Features a character we have all met. Shows a behaviour most of us would have exhibited. Tells the story of how it felt.  

Dhruv tiptoed as softly as he could while covering the distance between his parent’s room and his own. The tube in his hand felt hot enough to burn a hole through his palm. But that was probably due to his guilt from all the sneaking.

   He let go of the breath that he had been holding only after entering his room. Dhruv faced the mirror attached to his cupboard and opened the stolen tube. The bright red colour seemed almost intimidating in the light that was seeping in through his curtains.

  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.”

 “Oh! So that’s the role you auditioned for?” His mother had a teasing smile on her face as she wiped her wet hands on the edge of her sari and sat down on his cluttered bed. She passed the lipstick back to her son. He had not been as successful in his little coup as he had thought. His mother had spotted his suspicious tiptoeing as he took the last few steps before entering his room.

   Dhruv rolled his eyes, “Of course not.” he turned back to his task clumsily applying the lipstick, “I auditioned for Arjun. I was hoping that the least I would get was Karna or one of the other brothers.”

“And they selected you to play Draupadi.” His mother finished, “My little boy is so pretty. How could they choose anyone else for the role?”

   “Ma!” Dhruv whined, closing the tube of lipstick.

   She had to stop calling him pretty. He was 17 years old and no 17 year old wanted to be called ‘pretty’ by his overbearing mother. It was cute when he had been 5. Not anymore. His looks were already a very sensitive topic for him since the list of selected cast members was put up on the college notice board. He had confronted his drama teacher about the questionable selection and the unfairness. He had not even auditioned for the role! To be fair, nobody in his all-boys college had actually auditioned for the role of the only female main character.

   Prasad Sir, his drama teacher’s exact words had been, “Dhruv, your face has soft features. Very- what’s the word I’m looking for- effemale. You’ll be perfect, beta.” As if being ‘effemale’- Prasad Sir’s rendition of the word effeminate- around a bunch of classmates who were already sniggering was not bad enough, Sir continued, “A good actor knows how to immerse himself in every role that he gets. Just get used to applying a little makeup. Maybe a touch of lipstick for the rehearsals this evening.”

  Even though he was disappointed, there was no way that Dhruv could back out from the play. He needed the extra marks desperately. His marks in maths were terrible. Stupid boy’s college! Stupid play! Stupid Prasad Sir!

   Trying to put a little lipstick on, was his way of imagining how he was going to look on stage during the final performance. He would have to be dressed and made up like a woman in front of the 200 parents and family members who were invited every year for the College Annual Day. Not to mention the other 100 students. 

 He critically studied his blood-red lips in the mirror. 

   “Did you know that your Ajay Mama was Ariel in his school’s performance of ‘Little Mermaid’?” Ma asked, trying to lighten the mood a little when she saw the scowl that was spreading slowly on Dhruv’s face.

   He turned to face her, “Really?” He could not imagine his broad-shouldered uncle, with his legendary moustache bearing any resemblance to the red-haired mermaid.

   “Yes. He even had to grow out his hair for the role. We might still have a few pictures in Nani’s house. Remind me to look for them the next time we visit her.” Ma was giggling while she spoke. The doorbell rang, “See who’s at the door, na.”

   Dhruv walked out of his room towards the main door, “Did he have to wear seashells?” he called out to his mother on his way. He could not get the amusing picture of his all grown up uncle in a mermaid costume out of his head. 

   Dhruv pulled open the door just as his mother laughed loudly and said, “I almost forgot about the shells.”

   A grin still etched on his face Dhruv turned to see who was at the door. Two beautiful brown eyes looked back at him. It was Meera. Meera was the daughter of the family who had moved into the flat above theirs six months ago. They were from Mumbai. Frankly, the entire family was too glamorous and good-looking for their homely society.

   “Hi, Meera! “ Dhruv said, giving her what he thought was a charming smile.

   “Umm… Hello, Dhruv…”

   Dhruv could not figure out why her smile or her words were hesitant. That’s until he figured out where her gaze was lingering. His blood red- Ma’s new lipstick covered- Draupadi lips!

   Hearing about his uncle’s role as a mermaid had amused Dhruv so much that he completely forgot the lipstick. He was pretty sure that his cheeks were as red as his lips and they were emanating enough heat that even Meera could feel it. He stuttered, “I am… School… I school…” his embarrassment made it impossible for him to string words together coherently, “I am Draupadi!” he managed to push out finally. 

   The smile on Meera’s face faltered further before she replaced it with what Dhruv thought was her ‘I-am-liberal-I-accept-it’ smile. “Okay.” she said, “That’s very cool.”

   Dhruv thought that his blush just worsened at that. Before he could control his stutter and start explaining his situation, his mother came out.

   “Dhruv, you forgot to-“ Ma stopped when she saw Meera standing in the open doorway, “-remove the lipstick.” she finished softly a few seconds later.

   “That was quick, Ma!” Dhruv wanted to retort sarcastically. But something was wrong. His brain was refusing to turn his thoughts into words. Had the lipstick managed to stick his lips together?

   “Namaste, Aunty.” Meera called out to Ma over Dhruv’s half-turned shoulder, “Mummy asked me to return this dabba to you.”

   “Of course. Come in, beta.” Ma said, moving towards the sofa, “Dhruv, let her come in and why don’t you go remove the…”

    Even though his mouth was refusing to cooperate, Dhruv managed to give his mother a dirty look. If no one mentioned the lipstick, then maybe it would be easier to ignore the humiliating situation, he thought optimistically.

   Alas! That was not the case.

   “There’s no need for that, Aunty. Dhruv was just telling me about… umm… Draupadi. Is that your lipstick? It is so nice of you to give it to him.” Meera said, “Mummy is very conservative. Narrow-minded, you know. Don’t tell her that I told you this, but if Sameer Bhaiya was umm…”

   Something in her words made Dhruv snap out of his semi-comatose state. He ran out of the room, hurrying to the sink to wash the lipstick that was to be blamed for his mortification. Even after he had rubbed his lips so harshly that they looked naturally pink, and were threatening to peel he could not go back to the living room and face Meera. Instead, he went back to his room and fell face first onto his bed.

   Even three hours after the incident two things were still constant. His lips were still stinging from the way he had abused them, and his mortification had not reduced one bit. Ma had explained to Meera about the entire situation with Draupadi and the play. She also made it clear that he was not actually thinking of making a major lifestyle change. 

   If it had been anyone in place of Meera, maybe he would have shrugged it off as a joke. But since it had been Meera it meant that all the hopes that he had been harbouring since the new family had moved into the flat upstairs were crushed. He cursed his luck. Stupid lipstick! Stupid dabba! Stupid timing!


   “Here’s your script.” Prasad Sir held out a copy of the script with Draupadi’s lines highlighted in hot pink. When Dhruv, still lost in his thoughts, made no move to take it Sir repeated, “Your script, Dhruv. Draupadi!”

   The last word was yelled at him and startled Dhruv, making the others laugh. He grabbed the script quickly. 

   They had decided to hold the practice in Prasad Sir’s living room. Dhruv sat on the edge of a sofa, the only empty spot in the room, as he flipped the pages of the script. 

   Suddenly he felt a slap on his back, which made him look up to see Sahil Khhuurana standing next to him.  Sahil came from a very superstitious family who had added an unnecessary number of letters to their last name after being told to do so by some baba. He was the guy who had made troubling Dhruv the sole aim of his life.

   Sahil was the one who had landed the role of Arjun. At that moment, he was giving Dhruv an ugly grin. It was the same grin that he had on his face when the two of them were on opposing teams on the football ground. Actually, he grinned at Dhruv that way when they were on the same team too.

   “Seems to me that you’ve already started responding only to the name Draupadi, my friend. Really getting into the role, aren’t you? It’s not that difficult for you, is it Dhruvie Boy?” Sahil said, clapping Dhruv on his back again.

   From years of enduring such conversations Dhruv had trained himself to ignore Sahil’s jibes, “Is that all you have to say?” he asked, shrugging the other boy’s hand off.

   “I see we are a little sensitive today.” He told his sidekick Rahul who was always somewhere around him. The two of them cracked up.

   Rahul wasn’t even supposed to be there for the practice, thought Dhruv viciously. He was not a part of the main cast that had gathered there for the first practice. Rahul was going to play one of the suitors who were present for Draupadi’s Swayamwar. At the moment, Dhruv wished it was Rahul’s eye that was to be gouged out instead of the fish’s.

   “Prasad Sir asked me to give you this,” Rahul said, handing Dhruv a pink dupatta.

   “To help you feel part of the character, Dhruvie Boy,” Sahil said and both of them burst into laughter again. All the clever lines were saved for Sahil mostly because Rahul was too stupid to think of any.

   Dhruv ignored their laughter and stared at the dupatta instead. After protesting and complaining a few times, a resigned Dhruv gave in and put on the dupatta while they ran lines. It was almost two hours before Prasad Sir, let them leave.

   Avoiding the jibes he would surely have to face if he stuck around Dhruv immediately grabbed his cycle and left for home.

   The pink dupatta that he had stuck in his back pocket to get it out of his way while cycling flapped a little behind him. When Prasad Sir had insisted he take it home with him Dhruv had not even mentioned the fact that his mother had a few of her own at home. If Sir wanted him to stand in front of the mirror and practice being the beautiful ‘Panchali’ that’s what he would do. He would have agreed to anything to get out of there!

   He reached his garage and before he could get in and park his cycle next to his father’s car he saw Meera in the one next to it struggling with her own cycle, which was wedged between a wall and their car.

   “Let me help you,” Dhruv called out. He put down the stand of his cycle and walked to her. Silently, he helped her to move it.

   “Thanks,” Meera said with a smile. Was her smile a touch flirtatious? Dhruv internally shook his head. He was probably just imagining it.

   “Anytime,” he said and turned to go back to his own cycle.

   “Dhruv, your dupatta,” Meera said, stopping him in his tracks.

   He turned to see that the pink dupatta had come out of his pocket and was now lying on the ground. He quickly snatched it up, feeling the heat rising to his cheeks again. Stupid dupatta!

   Meera smiled, “Another prop for the play?”

   “Yes.” Dhruv replied, relieved that she understood, “I told Sir that pink was not really my colour, but he insisted.” he continued, making Meera laugh.

   That was totally a flirtatious laugh and did she just flutter her eyelashes at him!, thought Dhruv.

   “You are cute when you blush.” Meera’s gaze was still fixed on his face through her long eyelashes. She placed a hand on his arm and smiled up.

   “Well, I’m just glad you are not teasing me about what happened this morning. You’re probably the only one who isn’t taking advantage of my situation.” Dhruv said, “Will you please do me a favour?”


   “Don’t tell your brother about the fiasco with the lipstick. I’ve been trying to make a good impression.” Dhruv said, “Thanks a lot. Night!”

   He walked to his cycle and pushed it into his own garage. He was just waiting for Sameer to give some hint before making his move. With a bounce in his step for the first time that day, Dhruv walked to the lobby. All the while thinking about the handsome Sameer. The family did really have some good genes!

   On his way, he saw Meera standing on the same spot where he had left her. A puzzled look was on her face. Dhruv wondered what all the eyelash fluttering had been about. Frankly, her eyelashes were not half as pretty as her brother’s.

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