those nine weeks went by like days. Each person I met, made me feel sad for being the person I was. These kind people looked at me as though I was just like them, not a girl coming from America.
My jeans were drenched with sweat as I sat stuck in the backseat of the Toyota car. My bright red sandals were ripped at the sole, and the straps were wearing down. I knew I couldn't wear them for much longer.
It was the monsoon season in Mumbai. Rains slapped down daily on the dirty streets and my feet stuck into the earth as I walked through the city. I sat in that car shivering from the high air-conditioning blowing onto my damp skin. I looked out of the tinted window into a corner street.
A little girl, maybe nine years old, skipped around holding a small pocket mirror. There was dirt on the edges of it. She looked at herself in it, admiring her thin and dirty short hair. She smiled wide with her teeth and held the mirror close to them, examining each and every small tooth. She was beautiful, and I was confused.
The cars behind us continued to honk loudly. There was nothing we could do, the rickshaw in front of us had collided with a motorcyclist. The rickshaw's three wheels were deeply submerged into the messy ground and the motorcyclist's dark washed jeans were stained with the wet mud. He took off his helmet and fixed his hair, then starting to yell at the rickshaw driver. The young girl laughed softly from the other side of the street.
I had my sunglasses on, even though it was only slightly sunny. I didn't want anyone to see the dark circles under my eyes from the long flight and jet lag.
The girl held her mirror tightly, walking through the slums and showing all of her friends. She sat at the edge of the footpath, almost crying. Her small feet were completely stained with dirt and little particles of sand were stuck beneath her nails. Her soft black hair ended at her shoulders and her dark eyebrows shaped her large brown eyes. Her skin was dark, tanned even more behind her neck and at her elbows and knees. Her knees were full of cuts and scabs. The clouds began to soften and a small streak of sunlight poured through. She held the mirror up to the sun like a trophy.
Their house stood just a few feet away from the car. It had a flimsy tin roof that shook and made loud noises when rain slapped onto it, the floor was made out of tightly packed dirt. The family was about to take an afternoon nap. Her father quickly drank his tea in a plastic cup and threw it out onto the street. Sweat trickled down his forehead, he had torn shoes and was wearing loose white pants and a loose white shirt now stuck to his back with his sweat. His mustache glistened in the streaks of sunlight and his teeth were brown at the edges. He reached for a cigarette and puffed the smoke into the streets filled with pollution. His lips turned darker and darker being burned by the cigarette. His wife called him into their house. She was a tall lady, quite slender as well. Her hair hung down till the end of her torso and was braided and then tied into a tight bun at the back of her round head. She wore a green sari and had clear glass bangles. Her thin green sari shook in the wind and her mismatched red blouse fit loosely to her thin arms. She had silver toe rings on both feet and also wore no shoes, her feet were calloused. She wore one simple necklace and a nose ring which connected to the sari draped over her head with a gold chain. The red dot painted on perfectly between her shapely eyebrows stayed in position even in the humidity. Her bangles hit one another as she hung her family's clothes on a clothes line in front of their house. They had very few clothes. She stuck her foot underneath the water pump and washed her feet carelessly. She tried to scrub the dirt off as the flow of water became less and less thick. Then it stopped and she wiped her still dirty feet on a small portion of her sari. The wife went back to the doorway of the house and carried brown mats to place on the floor for her family to sleep on. Her husband extinguished her cigarette as he made his way to his wife.
The motorcyclist and rickshaw driver still argued as the police officer stood between them eating his lunch. Cars continued to honk and my stomach grumbled. She came close to the window of our car and tapped on our window holding up the mirror for us to see. The driver rolled down the window and told her to go back to her family. She walked up to my window and tapped on it a few times. She put her hand horizontally on the forehead protecting her face from the sun and touched her palms onto the window. I could see her so clearly through the window, but I didn't know if she could see me through the darkly tinted glass. Her nose was perfectly shaped and her face looked so pure. Her cheeks were stained with some dirt while mine were gently dusted upon with blush. I felt unclean and fake while she looked so real. Her eyebrows had some stray hairs that she never plucked and her lips were naturally dry whereas mine were constantly painted on with various fruity flavored lip glosses. I looked at my face from the reflection of the window. My reflection soon blended into hers. Then she stopped tapping and skipped away.That thick sheet of glass between the girl and me divided our worlds.
But something about that girl reminded me of my grandmother. I missed my grandmother, and spent the next few days in my grandparents’ home in India, exploring my grandmother’s belongings. Her dresser was pushed up against the yellow-tinted wall and the mirror had gathered dust on the edges.
A small jar of home-made coconut oil rested against a plastic tube of bay leaf shampoo, and a container of mango body oil stood in front of them.
I looked inside the drawers and found saris folded tightly on top of one another. The top most sari was purple with golden embroidery and was more loosely wrapped than the others. The sari seemed confident in its fragility. I ran my fingers along the edges and felt a sliver of sadness go through me. I felt the familiar scent of my grandmother. I began thinking about my grandmother and the girl in the photograph.
This fabric was so real and pure.
The clothes I wore were ripped for stylistic effect.
The products she used were so clean.
While mine were face stains to turn myself into a different person. A large tube of black mascara with a hot pink wrapper rested near a bright blue bottle of hair spray, and a container of pink powder stood in front of them.
The image of my grandmother’s photograph surfaced in my mind. Her dark circles had blended into her skin while I feel like I have to mask them. I wondered what my grandmother did at my age, how she felt, what she thought about. Were her worries the same as mine? I shut the drawer quickly as these thoughts surfaced.
As I pushed on the slightly broken drawer strongly the table shifted and the mirror tilted ever so slightly. I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked at the crusted makeup in my eyes and the unnatural tan powders I had used. I looked at my glossed lips and plucked eyebrows. What did people think of me when they saw me? Did my perfectly applied eyeliner make me seem sophisticated? Did my bronzed skin make me seem older? Did my reddened lips make me seem promiscuous? More importantly though, I don’t know why I cared so much.
That girl that I saw from the car, when I was drenched in the rain, held the mirror with confidence. Her deep tan skin creased upwards and her small teeth exposed. The white pieces shone in the sun and reflected into the mirror. The bright specks radiated and pierced into my eyes. Her face lit with hope and happiness and she skipped along the street. Her eyes smiled and her cheeks laughed.
I find stillness when I look at myself in the mirror. I stare at the dark plains below my eyes, the lighter color of my cheeks, the maroon color of my lips and the glow of my forehead. My eyes gaze into the mirror, my dark lips part slightly and my even teeth reveal. My lips stretch softly and my skin gracefully moves upward. My bright white teeth expose fully, the dark plains below my eyes diminish slightly and the deep brown in my eyes brighten. In these silent moments I think about that girl. She was beautiful, and I feel less confused.
Age 16, Grade 11,