A Beauty Queen’s Vision & Mission (The Telugu Tableau Through Translation)

Telugu original by: Sarath Chandra

Translated by: Atreya Sarma U
(With the permission of the original writer)

INTRO: The Telugu original ‘Queen’ published in the Visalakshi Telugu literary monthly, March 2022, won the First Prize in the Story Competition held jointly by it and the Makkena Rama Subbaiah Foundation. The themes in Sarath Chandra’s stories reflect only the contemporary social issues. Sometimes, certain personalities inspire his stories, and the protagonist herein is one such.

***

Sarath Chandra
Avantika reached the final lap of the ‘Miss Universe’ international beauty pageant to be held in San Francisco. Her trajectory of winning at every screening stage to represent India hyped up the expectations of the people. She was not only an unsullied beauty but also highly knowledgeable in every aspect concerned. She was even much more. She was a medical doctor, a singer, a shooter and a Yoga practitioner. In short, she was a rare personality. The people all over the country were on their toes, eagerly waiting to see her as the final winner. The words Avantika spoke to the Indian media stirred the country into pondering over them.

U Atreya Sarma

“I have never taken anything lightly. I joined the NCC while at school and it gave me the opportunity of learning shooting. Why shooting? So that I could fight for my country at the frontier, if so called for. That’s why, I practised rifle shooting and won many a medal including one at the national level. With a conviction that a sound mind in a sound body would build a healthy society, I took to the practice of Yoga, and have become a trainer too. I have coached many a top police officer in Yoga. Spurred by a strong belief that our youths should have a commendable goal to chase in their lives, and to make them realise that the life’s journey wouldn’t be meaningful sans such a goal, I have taken up the role of a motivational speaker as well. Whatever we talk, it should be worthwhile for others to heed it, and if they have to heed it, our talk should be founded on some tangible and inspiring achievement.”

Avantika’s views electrified the youth with aspirations and enthusiasm.  With a strong resolution, she had secured a seat for the medical course and had recently completed her degree. Her mother Neelaveni ushered her into music and dance right from childhood.

Neelaveni herself was a competent dancer and singer. Avantika learned the ABCs of vocal music from her own mother. She gave her debut dance performance when she was hardly five. The audience were wowed by the ‘wonder kid.’ With elan she performed the intricate Krishna Sharanam and Krishna Leela Tarangini dances as also the Sapta Tandava in the Kuchipudi style. At school, she always stood out as a special girl, being first in studies as well as co- and extra-curricular activities. In short, she was the cynosure of all eyes.

After she passed through the school, she preferred to opt for the humanities. But her mother said, “Darling, you should become a doctor.”

“Whatever mom says, it’s okay with me,” Avantika replied.

After completing her medical course, she proposed, “I would appear for the Civils.”

Silent for a while, her mom inquired, “Don’t you prefer to serve the people as a doctor?”

“Mom, even as an IAS officer, what I do is only service to the people, isn’t it so?”

“Yet, if you hold the stethoscope and feel the pulse of the poor people, the sight would feast my eyes…”

On hearing this, Avantika ran her arms around her mom’s neck, and said, “Oh, my naïve mommy! If I become an IAS officer, I can, as the chief district administrator, ensure that the medical services reach out to each and every village. And my medical expertise will help it further.”

Sensing a shade of discontent in the face of her mother, she said, “Why are you so, mommy?”

“Nothing, my deary…,” she muttered, wiping her tears.

“If you don’t agree, I won’t appear for the Civils. After all, I’m mommy’s pet,” assured Avantika.

The mother hugged the daughter, and said, “Why should you nip your aspirations for my sake, dear? Anyway, you have said that a district has many doctors but only a single collector. So, when you prefer to be a collector, how can I come in your way…?”

Avantika realised that her mom wasn’t wholehearted in what she said. She could never forget how her mom meticulously took to moulding her right from her childhood.

It was too fresh in Avantika’s mind. When she was in her ninth grade, her mom joined her in a residential school so that she could focus better on studies. Avantika came home for the vacation, but she didn’t find her father around.

“Where is dad?” she asked.

Without answering, Neelaveni hugged Avantika.

“Did you and dad happen to have a quarrel?” asked Avantika, as she was shrewd and mature enough.

Neelaveni kept mum but her face drained of colour. She looked rather gloomy. It was only then that Avantika could put two and two together and realise that her father had walked out on her mom.

Avantika was a hosteller even in her Intermediate. Why her mom suggested that she opt for Bi P C (Biology, Physics, Chemistry), Avantika couldn’t make out at that time. And now she was nonplussed as to why her mom didn’t encourage her to go in for the Civils.

Then occurred an incident that shook the life of Avantika. It was when she had to admit her mom into hospital during her last days.

“Is this why, mommy, you wanted me to become a doc?” asked Avantika.

Diverting the topic, Neelaveni said, “I am going to wither away and give up the ghost in a day or two. Why should you give up your Civils aspiration for the sake of your mother who is on her way to the grave? Better go to Delhi and take coaching.” And Neelaveni breathed her last.

Avantika joined the Civils coaching in Delhi. Some pent-up restlessness was gnawing at her vitals. An urge of venting out the surge of her emotions before the entire world was gathering storm within her. One day, she shared her thoughts with her roommate Neeharika.

Surprised, Neeharika said, “Born blond, you’re a natural beauty, of course.  But we have never seen you apply even face powder. Then how can you hope to be the winner?”

Another roomie chipped in to say, “Why waste your time like this, Avantika?” and discouraged her.

“Yes, you were a precocious child, and have a photographic memory. No matter how intelligent you are, you need to have some amount of training and concentrate on the subjects. Going off the track at this crucial stage is not advisable,” suggested Neeharika.

“Ok, let’s see,” quipped Avantika, and began practising aerobic and anaerobic exercises. It wasn’t difficult for her to practise them since she was already an expert in Yoga. She also practised swimming, jogging, and rope skipping. She kept away from the chemical cosmetics and used only the home-made ones. She honed her skills in dancing and singing. And she got into modelling to earn some pocket money.

Mere physical beauty is not the sole criterion in the beauty contests. Intelligence and cultured demeanour are also the decisive factors. Well aware of this Avantika realised that her focus on Current Affairs as part of her Civils coaching gave her a double-edged advantage. The Prelims of the Civils and the Miss India Femina contest happened to be slated for the same date.

“Avantika, to clear the Prelims will be a cakewalk for a talented girl like you,” said her friends. “Time would roll on fast and the Mains would come about. And you’re sure to come off with flying colours. The Civil Service would be useful to you lifelong.”

“I have five more attempts to appear for the Civils. But if I miss the Miss India contest now, I can’t go up for the Miss Universe contest,” returned Avantika.

The friends were at a loss what to say. Pausing for a while, they pleaded. “Avantika, please note that beauty contests are like a gamble. Winning or losing is just a matter of luck. Whereas, Civils is your best bet for its result is based on sheer diligence and merit. So don’t give it a miss.”

But she didn’t budge. Noticing that the lineaments of their faces turned wan, she uttered, “Sure, I’ll write the Prelims, but next year.”

Sensing that the situation was getting out of control, they brought Abhijit into the scene.

“Avantika, please heed my words. The image of winning a beauty contest is not permanent. So please don’t get diverted from your original goal,” advised he.

Looking askant, she replied, “Abhijit, come what may, I want to be the Miss Universe. And the gateway to it is the Miss India contest.”

Uneasy for a few moments, he went on, “The members in my family don’t like you to participate in these beauty contests. They happened to notice your photo in a modelling posture in some magazine, and they alerted me. In the meantime, your friends have told me about your obstinacy…”

“Is it for this alone you’ve have come over to Delhi, Abhi?” returned she, looking away from him.

“Yes, baby. Don’t get into this stunt any longer,” he intoned.

“Are you imposing restrictions…?” she snapped.

“Only when we have anxieties or aspirations, do we have restrictions, Avantika,” defended Abhijit.

“But my aspirations are different,” she was curt.

“Once you win these beauty contests and the crowns of Miss India and Miss Universe, you will, of course, earn lots of money. But I am not short of money. I am the sole heir of my parental property. I assure you that I’d transfer all the property in your name well before our wedding. So, please walk off these beauty contests,” he implored.

Staring into his face, she said, “You know well that I don’t attach importance to money, Abhi…”

“Then, is it your wish that the entire world should gape and gaze at your beauty?”

“Any woman on this earth craves to show her entire body and beauty only to her husband. A small compliment from him would send her into raptures. I am also an ordinary woman like all of them, Abhi. I don’t have the type of desires that you think I have,” said Avantika.

“Then, what’s the goal that is so intensely driving you for the Miss Universe contests?” Abhi asked, in desperation.

“I would speak about that from the stage of the finals of the Miss Universe contest, as I have already told you. Please wait until then,” countered she.

“If you partake in these contests, take note that your Abhijit would no longer be in your life,” snapped Abhi.

“Is our love so feeble,” she reacted, blankly.

Looking into her eyes, re-joined Abhijit, “Avantika, please mind that family prestige is also important to me. My mother thought that a simple doc is okay to be her daughter-in-law. After your medical graduation when you insisted on appearing for the Civils, I kept silent though I demurred within. I was upset that you and I would have to work in different fields. Yet, I reconciled myself out of love for you. But once you are away in Delhi, your priorities have further changed…” He paused. 

Looking him in the eye, she said, “So, my entire life has to dance to your and your mother’s tune. Is it what you mean? You’re reminding me of my father. I am scared. Let go of me, please.”

“I know that your father had deserted your mom. But I won’t ever leave you off. As long as I breathe, I’ll stay with you alone,” saying so, he tried to near her. She nudged him away, and a pall of silence descended between the two.

Niharika and Deepika stayed out in the corridor, having left Avantika and Abhijit inside the room for their privacy.

Brushing him off with a goodbye look, Avantika called in Niharika. Abhijit looked a bit hurt.

“Have you finished talking so soon?” said a smiling Niharika.

“Abhijit has to catch his flight,” fibbed Avantika.

Stepping aside, Abhijit whispered to Niharika and Deepika, “Please try your best once again to convince her. Otherwise, she may spoil her life.”

“Don’t you know that Avantika is too smart to heed the words of anyone?” commented a smirking Deepika.

***

Abhijit exited from Avantika’s life. A week after he left, he sent his wedding invitation to her, and she plunged into a daylong lamentation. She had loved him intensely and dreamt a lot about their future. She wished to take care of him like a tiny tot. She wanted to soak in the pleasure of looking after him. She longed to beget two children from him and bring them up ideally. But lo, the chapter came to an abrupt end.

Summoning back her courage, she participated in the Miss India contest and won it with ease, outsmarting all the co-contestants one after the other.

Once she qualified to enter the Miss Universe Contest, sponsors came forward to support her in full measure. The process of going through the Miss Universe contest being no joke, they arranged her the services of dieticians, physical trainers and doctors by moving her to Mumbai. There are so many stages and layers in the contest – introduction, ramp walk, intelligence, talent, knowledge et al – to eliminate the contestants. Keeping this in view, she was given specialised training in all these aspects. One inherent advantage she had was her communication skills. Nearly seven hundred beauties from across the world had taken part in the various rounds of prelims leading to the Miss Universe contest, but only twenty-two of them could make it to the semi-finals from countries like India, Canada, Australia, Singapore, UAE, New Zealand and Kenya. The stage was now set for the finals of Miss Universe competition where only seven beauties were in the reckoning.

A medley of memories were flying into Avantika’s mind, but she waved them away.

The curtain was about to be raised at the Bill Graham Civic auditorium, the biggest on the seashore at San Francisco. The audience were caught agog feeling the ripples of the countdown. They included prominent leaders and ambassadors of various countries as well as artists of international repute. Representatives of the world media positioned themselves to broadcast live the minute-to-minute briefing. The jury to adjudge the final winner consisted of personages with expertise in different fields.

Waves of memories were now reeling in her head. A year ago, Avantika had no idea of what a catwalk was. She was unaware of the outfit to be used in the contest and also of the body measurements concerned. She used to gobble up whatever she liked, be it ice-creams or sweets, with no inhibition and no idea of the repercussions on physical fitness. Once she was nominated to the Miss Universe pageant, the government of India and the Indian embassy in the USA listed her as a VIP. Government of India’s Department of Culture took her into control to ensure her healthcare and security. A train of physicians, Yoga experts, beauticians, psychologists, and educationists took over to ensure her overall fitness. Wowed by her beauty and foreseeing her fame, the Bollywood honchos came out to shower offers on her. All the leading actors declared that they would only be too willing to work with her whether or not she won the Miss Universe pageant. They blared out that they were enchanted by her beauty. This zing made even the Hollywood actors toe the line of their Bollywood counterparts. Leading stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Natalia Portman, and Emma Stone publicly predicted that Avantika was going to be their rival. All the glitzy international mags had already projected her prominently in their issues. There was a trigger for this media hype. It was her announcement that she would take the international podium to speak about an issue that would rock the world.

A few moments before she was to take the stage, Abhijit walked into her memory. She got hot under the collar. The scoundrel would now be enjoying himself at some cool hill-station, lost in a hug with his wifie under a blanket.

Then Avantika recalled her mother and father. Her mother had loved and married him. Yet her father had deserted her mother. ‘What’s this devil of male chauvinism!’ She turned up her nose. Anyway, if she now won this race, she could no longer lead her life like a normal woman for she would be flooded with neon lights, media glare, and camera clicks. She would turn into the country’s cultural ambassador. So, her desire of leading a normal life was ruled out. Marriage was out of question for she couldn’t accept anyone else. Making up her mind that she should live only to achieve her life’s goal, she tossed her head.  She was overtaken by a kind of anxiety and inexplicable tenseness. Her father flew back to her mind. She recalled her childhood and the way he fondled her. She also recollected the way he walked out on her mother. She groaned with agony. Lost in her ruminations in the green room, she now heard the announcement that the event was set to take off. Anusha, the official from the Department of Culture, Government of India, who was deputed as her caretaker, approached her and smiled. “Be confident madam. Our entire country in unison is waiting to see your win. The PMO has sent you greetings.”

Until a few days ago, Avantika was just an ordinary person, but now she was a VIP, a celebrity known all over the country. They were familiar with her name and whatever she spoke, they were all ears.  The whole world was now eager to prick up their ears whenever she was ready to talk. It was exactly what she had looked forward to. She pirouetted gracefully, proudly and stylishly onto the stage where the other six – Miss Venezuela, Miss Australia, Miss New Zealand, Miss UAE, Miss Canada, and Miss Kenya – were already present. All the seven exchanged smiles and greeted one another. None of them was less beautiful than the rest. Each of them was atop in knowledge, confidence, dignity and composure. It wouldn’t be that simple for any of them to outsmart the others and take the lead.

Avantika surveyed the members of the jury seated in front of the stage. Most of them were internationally renowned personalities though she couldn’t readily recognise them by their faces. Each of them had their designation name plate before them. One of them was James Cameron, director of the Titanic movie which she had watched as a child. Later on, she watched it four times along with Abhijit. “I’d like to capture you nude like how Leonardo DiCaprio drew the nude image of Kate Winslet in the movie,” Abhijit teased her with a smile. “Isn’t it enough if you look at it? Why should the entire world look at it?” she demurred with a blend of miff and smirk.

“Isn’t yours a beauty of worldwide fame?” Abhijit grinned.

She recalled all of it, and wondered, “Let’s see if his word comes true and the entire world gazes at my beauty.”

Beauty! Is it permanent? She simpered with a trace of sadness.

Stepping back from her reverie into the present, she noticed the Bollywood bigshot director Karan Johar among the jury. She flashed a smile at him. The other members were Richards, Madhu Sapre, and James Patterson. Richards was a leading psychologist from Denmark. Madhu Sapre, settled down in the USA, was a world-famous costume designer. All of them were ready with their lists of questions and except James Patterson, everyone was looking about with their smiling faces. James, a celebrated novelist, looked serious. Avantika had read Alex Cross, his famous page-turner, cliff-hanger crime fiction series.

Is crime a part and parcel of life? Her father hovered again on the screen of her mind. The muscles of her jaws stiffened up and her eyes turned moist, but she took care in time to blink back her tears lest the judges should notice her mood.

Introduction and ramp walk were over, and now the judges began shooting their volley of questions.

And Avantika was answering every question effortlessly.

“Dr Avantika, you’re a wonderful multi-faceted personality in times when anyone can attain world fame by focusing just on a single field. I’ve gone through your bio. You’ve already graduated in medicine. You’ve said you aim to crack the prestigious Civil Services exam and become a civil servant. It will be no big deal for a person like you with excellent command of the subjects. But you aren’t satisfied even with it. So, is it your aim to reach the international peak even in the beauty contests?” asked psychologist Richard.

“No,” asserted Avantika to the surprise of everyone in the auditorium. Every other contestant has affirmed that it’s her life’s dream to win the beauty queen’s crown.

“If it isn’t so, what exactly is your purpose?” queried James Patterson, the novelist, inquisitively.

“If I have come up to this stage, I have come through various elimination rounds, with the judges being convinced that I am a topper in form and beauty,” said Avantika. “And none of my co-contestants is less than me from any angle. Whomever of them you declare the winner, I’ll feel happy. Why I chose to reach this stage is, I was keen on presenting an issue, passionately.  If the members of the jury permit me, I’d like to unveil it from this platform to the entire world. With the media telecasting this event live across the world, I’ll be heard by each and every one…”  She gave a pregnant pause, resulting in an eloquent silence in the audience. The other finalists were agape with curiosity. As the members of the jury knitted their eyebrows, “Go ahead,” said, Karan Johar giving her the thumbs-up. And the other members gave a ready nod.

Avantika began to speak out.

“Be it the artists, poets or fictionists – everyone focuses on the breasts of women. They like that part of the body very much. And they justify it in the name of aesthetics or adoration of beauty in their own way. Bust is just one part of our body like the eye, nose and ear. The writers describe it effusively, the painters portray it conspicuously, and the costumers specially design the woman’s dress so as to project that part prominently. The female bosom is the cynosure of all eyes, right from the eighteen-year-old boy to the eighty-year-old. Whether this part in our body is a boon or a bane for us the women, I don’t understand…

“Our breasts feed the child with milk, and breastfeeding is a means of enhancing the child’s immunity levels. The bust of the wife is a theatre of voluptuous titillation for the husband. It’s an arena of triggering sensual pleasure. It’s a captivating object for the brush of the painter. It’s a canvas for the poet to unveil his innermost romantic emotions. Thus, this part of ours tickles the fancy of so many. But the moment we the women happen to lose this part for some reason or the other, the same folks conclude that we have lost our femininity. Isn’t this attitude aghast? They even refuse to treat us as humans. How can the loss of a part in our body evaporate the inherent womanliness in us?...

Our innate feminine grace is not merely for the aesthetic or amorous pleasure of man.  We need to protect our grace, our form, and our health. Here is my clarion call…

“We should take every precaution to keep complaints like breast cancer at bay. It’s a matter of grave concern that every year twenty million women are falling victim to the deadly breast cancer, writhing on the edge of death. From whatever little I know as a doctor, I iterate that if we are alert and take due care the moment the preliminary symptoms show up, we can prevent death. After all, prevention is better than cure…

“Motherhood is the unique blessing that Nature has gifted women. I am using this podium only to create a much-needed awareness among our womenfolk. We can keep the breast cancer aloof if we breastfeed our babies and make it a point to take nutritious food. I urge upon every woman to heed this humble advice of mine…

“Now let me disclose a very personal thing. A number of people used to ask me, ‘Why has your father deserted your mother?’ And some used to cast glances of suspicion at me…”

Avantika brought herself to a halt. Her eyes welled up with tears. She surged with a gush of intense emotion. The contestant from Australia who was beside held her in time and prevented her from caving in. As Avantika cleared her throat, the finalist from New Zealand fetched her a bottle of water.

“When I happened to notice accidentally that my mother was breastless owing to the mastectomy she had undergone, I got the answer to my question as to why father had deserted her, but it raised a million questions within me. When we are constrained to necessarily lose a small part of our body, why do our own people mercilessly abandon us? Are we of no use at all any further? How savage is this disowning proclivity? Hey gentlemen, please understand that it’s not just a woman you are leaving in the lurch; you’re pitilessly casting away a mother. Ask yourself, ‘If there is no mother, where is your existence?’”

Venting out her pent-up feelings and thoughts, she broke out into tears and collapsed. All the other contenders, without exception, were moved to tears, and they held her up together. Staying on the stage, they pleaded with the jury with one voice, “All of us are withdrawing from the contest, so please declare Avantika Miss Universe of this year.” Hearing this, even the jury members couldn’t help but burst into tears. 

Avantika turned dizzy and when she faintly sensed that she was losing her consciousness, she felt an arm clasping her.

“Abhijit! Is it you?” she muttered.

“I couldn’t imagine a life without you, so I cancelled the engagement. Standing in a corner of the auditorium, I have been observing every movement of yours, and raptly heard every syllable that you uttered. The angst in your heart has touched every nook and cranny of the world. You have achieved your goal. Now, I promise that I’ll take care of you as a mom,” he breathed his feelings to her.

Her eyes were a pool of joyous thrill. She hugged him close.

And the jury’s verdict was overheard from the mike, “Avantika, from India, is adjudged Miss Universe of this year” to a thunderous applause from the audience.

***

Bio: Sarath Chandra, presently living in Hyderabad, hails originally from Kavali (Nellore District, Andhra Pradesh). He is a well-known Telugu writer having published over 200 stories and 12 novels. 50 of his stories have won prizes. His work has been featured in various journals. An award-winning writer, he is interested in mirroring the contemporary society with a view to further strengthening the human relations. A graduate in sciences, education, public relations and library science, he worked as a journalist in the Eenadu and Andhra Jyothy dailies for seven years. He also served as a government teacher before resigning it and joining the political field. After his entry into politics, he served as the chairman of a corporation with cabinet rank when Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was the Chief Minister. Yearning for a strong India with social justice and harmony, he is an official spokesperson of the Andhra Pradesh unit of BJP. He has spoken on fiction in several prestigious literary meets and conferences – like TANA; Andhra Sarasvata Parishat world-level meeting at Bhimavaram; World Telugu Conference at Tirupati. 

Email: sarathchandrawriter@gmail.com

Mob: +91 98492 41286


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