Nalini was getting ready for work. It was already 7:30 AM and considering that it would take her at least 25 minutes to walk the 2km to her workplace, it would be cutting it close. She hated to be late; it was a sure way to get an earful, enough to last her the entire day. Nevertheless, she was unflustered. She stood in the light of the early morning rays streaming in through the small window and applied oil and plaited her long, black hair. She applied red circular bindi on her forehead and smeared bright red sindoor, announcing herself a wife. She carefully traced the elegant curves of her eyes with kajal. She patted down her salwar kurta that though not pressed, was neat, clean and without a single crease. Donning a dupatta, she considered herself in the small rectangular mirror, hanging on one of the walls of the single room, she called her home. The reflection beheld a young and petite 17-year-old. The red of her sindoor shone against her dark brown, clear skin. Her shiny, black hair was neat. No feature though was as powerful as her eyes. The eyes, accentuated by the black of the kajal, were radiant with her vigor, to never accept defeat.
Her eyes declared to the world that it did not matter that she was poor. It did not matter that she had lost her livelihood and was forced to migrate to the city. It did not matter that she had left behind her beautiful home to live in a shack surrounded by filth. It did not matter that her 32-year-old husband was a drunk. It did not matter that she was the mother of a 4-year-old; struggling to give her child at least a slim chance of a better life. It did not matter that her childhood had been smothered by domesticity and her adolescence burdened with labor. There was only one thing that did matter – she would never give up. She would not despair; she would not be beaten.
She asserted her right to dignity every day in the way she dressed, in the way she walked, in the way she spoke, in everything that she did. It was this drive that made her establish the morning dressing ritual which she followed with almost religious fervor. Just as she would light the lamp and offer flowers to her God every day, she would take the time to dress carefully and neatly…. Satisfied with her reflection, she made her way to Rani’s apartment. Rani, woken by Nalini’s knock, opened the door to let Nalini in and returned to the comfort of her bed. It was, after all, a Saturday morning, when EVERYONE had the right to sleep-in late and indulge in the small pleasures of life. As Rani shuffled back to bed, Nalini picked the broom to sweep the house. It did not matter that she was not everyone.