This short story is participating in Write Story from Picture India 2012 – Short Story Writing Competition.
Sadanand picked up the photos lying on the table and exclaimed, “Oh! What a beauty! Very beautiful face! Certainly worth an award of Best Photogenic face”.
He called his wife Rajini and asked her from where she got those photos. There were five in all, of the same girl – but in five different poses. One direct, one full length, one side profile, one silhouette – all smiling bewitchingly and the last one in full blast laughter, as though it was captured when she burst out in laughter after a crude or funny joke.
Rajini said, “A guy named Anand had come and given the photos along with a cover. May be it contains a letter for you”.
Sadanand was a noted cinematographer and had won quite a few awards for his excellent work in many films. There was a growing market value for his name. No wonder he was chosen as one of the Judges for the Femina-Pantaloon Beauty Contest. He laughed aloud and told his wife,
“Look at the way the girls are going crazy nowadays, to take part in Beauty Queen Contests. Even before my name as one of the juries had come in the Newspaper, photos are pouring in for my special attention and favours! Is there any ‘Early Bird Scheme’ in the Contest or did anyone tell them that it is going to be ‘First-come-first-served’ Contest?”
His wife Rajini said, “May be you are right in your judgement of girls of today. But the young man who gave the photos was certainly not happy. May be he had something to tell you in his letter and the cover was heavy too”.
Sadanand opened the cover and took the letter out which ran into pages. He thought –
“Why should an unknown fellow write a long letter – rather a very long letter to me? Did he not know communication in any form with the jury will disqualify the candidate?”
With mixed feelings he read the letter. It was all about Shailaja, the girl in the photo.
Shailaja, the girl in the photo was no doubt very beautiful, – beautiful as a flower. Her friends and colleagues in her college prompted her to take part in the Beauty Queen Contest. At the outset, she did not bother and brushed it aside as rubbish. But when they repeatedly told her, she took it as flattery. But as the closing date was drawing near, she developed an urge –
“May be my friends are correct. Why not give a try?”
When her friends again persuaded her, she made up her mind and firmed up, “Yes I will”.
The same day she sat down on her agenda. She thought she would first take few snaps of herself in different poses and angles all from her mobile phone, show them to her close friends, get their opinion, select one, then go to the studio and take similar photos on same pattern. She at first set the camera on a tripod and viewed the angle, while sitting at the window side of her balcony. Her hair left open and flowing, her hand holding the cellular phone candidly, and the mounted camera capturing her alluring smile on her beautiful countenance, in the most natural and gay abandon style. It was not only her picture, even the scene and scenaries of adjoining areas, all had come out crystal clear. She was quite satisfied with her photo. She wanted to try some more in different styles. Why not a full size? She questioned herself. So she stood in front of a full size mirror and tried her best to shoot. It was not so good. This she thought would come out well only in a photo studio. Then she tried a side profile. In this attempt, either she could not hold the cell phone or could not manage the pose. Even then her effort was not a futile one. Then she dimmed the lights and tried her hand on capturing a silhouette style photo.
“Not bad!” She patted herself.
Just then, her cousin Anand came to see her. He had come in hot sun and sweating profusely. He took out his hand kerchief and wiped his face without realizing that it was not clean. He had totally forgotten that by mistake he had used it while he was working on his canvas. It contained colorful grease and stains. The liberal application of grease and stains was more than enough to provoke Shailaja to burst into laughter – which in turn provoked Anand to capture her photo on his mobile phone. Even if it was a routine slapstick comedy in any cinema or TV serials, but whenever we encountered such instances in real life, it turned out to be an evergreen comedy only.
Shailaja told him that she was going to take part in a Miss India Contest. He knew of her stubborn nature and so he wished her well – though he did not like the idea. She showed the photos she had taken on her mobile phone and asked him to select a good one.
He said “Naturally, the first one!”
All other photos did not project her full form or features. Anand tried to explain to her that while taking photos of self, only the face and expressions gained clarity, as lens and the object were directly facing each other. The side profile or other poses could not be considered great. He told her,
“Since you have decided to take part in the Beauty Contest, better go to a photo studio. You are sure to be a winner of one or the other category. Even if you are not declared Miss India / Miss World / Miss Earth / Miss Universe or whatever you call it, you are sure to win Best Photogenic Face and or Best All rounder. You take it from me. One is rest assured for you.”
Of course, his appreciation did not sound flattery to her. In fact, he had boosted her level of confidence. With dreams flying high, she left for the studio.
Actually, Anand had come to see her for a totally different purpose. But in the muddle of his grease paintings on his face and her photo sessions, he had totally forgotten his very purpose of visit. He had come to invite her and her parents for his Painting Exhibition. He had already fixed the cinema fame Art Director Thota Tharani for the inaugural function. He had about 50 or so paintings to be put up for exhibition cum sale. In fact he had just finished his last masterpiece on canvas and then come over here and unknowingly painted himself with grease and colors. He had lot of things to attend to in connection with the function. First he had to prepare a list of invitees and among them choose VIPs and in them, very very important personalities, print invitation cards in two or three varieties, oversee the work in the exhibition hall, set the lightings properly for highlights, etc. etc… So he thought he would ask Shailaja to assist him also simultaneously inviter her parents personally that too well in advance. He needed to talk to her in detail and so had necessarily to wait for her to return from the studio. Her parents were also not available at home. They had gone for a spiritual discourse in Ram Mandir. So he had necessarily to wait for Shailaja to turn up from the photo studio.
“What happened to Shailaja? Why has she not come back yet? Has she gone elsewhere also? But she is not an irresponsible idiot to go places, knowing fully well that he would be waiting for her to return. But what happened to this silly girl?”
Anand was getting worried. He knew she left in an auto and would go to Moonlight Studio only, because, earlier once, the studio owner had asked for her photos to be displayed in his shop. Moreover, that was the only studio which was close by. The photo shoot also would not take very long. Putting an end to his thoughts, he called her on her mobile number. It remained silent. Again he tried. Again it was silent. Suddenly, a streak of fear ran through his spine —
“Has anything gone wrong with her?”
He could not wait further. He jumped on to his motorbike and set out. Very soon he encountered a traffic jam. A crowd in the middle of road had gathered and blocked traffic from all four sides. At some other point of time, he would have avoided the crowd and gone by adjacent parallel roads and lanes. But now he did not. He had to ensure that nothing untoward had happened to Shailaja and that she was safe somewhere. He steered himself through the crowd and drew nearer. Lo! He could not bear to see the ghastly sight. What he feared, had come true .The most horrible thing had happened. Shailaja draped in her pink sari was lying in a pool of blood, her face fully smashed and gone beyond recognition. Still there was no doubt at all. She was dead on the spot.
The autorickshaw in which she travelled was hit from behind by a vehicle and she was thrown out from the auto. Just right then another vehicle coming speedily from opposite side, ran over her and came to a halt and only after hitting two more stationary vehicles and jolting them – making a mess and adding commotion to the already confused arena. Chaos and chaos everywhere. Anand moved forward and picked up her cell phone which was lying by her side. The Police arrived there promptly blowing their siren. The crowd too slowly withered away fearing unnecessary and unwanted queries. But Anand came forward and told Police all he knew about the accident – even though he was not an eye witness. He wanted the police’ procedures and formalities to be speeded up and the case be closed at the earliest as the victim was no more and that she was a young lady and more importantly his close relative. But the police knew how to handle such fatal road accidents. At first they seized the vehicles, then caught hold of auto drivers who were fatally injured and sent them to government hospitals. The police had a solid case to book the culprits and also extract as much as they could from them.
Anand had a mission ahead of him. Shailaja’s (death) wish, now an unfulfilled desire of participating in the Beauty Contest was hanging in front of him. She was so she sure that she would be a winner at least in one or the other category. He made up his mind and went ahead with his idea. First he went to the Moonlight Photo Studio and asked the photographer there to develop the photos taken out by herself on her mobile phone. Extra copy of one photo of hers he had reserved for publishing in OBITUARY column of local Newspaper. What a crude Joke!! The photo taken out by herself with lot of hopes of winning a “Beauty Queen Contest” was going for declaring her own death in the obituary column in all leading newspapers!
All other photos he packed up neatly and put them in a cover. Mere photos might not convey everything about her. So he wrote down a detailed letter covering all aspects from the inception to the fatal end. He went around and found out who the jury could be for the Photogenic Category, came to his house and handed over the cover and the letter. In the letter he had made an appeal – a simple and humble request –
“If found suitable, can you please accord an award POSTHUMOUSLY and declare Shailaja a winner as ‘Miss Photogenic Face’. All other categories require her personal appearance and a ‘Catwalk’. It was her death wish to participate in Beauty Contest. In fact she died while chasing her cherished desire. Is there not a single provision for granting a posthumous award? Please Sir, please honour her attempts and sincere pursuits.”
Sadanad closed his eyes and prayed in silence for the girl. He took out the photos and looked at them intently. He kept looking at one particular photo in which she was laughing out liberally. Of course the balcony photo also arrested his attention. All these smiling photos had a tragic end! A bitter truth.
He murmured, “Yes! She does deserve an award! Had she been alive, surely she would have been crowned as Queen leaving others to run behind her – as runner up”.
Just like Anand, he too wished he could grant an award for her posthumously and declare her as winner. Alas! The rules of the contest are silent on this aspect. For whatever it was worth, he had sent the photos and the letter along with his recommendations for the committee to decide upon the death wish of a “prospective” candidate.
When the Committee declares its decision, who knows! May be Shailaja will get her dreams come true which she will perceive from heaven. Anand heaved a sigh of relief for having done his job to his utmost satisfaction. Whatever the Committee or the juries may decide, he had already declared her as the Best Beauty Queen and the queen is now laid to rest. Let her soul rest in peace.