Summer break was almost over. Samita was excited . This session the class would be studying Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.
It was a tradition that the play was taught by making the students enact the scenes while reading it. The characters would be allotted to the students and each would read dialogues of the particular allotted character.
Samita was the most proficient reader in the entire section with several prizes for elocutions and debates to her name. She was more than sure that Juliet’s part was indisputably hers.
The day arrived and the school was buzzing with activity after the summer break. Finally the much awaited English period arrived.
However, instead of the English teacher, Mrs Srivastava, the Principal entered the class. She was accompanied by a lady. All the students were a little puzzled . The mischievous ones alarmed . The principal introduced the lady accompanying her as the replacement English teacher .
“Children , Mrs. Srivastava had a surgery and she is in the hospital.She wouldn’t be able to teach for around a month. We have a replacement teacher for you. “ The Principal announced.
Samita was heavily disappointed wondering if the replacement teacher would teach the play the traditional way.
The Principal left and the teacher introduced herself as Ms. Lal. She was a tall young woman who seemed to have taken special care of the way she looks. Her hair were braided and then assembled in a very artistic bun . Her choice of clothing was impressive. Her shiny skin reminded Samita of her newly acquired pimples.
She felt embarrassed .
However what the teacher said after introducing herself brought back Samita’s enthusiasm.
“I have been told that the play is taught by allotting characters to students and you read it according to your respective characters. “
She paused and looked around the whole class.
“So today I would make each one of you read and then allot some part.”
Samita geared up and was all ready to display her reading skills . But what happened next was the least expected. Perhaps from here on would start a series of realisations for Samita ; like her sudden awareness of the pimples on her 14 year old face.
After the reading was over the teacher started picking up students . She looked at Ananya instead of her.
“For Juliet’s part I think Ananya would be absolutely fit .”
Samita could not believe her ears . Her ego bruised and her spirits dampened . She looked at Ananya .
“ She ain’t a bad reader . But she isn’t better than me. “
By this time Romeo was chosen. Another shocker. Ritwik had a slurr and he was truly not the best choice . Ananya and Ritwik stood together and it was then it struck Samita. Almost hit by a lightning bolt . They were the best looking kids in the class. Ananya was a flawless beauty with a creamy pearly complexion and features to die for and Ritwik was a boy who would grow into a very handsome guy soon.
This was uneasy . But the worst was still to come . The teacher pointed at Samita and said “ You would play Juliet’s mother!”
“Juliet’s Mother?! Really !!! She hardly has any speeches.” She thought in dismay.
Samita was suddenly morose and shocked. Deeply aware of her looks. Her unattractive frame. Her borderline masculine features and her lack of feminine curves. She stayed quiet for the rest of the class. She anyways had nothing to read and her mind was too disturbed to focus on anything else.
Samita however was addicted to giving her best . So she read her part with earnest dedication. She could however feel the mockery in Miss. Lal’s eyes on her immensely sincere effort.
Juliet’s mother was the only character she could allot to an unattractive girl like her.This thought nagged Samita day and night.
Suddenly replica’s of Miss Lal came alive around her. Samita could see how often the advertisements talked about fair, young ,soft skin. How frequently a beauty product was called out to be the ladder to all success. As the reading of the play through the days continued Samita grew more and more disinterested and disillusioned.
The mirror was looked into often and avoided at the same time desperately. She would wonder how she could get a better , smoother, fairer skin. She also realised the importance of a sleek body. The thinner you were the more acceptable among friends you became. The food morsels became smaller and her diet reduced to half. A constant sadness and worry preoccupied her. She has definitely become quiet. It was no fun being Lady Capulet. She was growing wary of it.
It was time for Rakshabandhan and so was time for aunty Jaya to come for her annual visit . The great ritual of coming home to tie rakhi on her brother’s wrist was followed religiously by her aunt. This time of the year was best as her aunt otherwise based in US would come for a month’s holiday . Samita was always excited around this time. Jaya aunty called her Sammy.
“Sammy haven’t you lost weight “ She had noticed the instant she hugged Samita at the airport. Samita’s working mother , Kumud ,was worried about her going quite and eating less and she shared it with her best friend and sister-in-law , Jaya.
Aunty Jaya pacified Kumud that teenagers go through such phases and all they needed to do is to give her all the encouragement ,love and support and perhaps then she would herself share her problem.
“Sammy how is school?”
“Alright , Bua.”
“You will have your boards soon “
“ So here’s the time to shine and then you will be a senior student…”
Samita had lost interest in the conversation.
“Any cute boys in your class.” Jaya changed the topic
Samita grew more sullen.
“What’s the matter honey? You don’t want to share with me … we always shared . I know teens are difficult years but we all still love you the same.”
Samita looked at her and gave a faint smile. But a bit of reassurance had seeped in her heart.
Two days later they were strolling in the stalls of the National Book Festival . Samita felt her usual self after months . Books always made her feel happy. She was excited and chirpy and Jaya felt relieved. They spent hours together strolling, surfing and buying books .
While they enjoyed ice cream together chit chatting … Samita suddenly posed a query..
“Bua is that only beautiful girls do well in life ?”
“Sammy tell me whats wrong? I know you would share with me”
Samita tried to put in words her disappointment on being allotted the speeches of Juliet’s mother and the deep confusion and identity crisis she was facing regarding her looks .
“Oh , being Lady Capulet isn’t flattering at all .”she concluded.
Jaya paused with an intense look and a sweet smile.
“Not because she is old and so you presume her to be all wrinkled and unappealing. The time the play was set . Lady Capulet would have been in her thirties perhaps . That’s not old honey. But I think your Mrs. Lal was concentrating on looks and in that case your resentment is right. “
Samita looked at her without speaking.
“It’s not great to be Lady Capulet because she was too obedient and to traditional . Nothing wrong in being traditional but she refused to help her only child just to stay obedient to her husband. That’s what I feel and she hardly shows affection to Juliet.”
“But why would you want to be Juliet either , honey? Except that she was the lead of the play.”
Samita was not expecting this query.
She spoke to herself “Why do I want to become Juliet except that she is the lead of the play and has a lot of dialogues.” As if something dawned on her.
“Well Mrs. Lal might be crazy about good looking people but I don’t think you should be bothered about that. It’s her problem. You are a pretty child and you will become a beautiful woman. You have to look at yourself that way and accept the way you are. Beauty is an abstract concept very often used to tie down women. But don’t be fooled by it.” Jaya continued.
“The world glorifies beauty and the beauty product companies create false hype about beauty. It’s there business. Don’t ruin your life and health because whatever they are saying is to only to promote their product. If fairness creams could change skin colour we would have no dark skinned people left. Think about it! Sammy it’s important to be healthy and to take care of your looks as well. But don’t try to be a certain prototype of beauty. “
Jaya went on speaking and Samita was listening intently the worry lines on her face vanishing miraculously and her smile becoming brighter.
“ Bua, I don’t want to become Juliet .” She spoke with excitement and then with a serious note to her voice Samita continued .
“ Since I love both biology and literature I would rather be Rachel Carson or Beatrix potter. I liked only one thing in Juliet that she rebelled against the norm but beyond that I think she was just a hopelessly confused teenager who was fascinated by Romeo. She died in utter confusion due mismanaged scheme to unite the lovers . Perhaps if she had lived she would have known better things to do with her life “
Jaya hugged Samita and smiled. Her work was done. Her old brainy, well read, talented niece had won the first battle of the teenage years .
“So Lady Capulet, Shall we have a large, juicy, yummy pizza ??”
Samita nodded with a beautiful smile.