‘A virtual revolution – that’s what it is being promoted as! What do you think Mr. Nair, is this really going to change the behaviour of the youth or is it just another mortal fluke?’ Kalpit heard the voices as he tried searching for some more interesting CDs. But all he had was this usual boring stuff played by the radio: discussions about an issue he had heard thousands of times in last few months! For once, he thought of boycotting the whole instrument, but then, for the sake of keeping his interest in driving alive in such a heavy evening traffic of Ahmedabad, he spared it.
As he applied brakes to stop at another cross-road, he heard some usual ‘expert’ having a take on the matter, ‘This all is just a fuss, useless and waste of time! I mean, what is really the need of such a ‘revolution’? I won’t even call it a ‘revolution’. Revolution is something that really affects interests of public at large. Using these softwares and facilities is everyone’s personal choice. If that ‘anonymous’ girl is against it, fine, she has a right to say what she wants! But that doesn’t give her a right to go violent on herself to this level and then attract youth attention by publicizing it. I still cannot understand why she is even being heard, why anyone would even think that this will result into something? You cannot..’
The signal turned green, and the vehicles moved ahead. Kalpit dialled a number, “You were to send me her number. Are yaar, what the hell are you doing? First of all, this is not my job. I have never been involved in this department of yours, and…and you had to go home today only? How am I going to recognize her? Here, I am struck in traffic and you..what? So, I am going to go there and look for the ‘girl with the scars’? I want her number in my cell right now, do whatever you want to!”
After half an hour, he reached there, his heartbeats being at their peak! As he got down from the car, and looked at the building he was supposed to go into, his eyes fell on her! He was right. Yes, it was HER- the girl with the scars! She sat in the café, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. A blood stained knife covered with a white silk scarf lying beside the cup seemed even stranger than her scars.
Kalpit went near her, and caught her attention. She put the glass on the table, and looked at him, “From Vandan?”
“Yes, Vandan Yuva Foundation!”
He sat, and she handed the knife covered with the scarf over to him. She brought some photos out of her handbag. She showed them to him. But he wasn’t there, he was shocked. She tapped gently on the table, and gained his attention. Kalpit looked at the photos, horrified: they were the close-ups of the scar on her face, latest scar! He again looked at her face, and this time, he noticed those innumerable scars made with knife; hardly any space was left untouched on her face! She pointed at the fresh scar on her left cheek, “This is today’s. It’s six point five centimetres! Do you want to measure it? The guy that normally comes here, he actually trusts me, so he doesn’t measure the length by himself. So, in case, you want to..”
Kalpit was speechless. He didn’t know what to do or say. He looked at other people in the café, the staff, the children and the aunties with them on the other table – all were either staring at this girl, or talking about her! She realized Kalpit’s concern, “Oh, don’t worry about that, I’m used to this staring and whispering game!”
She smiled, and gave the photos and a folded paper to Kalpit. Kalpit, still puzzled, put the knife, paper and the photos in his bag.
“Aren’t you going to write down the length of the scar?” She asked him, “The usual guy does it, so that he doesn’t forget.”
“No..it’s..it’s six..point..six point five..it’s too long. I wont..” Kalpit was stammering. But suddenly, he found fluency, “You don’t recognize me, do you?”
This question of Kalpit left her puzzled. She stared at him for a while, and something struck her mind, “Shantiniketan Highschool?”
“Class B, 2012 batch!” Kalpit smiled.
“Oh yes, I remember you.” She was surprised, “I am sorry I couldn’t recognize you at first!”
“It’s okay. It’s obvious, we never talked, so that’s obvious!”
“Yes, but we were classmates for seven years: SEVEN! And still.. but it’s so good to see a Shantiniketan student, you know! It feels home! Damn it, how couldn’t I recognize you? You look the same, you haven’t changed at all.”
“Yes, but it’s..it’s okay.”
“How did YOU recognize me? I mean, I am so much changed. Sometimes, I myself cannot recognize myself, you know.”
“I could recognize you at any moment, anyhow..” Kalpit perhaps didn’t even realize what he was speaking, but he didn’t stop, “..anywhere, except on Facebook!”
EXCEPT ON FACEBOOK! She laughed at herself: Preksha laughed at herself! She didn’t wait to interpret Kalpit’s behaviour. She just took the external behaviour of his sentences into consideration: EXCEPT ON FACEBOOK! How could he have recognized her there? She was never herself there! She was someone else, she was THE ‘pretty’ Preksha then..
It was the time when selfie storm had already taken over the internet. And this storm had brought one more storm with it: the photo editing softwares, utilities, tools, and what not! It was the time, when Preksha was an ordinary teenager from a well-off family, who could get anything she wanted, maybe because she lived far from her family in Talala. It was the time, when she was already hit by both the storms!
“Tell me, which one is better?” She had asked Prathmesh once, “Left one or right one?”
“Left!” Prathmesh had replied uninterestedly, waiting for their movie to start.
“Arre yaar, look carefully! The right one is amazing, no? It is the edited one. They have introduced cool new features in Instagram. See, I look so good here.”
“If you wanted my comment on the right one only, why did you show the left photo at all? And anyways, WE are on a date, remember? Not you and your photos!”
“Arre I know, just let me upload this now on FB. When this photo hits the 250 likes mark, THEN you will know why I love doing this.”
“Oh yes, looking brighter than the Sun, and hiding hard-to-be-spotted pimple spots? 250 is too less then, I would say.”
Madness! It is hard to say what she was more obsessed with: Her getting more likes on the internet, or her just looking prettier and fairer, or both! Once or twice had she tried experimenting with those tools and softwares, it had become her habit to do so for every other photo she uploaded. Obviously, things have to go better with time; next upload has to be better than the previous ones, next upload has to fetch more likes than the previous ones! It was so necessary for her to stand in front of the mirror, click a selfie, and before seeing the original photo, straightaway going for editing it: increasing the brightness, and applying some effect that would make her look like an angel!
She had always been proud of herself, all of herself – be it her intelligence, her looks, her skills, her attitude – just everything about her had been a part of a feeling that made her proud of herself. And uploading the edited photos and fetching more and more likes? Hell, they made her more and more proud of herself. It was so correct to do so, it was so obvious!
“Obviously, you are going to be selected.” Prathmesh had told her on the phone one day, “You are such a beautiful and confident person. See, they are not going to dig much about your personality for the role of a cabin crew member. It’s just some quantum of confidence that one would require, and that’s the only thing they are going to check in you. Hell, you know these things better than me. So, be calm, act calm, get selected, and then, we will go out for dinner in the evening, deal?”
His words had done some work to her nervousness, and she had felt relieved. But that relief was not going to hold for long. All her nervousness had burst out during the interview, when she had to face one question..
“You see, Preksha, your profile is very amusing, we have to admit. But something that I need to remind you is that you are being interviewed for the job of a flight attendant- who takes care of people on the craft, who should appear to be pleasant to the passengers!” The Interviewer had said.
‘And their eyes are not going to edit your face like always, right?’ She had heard.
“There are thirty other candidates sitting outside, all of them as competent as you are, all of them meeting all the criteria described in the job profile.” The Interviewer had said.
‘And those bastards don’t have to rely on the stupid photo editing softwares and tools to look good, dear!’ She had heard.
“And, one of those criteria, as I would just like to repeat, asks for the candidates to have no marks on their faces, to have a clean appearance.” The Interviewer had said.
‘Don’t you get it, moron? To make them find the whole experience of the flight pleasing enough, the passengers have to be served with pretty faces, not with the ones that require adopting artificiality to become pretty. ’ She had heard.
“I will like to go straight: Do YOU think you deserve this job?” The Interviewer had asked.
‘How can you even imagine yourself being eligible for such job? Make way for good people. Fuck off, you ugly bitch!’ She had heard.
That evening, she didn’t reply to any call, didn’t go for dinner with Prathmesh, and locked herself in the bathroom. After three hours, she came out with wet cheeks and swollen eyes, and asked her roommate, “You have one friend who works for social causes, right?”
“Yes, he works for an NGO, ‘Vandan Yuva Foundation’, why?”
“Can you get our meeting fixed?”
The roommate noticed a blood stained knife in her right hand, and blood oozing out of a scar on her face..
One month hence, and an internet sensation had taken birth. It was an anonymous girl. Nobody knew who she was, or what her name was. All they knew was that there was ‘a girl with the scars on her face’ out there, who was determined to take on the useless photo editing softwares and tools or anything that offered to help people look better artificially- by editing their photos.
Every Saturday, there was one post on every social network page of Vandan Yuva Foundation, which was dedicated towards releasing one more scar on the face of the girl – photos from different angles depicting the scar being fresh, a cut on the face made by the girl herself with the help of a knife.
‘Nothing is wrong, until you are aware of its consequences. You think you are not obsessed, but you are. You think it is just normal, it is not.’ Every scar brought one more step towards the ‘revolution’, a message from the girl, ‘You don’t know what you are doing. You are not editing a photo, you are editing yourself, your confidence, your beliefs about yourself; you are editing your own existence in the back of your mind. Back there in your mind, you don’t know but you have started believing that you are nothing without the help of something. You have started believing that your whole existence depends upon artificiality, not originality! Awake! This is not ‘editing’, this is ‘manipulation’. ’
And the girl gained a huge fan following over a few weeks, whether or not they all agreed with her! The Vandan had already named it ‘The Edit: A Virtual Revolution’. Nobody knew whether this movement was going to affect even a single software or not: actually, it didn’t matter only!
‘If being beautiful and pretty is the reason behind getting more likes, then beat this! I am becoming the ugliest girl in the country with time, and the likes my face is generating right now is much higher than what the ‘pretty-me’ ever could! Because, I don’t care about it anymore. Because, I know that beauty is what one believes it to be. Because, I know what is more awesome about me. Because, I’m confident, I’m beautiful.’
And yet, there was something wrong about it. Yet, there remained a lie at the root of all this. Whenever she would sit checking comments by people on the posts, she would try confusing herself: It had become a common gesture of people to comment on the posts saying ‘You’re Beautiful!’; every time she read these lines, she would wonder and try searching, whether ‘You’re’ also meant ‘You were’. It didn’t. Why? Why such a lie? Why do they have to console me? Do they really mean ‘You ARE’? No, they don’t. How can they? I AM NOT BEAUTIFUL ANYMORE, I AM NOT PRETTY!
‘I could recognize you at any moment, anyhow, anywhere, except on Facebook!’ Suddenly, Preksha remembered the words spoken by Kalpit a few seconds ago, and returned to present. Kalpit still didn’t know why he was blabbering, “I tried finding you a lot. I also caught up with a profile once, everything looked like you, but the photos suggested it was someone else. So.. and, I’m bad at talking to girls in real world, you know. So..”
“It’s okay, Kalpit.” Preksha smiled, and zipped her handbag, “You don’t have to fear. I’m not a regular girl anymore. I don’t look like one.”
“No, it is not so.”
“It IS so. Maybe, that is why you are comfortable in telling me the things you could never have otherwise!” Kalpit couldn’t reply. She spoke gently, “These feelings you have, you know, they never lie!”
She stood up, shook hands with him, and smiled before leaving, “Thank you!”
And now, nothing was wrong about anything. There had remained no lie at the root of anything. There had remained no necessity for Preksha to doubt any truth concerned with her. Because, as she walked away from Kalpit..
‘You’re Beautiful!’ She heard.