The Gulmohar Petal

Ever since her wedding, the curse of imperfection had fogged Sarla’s life. The house was never as clean as she wanted it to be and the quantity of food that she laboriously prepared was never quite right for two people. Her life became a broken symphony that alternated between hungry stomach rumbles and the creaking of the refrigerator shelves that protested against the unbearable weight of leftovers. She had made her peace with the light bulb in the kitchen that flickered like an oil lamp in a storm, and the table with one crooked leg that jiggled even if a feather fell on it, but pregnancy brought new hurdles that Sarla was not prepared for at all.

Tiny stretch marks crawled across her buttery skin like venomous white snakes and the morning sickness painted dark circles under her eyes. The biggest blow, however, was delivered to Sarla along with her child. Her daughter had sparkling eyes that were shinier than the stars and pink cheeks that could put any rose bud to shame. All this beauty was pointless though because as Sarla moved her eyes towards her daughter’s chin, her vision was darkened by a giant birthmark. This muddy blotch concealed its wickedness beneath the innocent shape of a Gulmohar petal. One glance at her baby was all it took for Sarla to realise that along with her aquiline nose and wide forehead, she had passed on the gnawing curse of imperfection to her offspring. Still high on medication and drenched in blood, she made a silent promise to herself to destroy this blemish that could ruin her daughter’s life.

Ironically, Sarla’s constant attempts to hide the discoloration on Ritu’s face saddened the little girl way more than the blemish itself. Too young to understand the meaning of beauty, Ritu relied on her mother’s words that she could only look pretty when covered in layers of powder and paint. Adding to this conviction were the gasps and concerned questions that erupted around her whenever Ritu forgot to put on the mask of flawlessness before stepping out of the house. By the age of 16, Ritu was tired of this daily ritual and craved for a permanent solution to the problem. She wondered who would want to marry her when she only had half a perfect face, and feared that she would have to spend her entire married life in disguise. She posed these questions to her mother one day and for the first time in her life, found her at a loss of words. Sarla realised that all her efforts had been too feeble to vanquish the mighty beast.

The very next day, Sarla booked an appointment with the best cosmetic surgeon in town, someone she knew that she could not afford, but when it came to her daughter, she could not leave any stone unturned. A number was mentioned, a large number with as many digits as an insect has legs. Sarla could feel this insect crawling up her spine on her ride back home, while her thoughts were busy calculating and recalculating her savings and the value of her possessions. Against the loud objections of her husband, Sarla sold all her jewellery and parted with all the money that the couple had saved up over the years. By the time the doctor’s bills were paid, the family was left with nothing except the roof over their heads, although the joy of seeing Ritu’s face without the horrible Gulmohar stamp on it was greater than what any amount of wealth could ever provide.

Throughout the next week, Sarla lit up every corner of her home at night, to celebrate Ritu’s bright future. It was Diwali in her house every day until a sneaky candle fell off the table with the crooked leg and set a nearby curtain on fire. Sarla and her family barely managed to escape but the house was reduced to ash and rubble. While others saw destruction and dirt when they looked at the debris, all Sarla could see was the grey pattern of a Gulmohar petal.