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There was a small crowd in front of the college notice board. Slowly more students started gathering to see the details as mentioned in the poster which was just put up. Sandeep struggled to get a closer look amidst the shoves and pushes as more crowd began to gather excitedly before the notice board. “It’s on 25th December like last time”, Sandeep said as he tried to dodge the surge of the jostling crowd which had become quite chaotic by this time.
Nikhilesh , Isha , Prerna, and Milind were standing just below the staircase which led to the first-floor classrooms. The five of them, as they were called The Quintet fondly by other students, did everything together, right from sharing aspirations to doing college projects, from traveling together to nearby weekend getaways to the little acts of mischief they used to carry out as a form of fun and unwinding exercise.
“It’s on the Christmas Day like last year and this year the theme given is – The Indian epical woman character still relevant in modern India”. Sandeep said as he gasped to catch some breath.
30th November would be the last exam day for the semester and in December Delhi College of Arts & Commerce had their annual drama competition every year on the Christmas Day.
“Let’s go and discuss in the canteen “, Nikhilesh said to his friends. The quintet started
proceeding towards the canteen, all of them trying to figure out which epical female icon can be thought of for the competition.
“Ok let us make a laundry list of which female icon possibly we can take up for our
performance”- Nikhilesh said in his usual soft tone. He was not much of a vociferous
chatterbox of the group; rather he was “the quiet type” and more of a “thinker “for the group.
And he preferred to remain like that, and the group liked his style of ideation also which they thought stemmed out of his love for silence.
“ We can think of Rani Laxmibai, the strongest character I can think of whose valour and
bravery in countering the British is well marked in history “- Sandeep said in his usual loud beaming voice. “ Padmini and Meerabai are two that comes to my mind although both depicted different forms of strength. The former put up strong resistance not only for the upholding of her own honour but also for the entire Rajput clan, while the latter’s devotion is quite remarkable as she left a lavish life to dedicate herself at the feet of Lord Krishna, even proclaiming to be a Daasi of Him “- Prerna said , she was the scriptwriter of the group in all their performances and took pride in shaping the best out of a character .
“Ok, we got three choices now!!! Anything else people?? “Sandeep asked, trying to bring a
conclusion in deciding the choice so that they could start working on the script as fast as
possible. He was an impatient guy by nature and believed in the speed of execution and
completing things neat and clean, well rehearsed before the deadline.
“Draupadi “Isha spoke for the first time in her usual childish voice. “ Draupadi?? What did you find in her before the other options? And besides, I feel, Mahabharata was more of male gallantry, art of war, and words of wisdom about life, karma and dharma as quoted in Bhagavad Gita than females, excuse me ladies, but the epic didn’t have much meat to bring out women power “ – Sandeep said in a thumping tone sounding quite confident .
“ Well, I think, Draupadi’s resolution along with her determination to avenge the lustful act of her brother –in- laws in front of an open court with not only her husbands present with bowed heads but also wise elders like Bheeshma and Dronacharya keeping mum, is the key factor which brought out the best of the Pandavas. It was she who ignited the spark in them to pick up weapons and establish righteousness over evil lust and greed. So, she, according to me, is worth considering “– Isha said quite affirmatively, her eyes glinting. “What are you thinking Nikhil?” Prerna asked laughingly.” Now please don’t say Kiran Bedi, she is still alive and doing well “She tried teasing him as the group burst out in giggles.
Nikhil was thinking deeply, he didn’t have the habit of jumping and shortlisting hurriedly..
“Well”, he started, “I have a few names in mind which are uncommon ones. “ He sat upright as he started for a long speech.
“Although I know, everyone will find Sita the most common choice, yet she depicted
stability, forgiving, patience and purity. She was considered Mother Earth since she was
found amidst the soil while it was being plowed. Sita represented motherhood, affection and selfless duty towards her husband without expecting anything in return.” Nikhil said with a scholarly look on his face.
“Then we can think of Mohini, a manifestation of Vishnu, whose exuding charm made men lose their mind and surrender to her completely. She was the femme fatale, an enchantress who was at times used by the Gods to create an illusion in the minds of the Rakshashas and eventually bring their doom.“
And.” Nikhil paused for a while” although this too is common, we may think of Savitri who displayed an enormous degree of devotion, strong will and determination while bringing her husband back from the hands of death only by means of her persistence, ascetic nature, and wisdom .”
“And I am also in perfect alignment with Isha regarding Draupadi “– Nikhil concluded his short introspection of the characters which had rushed through his mind in the last 15 minutes. He loved mythology and probably his soft, which appeared as effeminate to some, demeanour along with his love for tenderness, sensitivity, and compassion added with his penchant for artistic beauty of a woman’s qualities made him feel closer to the wonderful women mythological characters
“Ok, we have a few characters to ponder about now. – “Sandeep said enthusiastically. He
always liked taking charge of a situation“Let’s do one thing. Let each of us give a deep thought to each of these characters, dig into
some research from Wiki or Google and then we can meet in the evening at any of our places and finalise the character”- Prerna said conclusively.
All of them agreed and stood up to leave the canteen and depart for home. There is lots of work to do. Research, then planning the roles, bringing in more team members for the characters, arranging for costumes and a schedule of rehearsals…
“Are you coming with me? “ Isha asked Nikhil,” I have a couple of lipsticks to buy “she said with a mischievous smile at the corner of her lips.
The reason behind her smile was simple. Nikhil was an expert in choosing women’s
cosmetics and accessories. His insatiable obsession of appreciating feminine beauty was
known to very few because he was the kind who never revealed his inner fantasies and
desires, even strong likings or dislikings. Isha was one of those very few other than Nikhil’smother Mrs. Verma, who knew about it since Nikhil and Isha grew up together from kindergarten and was almost inseparable friends till Isha’s father shifted from their rented accommodation in Malviya Nagar to Saket at their newly purchased house around the time when both were in 9th Standard .
Thus Nikhil had the inherent expertise to judge what shade or colour of lipsticks would suit a girl given her appeal and personality, at times more than the girl herself. So he was Isha’snatural choice while shopping and as it is she was very choosy with whom she was shopping with, so it was only primarily Nikhil or her sister Vidya
“Let’s hit Chanel in Citywalk mall “Isha squealed with girlish exuberance.
They walked into Chanel at the ground floor of the mall. Isha immediately went to the
lipsticks gallery and started talking to the flamboyantly dressed sales girl as the latter started to show Isha different shades of lipsticks. Nikhil casually looked around and started fidgeting with some of the range of bracelets, pendants, dangles, and drops.
He picked up a dangle and placed it beside his earlobe and looked at the glass mirrors which almost covered the store. He looked good, his thin feminine lips breaking into a delightful smile. Let me try a pair of either of those emerald or seaweed green, he thought.
Ensuring he was not being looked at by a curious onlooker, he put on one emerald green
earring on his left ear which was already pierced. He looked at his reflection sharply,
adjusting the loose strands of hair falling on his face. He liked the impression on the other side of the mirror. If now, he had a little touch of lipstick, he thought, as his narcissist cravings started gaining momentum.
He had earlier done such self-beautification exercises at home with his mother’s wide range of cosmetics, which had no dearth of choices and variety, since Mrs. Verma, being a lady of refined tastes had a fine sense of dressing which had received many compliments in the literary and media circles she often visited.
“Nikhil, again!!!” – His semi-trance state broke as he turned around slowly hearing Isha’s
whisper. She broke into laughter and petted on his cheek.
“Looking good”, she assured him. She was accustomed to Nikhil’s nature and was well
aware about his strong urges and obsessive passion to ornament himself with fine pieces of jewelry, cosmetics range and at times with unisex apparels which she felt was his relentless pursuit to contour himself to a different identity or express a strong message to the world through the way he wanted to present himself.
“Which one?” she asked excitedly, picking up the three shades of lipsticks and holding them before Nikhil’s eyes for him to take a closer look. Nikhil examined them sharply and then glanced at Isha’s face. She was not very fair but had a subdued yet glowing radiance in her looks and her lips looked better in a simple light shade than a thick impactful sultry shade.
He thought for a few seconds and then said “Petal Pink is the one I like although for a real major occasion I would choose velvety red “
“No yaar, it is only for casual occasions, our parties and all.” she casually remarked. “Ok, I will take the Petal Pink for now. That’s why I take you in my shopping binges “She said
They left the store and started walking towards the exit of the mall.
They stepped outside the mall and crossed the road looking for an auto. The busy Saket roadway humdrum of chaotic noise of cars and buses accompanied by occasional screeches of bikes halting.
“Let’s have a papdi chaat yaar, I am hungry, “Isha said, pointing her finger at a Chaatwala
standing beneath a tree on the corner of the road. “Ok”, Nikhil nodded his head in agreement, suddenly finding he is feeling a little hungry as well.
As they started proceeding towards the Chaatwala, a bike came and slowed down before
them. They looked up thinking possibly the biker wanted some directions as was the usual case on any metropolitan roads.
Nikhil sensed something wrong when he found there were three of them upon the bike, all with faces semi-covered with handkerchiefs. His instinct told him something vile was about to happen and he gave an alert look to Isha who was stood stunned and almost frozen as she glared towards the three men on the bike.
The bike’s ignition was still on. The other two pillion riders jumped down from the bike
while the driver kept sitting firmly on his seat with his hands gripped on the motorcycle
The two men moved swiftly towards Isha and the bigger of the duo snapped in Hindi “ Haatchir kar ke tera nam likha , phir bhi mujhe refuse kar ke dursrein laundo ke dil de ke baithihain , saali ??? His face was clearly fuming in rage.
Nikhil now remembered this was the guy Isha had told him about. He had been stalking her for the last few weeks through Whatsapp messages and phone calls. All efforts of blocking his number was in vain since once she blocked one number he appeared to message or call from another number. The matter went quite serious when this guy had sent a message of writing Isha’sname smeared in blood, which he claimed to be his own, upon his forehand and even threatened to commit suicide. Isha, although was a bit scared and shaken initially by the flood of messages which the guy had hurled at him, however, stood firm and had politely expressed to the guy that all she wanted was to study at that moment and even requested the guy to leave her alone.
But, as far as Nikhil knew, it had been one week the guy had stopped calling or texting much to the relief of Isha and all of them felt probably some sanity had been restored in his head. Nikhil started sweating; he had realized that the guy’s silence for the last one week was actually him planning for his big move.
The guy stretched his hand in his jeans pocket and brought out something. Isha had already taken cover behind Nikhil by this time. The other guy took two steps forward and before Nikhil could gauge what he was about to do, a sharp blow landed on his nose which instantly started bleeding. He was wearing brass knuckles!!!
Then he started dragging Nikhil towards his right, in an attempt to separate him from Isha.
Nikhil tried to resist with whatever degree of strength he could muster at that moment, but his lean frame of 55 kilos was no match for this toughie who seemed had quite an expertise in street fights. As he dragged Nikhil, he started hitting Nikhil in his groins with his left knee.
Nikhil shrieked in pain as the guy tossed and swirled him on the pavement.
By this time, the other guy had already grabbed Isha’s right hand fiercely. With one sharp
twist, he swung her arm and gave a tight slap on Isha’s face. He didn’t stop, anger and insane rage and venom exuding from his fiery red eyes. He grabbed Isha’s hair and tore apart the part of her Kurta which was on her shoulder. Now he took a step back and started opening the cap of the small bottle he was carrying. He poured the entire content of the bottle on his face and yelled “ Abhi tu na mera , na kisi ka !!! His voice beamed in thumping evil glory.
“Nooooooo….” Isha screamed in intensifying pain as the acid started blemishing her facial skin. She covered her face and drooped down and fell on the pavement. Her attacker hurled a kick towards her fallen and crumpled figure and called out valiantly to his other two fellow assailants “Chalo re “!!!
The two guys got up on the bike again and just vanished in a jiffy, nowhere to be seen within a minute.
A small crowd had piled up by this time.
Nikhil tried to get up on his feet. His groins hurt as he limped towards Isha who was lying still in a crumpled manner on the pavement. He picked her up as she gave out a groan of excruciating pain and fell unconscious in his arms.
Nikhil looked around and just mumbled “Can someone call an ambulance please!!!”
Mrs. Verma put the phone down and looked towards Nikhil.
“How are you feeling now? “She asked “I had called up Isha’s mother.” she continued.. Her facial burns are minor, but her forehand possibly needs a skin grafting work. I don’t think she would be in a position to take part in your annual play competition. And I will not allow you to venture out either until the culprits are caught. Remember, you are the only eyewitness.
Your father had rung up his office lawyer to prepare you for the testimony before police and also arrange for your security. Oh My God, this is so disturbing an incident!!! “She said affirmatively and left for the kitchen.
None of her words went into Nikhil’s mind as he stared blankly at the ceiling. As blurred
images of that guy trying to strip Isha while grabbing her hair and then pouring the acid on her, came as flashback memories, he just said in a soft whisper “Draupadi!!!”
That assembly of Mahabharata where Draupadi’s dignity was being assaulted still existed in the modern era where a girl is grabbed by her hair, stripped partially and had acid poured on her while the onlookers stood as mere spectators, some of them possibly enjoying the vile act.
Draupadi had to rise!!! Nikhil felt a twirling wave of emotions coming up from his throat.
This wave needed a manifestation, he felt!!!. The world needed to be reminded that Draupadi and her assailants and the courtyard of Mahabharata still existed even in this era.
He got up from his bed and dragged his weak body towards his mother’s bedroom.
His mother walked into the room just as he was about to apply her new lipstick. She was
startled. He was startled. “What are you doing with my lipstick? It’s new…I haven’t used it so far. Couldn’t you have waited?” He smiled and handed it back to her. “I forgot to tell you…I am playing Draupadi in our college production… rehearsals start this evening.”
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