I love lipstick. Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by it. In my childhood, in most conservative families this was a banned item. You could apply thick Kajal under your eyes which was considered very appropriate and even good for the eyes; on festive occasions grown-ups could use betel leaves and lime which reddened their lips which was completely acceptable. But applying lipstick was a strict no-no. My father said only ‘chattaikaris’ (anglo-Indians) used lipstick. – to my young mind it seemed like there was some sort of a law against non Anglo-Indians using it. And there wasn’t even the possibility of stealing lipstick from an adult’s cosmetic bag – none of my relatives used it. So lipstick came to symbolise all that I wanted to be when I grew up – rebellious, liberated and free to do what I wanted.

In my high school days whenever we participated in school plays or dances we were allowed to wear rose powder and lipstick which was all the make-up we knew about. The teacher in charge of these cultural activities had the budget to buy one container of the said powder ( cheapest of course – might have been Ponds in those days, not sure) and one bright red lip stick which was applied across the board irrespective of the colour of their dress and their own complexion. On those rare occasions I felt like Miss world and as Ugich Konitari mentions in this post, we always hoped we would be allowed to sleep with the make-up on. Most of us would be scared to close our painted lips for fear of erasing it. Imagine having to use words with sounds like M and P! That would have meant danger to the colour on the lips and we were quite sure that the teacher would not have entertained any request for a touch up. I remember rushing back to the house after the event with all the powder and lipstick on my face making sure that the lips were pursed inward all the way home. It might have meant trouble if any adult we knew had spotted me with lipstick on the street.

Lipstick and trouble seem to go together as though they were meant for each other. Remember the ‘lipstick on the pig’ remark by the American President-elect Obama during his election campaign? And of course ‘lipstick on the collar’ has always meant trouble for married men!! In ancient Egypt it was a source of much trouble because ancient Egyptian women squeezed out purple-red color from iodine and bromine, leading to serious diseases and hence it came to be referred to as ‘the kiss of death’. Cleopatra’s lipsticks spelt trouble too - not to her but to certain species of insects. It is said that Cleopatra’s lipstick were made from carmine beetles, which when worked with pestle gave a strong red color pigment. This was mixed with ant’s eggs, which provided the base. And in recent history, a certain Mr. Naqvi may not have had much peace since he mentioned the word lipstick..

I have courted trouble too with my obsession with the lipstick. When I was in the seventh or eighth grade, there was this friend in our class who was very fair and had naturally pink lips. She had this habit of biting her lips every now and then which made her lips even redder. I remember spending many an evening trying to bite my lips in the hope of turning them naturally red and finally I only ended with sore lips, blood and all. And then came the discovery of Asha. My mother used a sort of wax as the base before applying her kumkum on the forehead – it was called ‘asha” for some reason. Perhaps that was the name of the brand. Now this was a bright red wax much like today’s lip balm and a little of it was enough to give a bright red colour. For a while it became a favorite clandestine activity to steal ‘asha” and apply it all over the lips. Suddenly one felt all grown up and ‘sophisticated’ – there was a change in the way one spoke and walked with ‘asha’ on the lips. One fine afternoon, my father caught me red-handed ( red-lipped rather) and he asked me to wipe it off right away – he said I looked like a monkey .

I was twenty-one by the time I owned by first lipstick which was part of a make-up set gifted by my college friends for my wedding. And by the early eighties it was quite common for middle-class working women to wear lipstick though generally not among teachers, doctors etc. Just as the lipstick was coming within my reach there was a change in fashion which made the un-made-up look popular at the workplace unless you were in the entertainment or hospitality industries. Otherwise people wore lipstick only for parties, weddings etc. Or they wore shades that blended naturally with their lip colour which made it almost invisible. None of the maroon that actress Rekha sported and looked gorgeous and which I so longed to wear. Not that I'd have been able to carry it off but did I care? And on the rare occasions that I actually got to use a lipstick I realised that I simply did not possess the panache to keep it on. One glass of juice was enough to get rid of it all; and I don’t think I would choose to starve in order just to keep the colour on.So finally I have accepted that I was never born to wear a lipstick and yet, if you see me lingering in a page in any magazine it would most certainly have an ad for some brand of lipstick.

Now that I have established clearly that I do not wear any lipstick, Mr. Naqvi, may I shout some slogans against you?
Aarti sat on the steps that led from her drawing room to the dining space and surveyed the arrangement – new covers for the cushions in rich hues and soft fabric, fresh flowers in the vases, carpet vacuumed to look as good as new. The room looked warm and welcoming. She closed her eyes savoring the feeling of contentment. She loved to surround herself with beautiful things and worked hard to keep them beautiful. She was naturally gifted with the creativity to transform simple spaces into artistic niches by furnishing them inventively. Visitors to the house never failed to comment on how good they felt in her house where everything blended beautifully and harmoniously.

Except Karthik, Aarti’s husband. A busy surgeon at one of the best hospitals in the city, he spent very little time at home and even those hours were spent reading or watching the television. His skill, dedication and patience had made him very popular among his patients. It also helped that his father was one of the most respected surgeons in the city. With her too he was patient, willing to listen and respectful of her opinions. Their life lacked no comfort as they lived on an unlimited budget and he never questioned her about any expense however extravagant or unnecessary.

To all their friends theirs was the charmed life fairy tales were made of. Their lifestyle was something they could hope to have if they worked hard for another ten years. Many of her friends from college still lived in the city and they met every few months to share an afternoon of fun and laughter. Sometimes there were tears too about their husbands and their insensitivity or disappointment over their failures. A couple of them had even separated. To all of them, Aaarti’s life with Karthik was the model of a happy marriage. They openly told her how jealous they were of her to have someone like Karthik – handsome, successful and liberal.

Although she allowed her friends to believe that her life was perfect, Aaarti had her secret longings. Karthik had no romantic streak in him – if she said she wanted Romance, he might tell her to go ahead and buy it never mind the cost! He was down-to-earth about everything. He did not notice any of her efforts in beautifying the house and even when she deliberately drew his attention to these all he could think of saying was: ‘Nice, but I thought it looked nice earlier too”. After the first few months of their marriage, Aarti gave up expecting him to appreciate her efforts. But there were days when she longed that he would send her flowers or bring her a surprise gift or call her from work just to say he was thinking of her.

Those were the times she missed Anand. Anand who never forgot her birthdays, who noticed every little thing she did and appreciated it, who worshipped the ground she walked on, who made sure she was escorted everywhere. His family lived on the same street as her parents and they were also related in some distant way. Both parents approved of their friendship and there was a tacit understanding that they would be married eventually. Until Aarti’s grandmother decided to match their horoscopes! Everything went awry when the astrologer declared that his natal chart alignment signified an early death for his wife. So naturally the grandmother’s iron will prevailed and the parents were not so sure anymore. A disappointed Anand applied for a job overseas. When he found one in Singapore he disappeared from her life. He never wrote to her and eventually Aarti accepted that he was gone forever from her life.

She did not think of Anand often in the early years of her life with Karthik. It felt good to be married to the sort of man whom all her friends admired and wanted. And in any case it was tough to find anything wrong with Karthik who was kind and gentle and never demanded or complained. But after the first year she felt that Karthik and she were already like an old couple, married for 25 years or so and comfortable with each other – no surprises, nothing unpredictable, everything was a given. Life was placid, calm and ... she searched for the right word in her mind and found it - and... BORING.

It lacked the excitement her friends seemed to be having – the romance of struggling together , seeking reassurance and comfort in each other, joy in simple things. Often she thought of what it might have been had she married Anand. Life might have been full of spice –romantic walks in the park, saving for exotic holidays, candle light dinners, surprise gifts and cards, valentine days, fighting and making up (fighting just to make up perhaps) - she imagined all the candy floss from Bollywood and Hollywood. They would still be struggling financially but she imagined their love might have compensated for everything they lacked materially. When she heard romantic songs, especially from the past, she was reminded of him.

Now as she sat there on the steps looking at the room she wondered what Anand might have said about it. She knew that he would have noticed every minor detail and made her feel special. He always did.

She emerged from the reverie she had drifted into when the phone rang. It was from her mother who called to give her news that was music to her ears. Anand had come visiting his parents after all these years! Aaarti could not believe that this was indeed happening. She asked her mother a hundred questions about him – how he looked, how he spoke, had he acquired an accent, did he look happy, was he back for good, what had she told him about her, and about Karthik. Her mother laughed at her questions and simply said that he was the same old Anand they knew and that he had taken her number to call before visiting her.
Aarti felt strange after the call. She could not focus her thoughts. She felt nervous all of a sudden. She picked up a book to read but couldn’t concentrate. She tried to nap but was worried she might miss his call. She made sure she carried the handset along wherever she went in the house. Finally the phone rang.

To her relief it was from Anand. She tried to sound casual but her voice made her excitement clear. His happiness was palpable too. They made plans for him to meet Karthik over the weekend but she wanted to meet him before that. So they decidced to meet for lunch the next day.

She put the phone down and suddenly she was all frazzled, feeling like a teenager before her first date. She couldn’t decide what she wanted to wear. She wanted to look perfect for this meeting but at the same time appear casual. Suddenly her wardrobe seemed inadequate. She wished she had more time and then she wished she didn’t have to wait till next afternoon. She wanted to cry. For once she was happy that Karthik did not notice how nervous she was.

After the longest 20 hours of her life, finally it was it was time to leave. She could still not think of the perfect thing to say when they met. She knew this would be a Kodak moment in her memory and she wanted this to be perfect for both of them. No blunders.
She did not want him to be disappointed in anyway either.

When she entered the restaurant he was already at their table and got up to greet her. He looked just the same and she said that. He laughed and then said:
‘But you seem to have graduated to the contented Indian housewife look. Your husband’s prosperity shows on you, you know ’ he winked and then he laughed.
In the past she had never been offended by his references to her appearance and weight. It was true that she had added a few kilos since her marriage but she was by no means fat and in any case this was not warranted.
She excused herself and went to the restroom and when she came back he announced that he had already placed the order for starters.
“Hey I know your taste and I am sure you will like what I ordered”, he said and she tried valiantly to hide her irritation.
He updated her on his job, life in Singapore etc. She relaxed soon and asked him whether he had lost his way all these years and finally strayed back home.
He laughed and announced he was back to find a bride : ‘ There’s no substitute to a good Indian girl for a happy married life”
“How so?’ Aarti asked a bit confused.
“Someone who’d be content to take care of the husband and house, who would put her family before her career you know, like you for example. No feminist nonsense for me. In any case I make enough money so there is no need for her to go out and work.”

‘What do you even know about my life to make these comments?’ Aaarti thought and it suddenly occurred to her that Karthik had laid no conditions about her decision to have a career or not. She was free to do what she wanted. She tried to recollect if he had ever attempted to force anything on her – be it books or food preferences or clothing. Never.
It had always been “whatever you want to do.”

As the afternoon progressed and they talked more she was struggling to figure out why she was ever in love with this person. He still made her laugh but it was not the subtle , intelligent kind of humour but of the adolescent and boisterous variety. She found it loud. And he was dominating and sometimes insensitive. It seemed to her that you need the naïveté of romantic love to dull the edge of selfishness and oppression and make them seem as protectiveness and attention and care.
“I am glad we finally met again after all these years. I feel so much better now” she said while parting and meant every word of it.

She got into the car and suddenly she couldn’t wait to get back to her boring life.

P.s: This is a real story from a friend's life. She dreamt of her college boyfriend for 5 years after her marriage and then when they met again, she couldn't wait to take the flight back to her husband. And then she lived happily ever after. I have used it here upon her suggestion.
It has been a depressing few days for the nation as a whole. We have been as sickened by the sounds of gunshots and explosives as by the incessant voices on the various channels especially those of politicians. It was something you wanted to run away from and yet could not. It seemed that sitting before the television and hoping for the drama to end soon was all you could do to express solidarity to the people who were trapped inside, engulfed in horror and for the brave men who were going about their job unaffected by the cameras and mayhem surrounding the scene of action. Over the 60 hour period, emotions changed from shock to horror to gratitude to relief but catharsis came finally through tears. Copious tears shed for the loss of some of our best officers and the young commando from one's own city, for all those who came to visit this country and never went back and for the staff who took care of their guests till their very last; and for baby Moshe who doesn't know the immensity of his loss and all children for whom living with terror might become a way of life. Heart-breaking stories and tales of real heroism.

It is all finally over but somehow you know your world has changed forever. When you wave goodbye to someone and say 'take care' it is no longer perfunctory, you mean it. When people are unduly delayed or when some one is traveling, you do tend to check the television news often and there is a feeling of unease until they are safely home. Nothing is certain anymore except NOW.

And then there is anger, a lot of anger:

- at the evil gunmen and their masters. Their death came too soon, you want them rot away slowly pleading for mercy. Did the lone survivor say he has no regrets? Oh, we will see about that and by the time we are through with the investigations you will have plenty of that don't worry!

- at those who had intelligence of the plot and chose to ignore it. Why? How could they take something like this lightly? Every false alarm is worth investigation. You can never be too sure considering what the city has suffered recently.

- at the men who groveled for our votes but now choose to sit in their comfortable chairs and say that in a big city such things are bound to happen. Really? So remind us again why do we have a government and why do we pay our taxes?
I'd be happy to see their heads roll and that is not in figurative terms.

- at the politicians who try to get some bandwidth out of a brave young man's death and making a mockery of his funeral disrespecting the sentiments of his grieving family.
No wonder his father could not handle it anymore when the Kerala CM and home minister came visiting. He simply ordered them out of his house.

- at our neighbor - who still refuses to see that it is in its own interest to act on evidence presented and not hide behind rhetoric. How many such incidents do they need to see that terror is no longer a local phenomenon and collective action is needed to confront and quell it or it may be their turn next. How long will they turn a blind eye to it?

- at the media - well not exactly anger but irritation at the way you all went overboard with your reporting. yes,we heard that you were risking your lives to bring us footage of the scene of action. But I am not sure if we needed all the information you gave us. Frankly, what was the need for a minute by minute report - it wasn't a match happening there. So many media persons around might actually have been a distraction and added stress on the administration. Even otherwise, you could just shown us the pictures and let the camera speak. We could have done with less of your incessant chatter. Arnab, Barka and Rajdeep, your lung power is simply amazing. But next time, follow the simple rule: If there is nothing new to report, that is your cue to shut up. And you don't shove microphones before worried and grieving people to give you a sense of what is going through their minds. Not done. ( edited to add: Gnani Sankaran, Tamil writer raises some very important points on the lopsided media coverage of the attack here.)

So did we hear the politicians say that the nation stood united in those moments of terror? That moment is apparently over as they have gone back to their old bickering and pettiness. Calculations must be on to see how this disaster can be converted to votes or seats. Looks like life is back to normal.

Only normal is not so normal anymore for the man on the street.