Neelima stared blankly ahead at the grey clouds flitting by. She could not move her body even an inch. Forget about moving, she could not even take in long breaths, cough, sneeze, or even twitch. She could almost feel her back go numb. Her 10 years of experience had toughened her up, both physically and mentally. As she held on to her body contortions, her mind grazed in the verdant meadows of life that she longed to be in. Nobody could dare control her thoughts, her dreams, and her aspirations for her family.
A sea of unflinching faces gaped at her nude body. They were busy making mental calculations. Their eyes bore through every wrinkle, crease, nook, and corner of her body. Every few minutes they looked down to trace them out carefully on their canvas.
“Another fifteen minutes and I will be good to go and in another two years, Ananya would find a decent job. Then I can stop playing the role of a statue for good “, the thought made Neelima smile without making even a micro-movement. There were very few things that made Neelima smile. The thought of Ananya, her daughter’s bright future was one of them.
Neelima remembered the first time she had sat naked in front of 20 students. She had sat motionless as she was instructed to. Two little pearls of tears had slipped past her control but had agreed to dry up before they reached her cheeks. She had never felt so humiliated and so self-conscious before. She wanted to run away but the promise of a rosy life for her family pinned her down. After the session, she wept inconsolably.
But as they say, time is the best teacher. Slowly and steadily, she had gotten over her inhibitions. She had trained only her body to be still, her mind was set free to wander. She found it easier to balance her body weight than balance her guilty conscience.
It was not always she had to stand in the buff. There were days when she was given garbs to wear. On some days she had to wear clothes belonging to a different era with head gears to boot. She just went with the flow.
Neelima lived in a chawl with her husband and daughter. Her husband’s meager income would get over even before the month began. She was forced to find an alternate source of income. It was an acquaintance who had introduced her to a model coordinator. Initially, she had said a firm no. But when she realized that her earnings could pave the way for her daughter’s secure future she agreed though reluctantly.
From then on, she had chosen to live a life of lies. To the world, she worked as a housemaid. She had hidden the fact that she was a nude subject to art aspirants even from her husband. Very rarely she would look him in the eye. She knew for sure that her eyes would betray her.
This was 10 years ago and now Ananya was pursuing a degree in commerce from a reputed college.
“Amma, this is for you” She thrust 2 crisp 500-Rupee notes into her palms. Seeing her mother’s raised eyebrows, “I am helping juniors in my college with their assignments and notes in return for money “she had justified shrugging her shoulders.
“Ananya, you don’t have to do all this. Just concentrate on your studies. We have saved enough money to fund your studies”
“Yes, I know. But that is not enough to fund my new clothes, shoes, and accessories”, so saying she had walked out as her new dupatta fluttered in the air declaring defiance. Neelima sighed and went on with her work.
“Class over. You can submit your work to me tomorrow “, the art instructor’s voice pierced through the silence of the room breaking Neelima’s chain of thoughts
As Neelima stood up her body ached, being in the same position for the last 20 minutes. Going behind the curtains she hurriedly dressed and waited for the wad of notes that would warm her cold palms. Today she had sat for 3 sessions and her hard work was rewarded handsomely.
Thinking about her household chores she walked across the hall when her gaze fell on a model in the next class.
A gasp escaped her lips and she stood rooted. She just couldn’t move. This time her mind too froze. The distant verdant meadows now stood charred beyond recognition.
Eyes looking skywards, only the head and torso covered in layers of cloth the model’s dainty fingers held on to a porcelain bowl. Both Neelima and the model stood motionless. Two little pearls spilled out of Neelima’s eyes and this time they were obstinate enough to trail down her cheeks with a threat of more to follow.
The model had chosen to live a life of lies but unlike her mother, it was to satisfy her own whims and fancies.
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