Think Twice

What if it were you?

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Recently, a new attempt at creating an internet meme has been introduced. It involves a poorly-angled picture of an unfortunately obese girl or unassumingly simple boy smiling at the camera, usually with either unflattering make-up or outdated clothes, topped by a caption that reads something to the tune of “Hi! I’m looking for a handsome/beautiful guy/girl; please tag a friend who would be interested!” If you proceed to scroll through the comments that follow, you will read through countless “Hahaha never!”s, “HARD PASS!”s and “Dude, I’d rather die alone!”s from people who were tagged. The obvious aim of this meme is to ridicule the person in the photograph for having the audacity to hope for love and companionship, because somehow, this is funny. I am not at all ashamed to say that I don’t get it.

Each picture that ends up like this was probably taken at a happy time in his/her life, and they were quite likely reasonably pleased with the way they look in it, because they shared it on a social media platform. Then some jerk decided to take advantage of their trust, and used it to make fun of them for not conforming to societal standards of ideal beauty. He slapped on a caption that makes the person in the picture sound desperate and naïve, and uploaded it on a public platform for other sick people like him to mock. And suddenly, the whole world is privy to this private photograph that was intended to be shared only amongst friends.

Now people the overweight girl or simple boy have never even met are passing judgmental comments about her unsightly arms or his unfashionable clothes. For all we know, these could be their deepest insecurities that have now been brutally exposed to everyone on the internet, all in the name of “humor.” That girl you just laughed at for her weight might have been battling obesity all her life, and perhaps took this picture to celebrate losing 10 pounds after several weeks of hard work at the gym. That boy whose plain sunglasses you made fun of might have taken this picture to commemorate being able to afford treating himself to a new pair with his first salary. And yet, someone managed to turn a positive change in their lives into a negative experience, only because they trusted their Facebook friends to either share their joy or continue scrolling in silence.

While I am certain that none of these photographs were meant to go along with romantic propositions to random strangers on the internet, even if they were looking for love, why is that such a preposterous idea? Aren’t we all? Maybe they were just putting their best foot forward. But somebody thought that the idea of a person who is anything less than perfect hoping to meet someone who appreciates them for who they are is so utterly absurd that they just had to turn it into an internet joke to share with other disgusting creatures like themselves. And now, memories of someone’s hard-earned confidence serve as painful reminders of their inadequacies.

You might think that writing a page-long essay on an internet meme is an overreaction, but I am not advocating for extreme measures like banning it from the WWW.  I am merely using this as an example to highlight how some people are so uncertain about themselves that they feel the need to put others down to boost their own confidence. And the rest of us are guilty of condoning this maltreatment by neglecting to stand up for the victims of such cyber-bullying. What if that person were your friend or sibling? What if it were you?

Every picture tells a story, and none of us know theirs, so who are we to judge?

The Photograph

A Tale of Childhood Innocence

“Wow!” Rehaan exclaimed. “Can I touch it?”

Anahita laughed. “Of course!”

His hands trembling with excitement, he slowly extended his fingertips towards the object Anahita held in her hands.  His eyes lit up the moment they felt the smooth plastic exterior of this amazing thing that had produced the image that he held in his other hand.

“What did you say it’s called?”

“A camera.”

“And this thing is?” He held up the article in his left hand.

“A photograph.”

“Wow!” He repeated.

Anahita smiled and patted his cheek.  “Would you like me to click one of you?”

Rehaan looked overjoyed. “Would you?”

“Of course!”

“Aakash! Anwar! Hanif! Ishaan! Khaled! Harish! Farhaan!” Rehaan yelled, running off to gather his friends.

Anahita got to her feet and watched as Rehaan animatedly explained to his friends what was about to happen. She couldn’t help grinning as she saw their expressions turn from curious to amazed, and she had to take a few steps backwards when they rushed towards her, all wanting to touch this astonishing black box that could somehow capture lifelike images of them.

A few minutes, several innocent questions and one heated argument over photograph location later, a decision was arrived at and the eight boys eagerly beckoned Anahita towards the end of the lane. She followed immediately, enjoying their thrilled banter as they half-walked, half-ran towards the bridge across the valley.

Anahita’s heart skipped a beat when she saw them clamber onto the wall that separated the road from the drop between the mountains before she reminded herself that they must have done this a thousand times before. She selected her frame and focused the camera as the children lined up along the wall. Looking through the lens, she watched them space out and practice smiling and couldn’t suppress her own amusement herself. She marvelled at their innocence regarding an article as universal as a camera back in the city, and at the same time, felt enormously guilty for complaining about now seemingly inconsequential things like missing her usual train while these children lived in dingy shanties and played with toys made of sticks and stones, and yet found such unadulterated joy in something as simple as having their picture taken.

“Hurry up!” Rehaan’s friends urged him impatiently. The poor boy was the tiniest amongst the lot and clearly incapable of scaling the height of the wall himself. As Farhaan bent down to lift the little kid, Anahita clicked on instinct. Before she could glance at the camera screen, she heard them beg for another picture. She spent the next five minutes indulging their newfound vanity before they were satisfied and wanted to inspect every photograph she’d taken.

Anahita spent the journey to her hotel lost in thought. Once in her room, she transferred and printed every picture she’d clicked.

The rest of the weekend photography seminar was a blur of colour and clicking. Anahita thought it focused too much on frames, lighting and the like and too little on the feel of the photograph. By the end of the seminar, she’d decided that their car breaking down near the little village was the best thing that had happened all weekend. Much to her co-passengers’ annoyance, Anahita insisted on stopping there again on the way back home.

“I won’t be long, I promise.” She quickly nipped out of the car to find the little boy whose thrilled face was etched in her memory. It took her only a couple of minutes to locate the group of eight boys running around in their dusty field of a playground. Aakash spotted her first and shouted in delight. Soon, she was surrounded by the entire bunch asking multiple questions at the same time.

When she finally managed to quiet them down, she said, “I’ve got something for you guys before I go.” Reaching into her bag, she pulled out the envelope containing the photographs. As she distributed them amongst the gleeful group, she found herself at the receiving end of several warm hugs.

“But what about you?” Hanif asked worriedly. “Don’t you want one?”

Anahita laughed. “I have all of them right here.” She patted her camera case. “But I have kept my favourite, just in case.” She showed them the first picture she’d clicked.

“Why is this one your favourite?” Harish asked naively.

Anahita shrugged. “It just is.”

***

At the end of her internship, Anahita was named the best intern and given the honour of having any one of her photographs printed inside the magazine she’d spent the past five months working for. She instantly submitted the first of the series of pictures she’d clicked of the eight village boys: the one with Farhaan helping Rehaan up the wall.

“Are you sure?” her boss asked, “You can take some time to make your pick.”

“I’m sure. This one is my favourite.”

“Why?”

Anahita smiled as she remembered Harish. “It just is.”

The Other Side

There is no guilt in finding your way back home.

“Mazarine …” She whispered to her reflection in the mirror. The deep blue eyes that gazed back seemed to justify the choice of name. Instinctively, her fingers jumped to her navel to touch the brilliant blue gemstone she’d been named after. Tomorrow, it would be 9 years since she’d been found … 9 years since she’d become who she now was … and it still felt wrong.

“There’s nothing you can do about it now.” She said sternly to her reflection as she pulled on the pristine white gown. “It’s been 9 years. You remember nothing. And after tonight, everything is going to change. Get over it.”

There was a knock, followed by the sound of the door opening.

Mazarine quickly wiped her eyes dry and turned to face her adoptive parents. ‘See how much they love you?’ she thought to herself as she hugged them. ‘So what if they’re not your real family? They’re as good as!’

“Look at you!” The woman Mazarine had come to call her mother fixed a fresh bluebell in her long brown hair and gazed lovingly at her. “So beautiful.” She planted a light kiss on Mazarine’s forehead.

“It is time.” Her father said, his eyes brimming with tears. Gently, he lowered the veil to cover her face and stepped back to admire her.

Ever so slowly, they took Mazarine’s arms and led her out of their home to the front garden. Through the lace veil, Mazarine saw people stand and heard them sigh faintly as they walked down the aisle. And right in front of her, at the altar, she saw him— the boy she was expected to spend the rest of her life with— William— tall, blonde, handsome and smiling pleasantly … but not right.

A tear made its way down her cheek. She couldn’t do it. She had to get away. She felt extremely guilty even thinking about it, but marrying a boy she knew nothing about and felt nothing for was not something she could go through with.

The music stopped. Mazarine turned to face William. She looked directly into his eyes. They, like hers, were deep blue. Wrong. They should have been gray. She didn’t know why. But she knew they should have been. For a second, they stood face-to-face, she trying to explain herself through silent conversation.

Mazarine blinked. The moment was gone. She saw William’s smile falter as she gathered up the folds of her gown and turned toward the garden gate. “I’m sorry.” She whispered to him with one last sideways glance, shaking off her veil.

And then she ran.

 ***

 To the edge to the village … across the bridge over the stream … straight through the dark forest … Mazarine let her intuition guide her. Listening to her intellect and going to the city would have been the smarter choice— but also the more obvious choice— and Mazarine prided herself in being unpredictable. And she couldn’t risk being found again.

Not that she’d been mistreated for the 9 years she could remember. On the contrary, she’d been given more love and care than she thought she ever deserved, considering how she’d just abandoned the people who had graciously taken her in without asking any questions.

But for everyday of those 9 years, she’d only willed herself to fit in and it was through sheer gratitude that she had stayed on. Thinking back, she came to the conclusion that it would have been far kinder of her to have left immediately.

And now that monumental decisions of her life were being taken for her without her consent, she knew that the moment had arrived. It was, to her, a sign from the Universe not to continue staying where she didn’t belong. She was sorry to have done it on that day, in front of so many people, but it couldn’t be helped.

“It’s done.” Mazarine told herself firmly, “There’s no going back now.”

 ***

 The moment the trees began to thin out, Mazarine heard it. It was a strange sound, yet somehow intimately familiar. Her heart began to pound. She knew in a trice she was closer home than she’d ever been in the past 9 years. She paused for an instant, listening to the regular, rhythmic, somewhat reassuring crashing. She loved it.

Then, with renewed vigour, she sprinted straight ahead toward the other side. And in a matter of minutes, she found herself making her way down gigantic rocks toward the seashore. A chill ran down her spine. In the moonlight, the sands looked like quicksilver and the rippling water, ghostly.

The sight evoked such ecstasy in her being that she began to sing. It wasn’t a song she remembered having heard, but the lyrics and tune seemed to flow effortlessly, and her voice sounded joyful, ethereal and more beautiful than she had ever dreamed possible. So she sang.

“You came.”

The song ended abruptly as Mazarine started. She spun around to face the person who had whispered into her ear. And found herself stunned into silence. Never had she dared to dream that she would meet someone who would really take her breath away at first glance. But when she looked into his eyes— and she noticed they were a wonderful, dark gray— there was something so tender in his expression as he smiled at her that she couldn’t help but hyperventilate.

He lifted his hand to brush her hair out of her face. She gasped at his touch. It was so familiar! But who was he?

“I knew you’d come back.” He whispered as he stroked her cheek softly, “They called me a fool. But I still believed … in you … in us.”

“Who are you?” Mazarine asked finally.

His face fell.

Mazarine instantly felt guilty.

A second later though, he sighed. “You don’t remember. I thought maybe … and you don’t remember who you are?”

Mazarine shook her head.

He looked distraught. Then he took a deep breath and held out his hand. “Let me show you.”

Mazarine didn’t hesitate to take his hand. Another gasp escaped her. She felt electricity. Too astounded to speak, she let him lead her down to the beach. He selected a spot, where they sat with the waves approaching to lick their toes every few minutes.

“Close your eyes.” He said to her quietly, taking her hand again. “It will come to you.”

Mazarine did as he asked. Her other senses immediately seemed stronger. The sea seemed to whispering to her. She could smell him too … it was an aroma unlike any she remembered having inhaled recently and it made her giddy with joy. She loved the taste of salt in the air … and the feeling of the water caressing her feet …

“Take your time. I’m right here waiting … Corelle.”

 ***

 A village. Beautiful, but strange. There was definitely something different about it. The light somehow moved constantly, and the whole place seemed to shimmer. There were no trees. Instead, there were tall plants she could only describe as creepers waving synchronously with the light. Interspersed between this unusual vegetation, were several huge and colourful structures. What they were, she couldn’t tell. She only knew she loved them.

She looked down at the ground to find the path that led up to the nearest one, and was surprised to find there wasn’t one— in fact, there were no paths at all— the ground consisted of sand and sparkling stones of different sizes and all colours for as far as she could see.

Suddenly, she heard singing. The voices she heard were so beautiful, they gave her goosebumps. She whirled around, trying to locate the source of such extraordinary music. It seemed to be coming from the nearest of those colourful structures. It took her a moment to realise that they were all dwellings— each of a different colour, shape and size, with roughly cut doors and windows, through each of which emanated a surreal glow.

“Corelle?” She felt herself turn toward the voice that called her name.

 And then she remembered.

 ***

 “Neifion?” Her eyes flew open as her memory returned in a flash. She turned to find him nodding vigorously, his face aglow with pure delight.

“Corelle.” He said simply, evidently unable to stop smiling.

Corelle took a deep breath as she let it sink in. No wonder she’d never fit in. No wonder she’d wanted to leave the moment she’d woken up. No wonder she’d never been allowed to cross the bridge to the forest …

With a start, she remembered the cottage she’d just run away from … and it all came back to her like it had been yesterday: how she’d swum too far out and been washed ashore … how her ‘father’ had found her on the rocks while fishing … how he’d taken her home to her ‘mother,’ who proclaimed she was God’s answer to their prayers for a daughter … how they’d nursed her back to health and offered her all the love, care and comforts they possibly could …

And then she remembered how she was never allowed across the bridge into the ‘dark and dangerous woods’ … how she never liked to work in the garden … how she felt trapped even with more freedom than most other people she knew … how she was too ‘strange’ for the other girls her age … how boys would crave for her beauty and mystique but none of them was ever quite right for her … how she was practically auctioned off to the family that asked for the least dowry … how she ran away at last …

“I can’t believe you waited for 9 years.” Corelle said eventually, her eyes brimming with tears.

“I knew you’d come back.” Neifion repeated patiently.

“But … why didn’t you come looking for me?”

“Because I was not taken.” He said simply.

Corelle frowned. “As in?”

“I wasn’t taken … I can’t enter the world beyond the rocks.”

Corelle gaped.

“Don’t you remember? ‘It is only—”

“Dorothea’s Doctrine.” Corelle nodded.

“‘—those who are transported beyond the confines of our world who can ever mingle with the Humans. In addition, these unfortunates suffer loss of their memories of the Deep until it is time for their return. It is one of the Universe’s ways of guarding the secret of our existence from the prying eyes and greedy hearts of the Humans.’

“They’re not all bad, you know.” Corelle said at once. She proceeded to detail everything she’d experienced since she’d become a part of the Randall family. She found herself going through several emotions as she spoke … gratitude, joy, anger, sorrow …

When she finished, she felt a strange longing for the people who had given her 9 years of their lives. She gazed into the now lightening sky sadly.

“I know what you’re thinking, Corelle.” Neifion said understandingly, caressing her trembling hands. “But you did the right thing by coming back. They may have done everything for you, but you don’t belong there. You belong back home … with me.”

“But … I feel so …”

“There is no guilt in finding your way back home.”

He held her tenderly as she sobbed into his chest. Then with one gentle movement, he lifted her face toward his and kissed her.

“Come back home with me, Corelle. It is where you belong.”

Corelle wiped her face dry and looked up at him. “Thank you, Neifion.”

“What for?”

“For waiting … for believing … for always.”

Neifion smiled. “I love you, Corelle.”

“And I love you, Neifion.”

Together, they stood. With one last glance at the world she was leaving behind, Corelle tightened her grip on Neifion’s fingers and let him lead her into the receding waves, still barely believing she was on her way back.

A minute later, she felt herself transform. She looked down at herself and laughed. It felt so natural to be in her true form once again. Her tail glimmered turquoise and reflected tiny rainbow coloured flecks of sunlight off them into the surrounding water. Her tail fin, in contrast, filtered off some of the light and seemed to glow aquamarine.

She looked at Neifion. His lean torso topped a ruby red tail as he led her further down toward their home. She had never seen anything so perfect.

When the coralliform houses lit by their jellyfish lamps began to wink into sight, Neifion turned to Corelle with an expression of pure elation. He took her hands in his and drew her close. His eyes shining with happiness, he whispered, “This is it, Corelle. We’re here. Welcome home.”