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Roshni – The Real Ugly Duckling

Updated on November 12, 2014

Roshni – though born as cute as any other child, had evolved into a tanned black prune. She was a scrawny little kid with big cheeks and a bad hair day. She was dark, in a country, once ruled by the British, and its masses still struggling to get over their complex of white superiority. Their main criteria for beauty “Goree aur khoobsoorat!” (white/fair and pretty) and main criteria for declaring one ugly “kaalli aur koji” (black/dark and ugly) – and that was that!

Hence Roshni – black and ugly, undernourished, scrawny, curly haired - oh yeah and she had thin hair, thus a doctor had announced to her mother, “if you don’t want her to go bald, keep her hair short, till she grows older.” Thus she had a nest of unruly curls on her head atop of a thin, stick like body, making her look like a mop.

Her elder brother would tease her calling her an upturned mop. Different family members had different names for her, some called her “Olive” – as in Popeye and Olive. Some would tease her saying “naktee chaptee” as she had a puny non-existent nose, etc etc. It would hurt her, but she would just try to brave it out. Sometimes screaming and shouting she would run to her mum to complain, sometimes it would pay off and her brother would get a scolding. Other times she would simply get told to develop a sense of humour or to ignore it. However, ignore it she couldn’t, what she could do was pretend. Pretend it didn’t hurt her, pretend she didn’t care.

Roshni would spend time hiding in the bathroom, crying. She would stand in front of the bathroom mirror, rubbing soap to a point of making foam on her face, mimicking lux adds, “meray goray pun ka raaz” (the secret to my fairness), hoping that the secret would someday work for her too. She would wash her face thoroughly and come out looking brave and unaffected. That was Roshni. A fighter, a warrior, bravely standing in the face of challenge, ready for war!

One day Roshni was busy playing with her three year old cousin, she herself was around eight or nine. Wearing a parrot green Shalwar kameez, running about the garden in the scorching heat. Suddenly a car pulled in the driveway. A red car. The lady in the back seat rolled down the window. Roshni went running to her, welcoming her with a smile. The lady inquired “Begum Sahib hain?” (is the lady of the house there?). A little confused at the question, not wanting to think about the insinuation, Roshni nodded.

The lady got off along with a little girl, about the same age or a little older than Roshni, who was possibly her house help etc. The lady went inside, while Roshni stood there with her cousin waiting to resume her game, and trying to pretend that nothing had happened. Then the girl; the help, asked her “kitnee tankhwa miltee hai?” (how much are you paid?). She was appalled at the question, she didn’t want to even reply. Roshni started walking towards the door to casually walk inside ignoring everything that had just happened. When the girl decided to repeat her question more adamantly and louder “kitnee tankhwa miltee hai?” Roshni couldn’t take it anymore. She ran inside crying, and hugged her mother shouting out, loud and clear; “MAMA!” so everyone could hear her and everyone could know whom she was and whom her mother was. It was a day in her life that neither would she ever forget nor would her brother ever let her forget it, considering his new tease word for her was “naukrani” (servant).

Roshni had decided, she hated shalwar kameez, and she would never wear the colour green again. After much contemplation she had later told her mother what had happened. Who found everything funny and couldn’t really see what it had meant or felt to Roshni herself. Her mother was herself beautiful, but apparently had been told all her childhood how ugly she was, so looks didn’t mean much to her and I guess she wanted Roshni to realise that too.

Feeling miserable, but trying to be grateful:


God didn’t give me anything,

Neither pretty hands,

Nor pretty feet,

He didn’t even give me,

A face neither cute nor pretty,

In fact, what He did give me,

Were grades rather ugly,

But thanks anyway,

For giving me a family so lovely,

And a home in which I live happily.


(Oh yeah! her grades are a story of another day, another time!)

Roshni had finally reconciled to the fact that she was ugly, although it hurt her, but she got over it. She had prayed many a times standing in front of the mirror, talking to Allah, “Oh Allah! Make me beautiful! May I grow up to be like a beautiful Barbie doll. I want beautiful everything. I want to be beautiful inside out. I want a beautiful everything. Oh Allah! Make me pretty!”

She came across a story, “The Ugly Duckling”. She loved it. It was her favourite. She had developed this strange kind of nonchalance about her looks. She didn’t care anymore what people thought. Her ugliness had been the best gift from Allah, which she later realized, as it made her develop other facets of her personality and made her more humane and sensitive to other people’s feelings. Deep down inside, after all her prayers, she had developed a contentment and a trust that she just had to wait till she grows up, and then Allah will automatically make her beautiful. She just knew that one day, like the ugly duckling, she’ll turn into a swan.

Some twenty years later. She walked into the hospital room, anxious to get details about her friend’s health; who was in the ICU and was in a critical condition. The room was full of ladies. She met them politely. And there she was, that lady, Roshni could never forget her. Roshni looked at her and politely smiled, as her mother introduced her to that lady again. They sat there for around an hour. As they were heading out of the hospital, that lady was standing there with her husband at the entrance. They stopped to meet her husband, it had been ages since Roshni’s parents had met them. Suddenly the lady turned to Roshni, she lovingly caressed her face and declared to her mother “your daughter is beautiful, bohat hee pyaari hai, ma-sha-Allah!” (...she is truly lovely, by the Grace of Allah).

Roshni sat in the car, and let out the tears she had been holding back. She smiled at Allah, embarrassed at how miserably ungrateful and upset she had been with Him at that incident. She thanked Him now with immense love and gratitude. “Oh Allah! You never forget! And only you know how to keep a promise and make wounds heal! Thank You!”

Such is life, when one puts their trust in Allah, Allah has His ways!

Dreams do come true no matter how impossible they might seem at the time. Patience comes with Trust in Allah, and Trusting Him always pays off!

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