Last week, I was going through Kwench library. I happened across a book by Sudha Murty, the name of which I do not remember now. The blurb interested me. However, the book was in circulation at the time and I had to opt for a different book.
I chose Mahashweta by the author, which is the story of Anupama, who contracts vitiligo (a skin condition in which the skin becomes white in color). The book narrates how she is abandoned by her husband because of the condition and how, after a lot of struggle, she finds a place of her own in life.
The book was potent for me. Having had vitiligo for close to ten years now, I know the ordeal. While reading the book, I remembered the horror of the initial days when I contracted it. I would go to sleep every night, scared that when I woke up in the morning, some other portion of my body would be white. As a ninth grader, it was not easy to accept this about myself. I was in my teenage years, when boys and girls start to become conscious of their looks. In just one day, life had changed for me. Concerned elders spoke about how things would get difficult for me during marriage, because who would want to marry a girl with white patches?
Public knowledge about vitiligo is quite vast these days. People (at least the ones I have come across) understand that it is a cosmetic disease. The disease is not contagious, not has it been proved that it is hereditary (no one in my family had it). Many people have more serious diseases and get married off easily because these diseases do not happen to leave external proof.
However, understanding the mechanics of the disease is something and to emotionally accept it is another. In reality, like Anand in the book, we all look for perfection. We want our wives and our husbands to look beautiful. Lot of us want to show off our spouses as symbol of perfection – it just strokes our ego.
Every time a relationship that could have worked out for me but did not, I have wondered if somewhere, the white patches on the skin contributed in any manner to the decision taken. Throughout my teenage years, and even today, I am still conscious of them. I still prefer wearing dresses with high collar.
However, unlike my teenage years, now it is easy to accept this fact about myself. Now, I can go about my day doing multiple other things, without even thinking once that I have vitiligo. But I am at a juncture of life when marriage does not look too distant. I do wonder, from time to time, how my skin condition affects my marital prospects in 21st century. I guess I will find out!
Mahashweta, at mere 150 pages, is a wonderful story. It realistically narrates the sentiments of myriad sections of people: a mother-in-law who is willing to overlook lapses in moral conduct of her own daughter, but treats her daughter-in-law like a piece of shit because she has white patches on her skin. A doctor, who in spite of knowing the medical implications of vitiligo, ignores the social implications of the same for his wife and chooses to abandon her when she needs him the most. But the best part about the book was the epilogue by the author where she describes how her book made a man change his decision to not marry the bride who had just contracted vitiligo. It moved me to tears.