So after a brief hiatus, I am back with the picture and prompt series. After almost a week, I had to get back to write on the picture prompts my friends had sent me one by one. The overwhelming response had made me exhilarated, and I had to rework the drafts, and polish them.
This particular prompt was given to me by one of the most wonderful women I have known, a powerhouse, a tough taskmaster, and a great friend. A woman who inspires me, and manages to keep me on my toes, giving the occasional… ah… push that I very much need! This one is for Reshmy Pillai.
Here’s to you, Resh. I had delayed it enough, already 😀
Neha sat on the still warm beach, her mind in turmoil. It was not easy to stop the tears that were streaming down her cheeks, borne out of humiliation and hurt. An insanely large wave washed over the sand, reaching till her toes and receding speedily. She pressed her bare foot deeper into the sand and pressed her chin on her folded knees, trying to discreetly wipe her tears.
Her mobile pinged. Yet another message. A ‘concerned’ friend who enquired was worse than the people who shared and laughed over the memes. And Neha had no wish to see which one it was this time. She had been so amazed by the power of social media until the same weapon had turned her into a laughable meme overnight. And with just one public gaffe, the popular journalist Neha Kamath was suddenly the subject of ridicule and memes. Those who had stood stunned in wonder at her when she presented on-site news were now pointing her out to each other and suppressing giggles.
Her Facebook page was closed for posts, they had gotten overboard.
The news cannel’s clips featuring her had disabled comments in YouTube, where people had taken to posting these memes and vicious comments.
Her WhatsApp which was previously flooded with news heads-up pings was now a place for people to share memes. Even her school and college friends’ groups had not relented. They fell under the ‘concerned friends’ handle.
Neha still could not believe how something so insignificant had blown so out of proportion. When she had taken up that assignment to cover the huge ‘people’s protests’ that happened on this very beach, she had been very supportive of the cause, sympathetic with the protestors and had made it her mission to show off the lesser known facets of it. She made the common man’s voice be heard using her most powerful medium. The very medium that had turned against her.
Honesty had been her strong suit, and she had reported all the wronged voices, and then the wrong voices. She had carefully filmed and relayed, live, the few voices that wanted to turn the ‘peoples’ protest’ into a political movement. The slogans that targeted a particular set of people and political parties, the voices that shifted the focus of the movement from the cause at hand into something with political agenda, were all relayed, heating up the national political diaspora and sparking debates.
The next thing Neha knew, she had become a meme.
To dismiss this as the work of some perverted, jobless trolls was impossible. There was no way something so simple could reach so many people in such a short time without some powerful people backing it. There was no rhyme or reason to the memes, they were just images of her taken from the internet and some private ones from her Facebook profile (Neha still wondered who provided that material) that were morphed/ decorated with slogans that contained the most demeaning of words. Senseless that they were, they seemed to mock at the title of her once famous show on TV – ‘What does our country laugh at?’
The country was currently laughing at Neha. And ‘humiliated’ just did not cover how she felt. Her position as a lead reporter for a nation-wide news channel had gathered the fame, and that fame made sure that the memes spread virally too. Neha looked up at the stormy sky, reflecting the emotions she felt. Quitting had not really been an option, the business end of the channel thought this would boost the TRP and had given her more assignments and that had sparked more memes. Neha realised the senselessness of it all.
She drafted a quick email. There was no way she could continue and face the camera again, without remembering how she had slipped from the stage not long ago and had been trolled heavily. She snorted. So much for not being camera shy. Neha had not wanted things to end on a sour note, but she could not see another way out. Anything she did or said was out in the public for ridicule, and it was time she quit and returned to a softer pursuit so things would quieten down.
Her hand hovered over the send button, and Neha thought about how she had chosen this career against so many opposing arguments and had succeeded thus far. She kept the phone down, not having the heart to resign.
Ignoring successive pings and rings from her mobile, she looked around her. Her eyes fell on the stall selling smoked corn, her favourite. She tried to control the rushing memories of when the ‘protestors’ had offered her this very item when she was hungry. The colourful umbrella framed against the twilit sky was a subject she would once have clicked in her DSLR. But now her hands fell listlessly by her side. The embers from the roasting corn flew in the air like sparks from a lathe. She did not pay much attention to it.
Until she spied a familiar face behind the stall – the woman who had been there when it began, and had had her whole shop ruined when things turned ‘political’. Surprised, Neha found herself getting up of her own accord, as if some unknown power was pulling her towards the stall. The woman looked up when she noticed someone approaching, and her face lit up in recognition. She smiled widely, and Neha gave a tentative smile back.
“Wow… You’re back here. Memories?”
Neha stuttered, not sure how to answer. There were too many questions she had wanted to ask. How had the woman rebuilt her stall after it being torn down in the protests? How had she still thought that the beach was her place to be? Had she healed her arm that had been broken when the riot broke out? And most importantly, how had she, a poor woman, found the money to begin rebuilding her life?
Before she could ask any of those questions, the woman smiled at her. She did not seem to want a response. But she answered like she knew what Neha wanted to ask.
“I missed this beach. I could not be without the smell of the salty air and the heat of the roasting corn. This place might have torn me down, but this is also the place where I made a living. Everyone suggested I make a temporary food stall on beach road. Some regulars even funded a push-cart for me. But why would I give up something I love because some people made me? This is what I love doing, and this is what I shall do. I am right, no? You tell me?”
Neha nodded, her smile growing wider. The flaps on the colourful umbrella rustled in the air, and she turned towards the waves, which seemed to reflect the moonlight. Picking up her phone, she quickly opened the email app. Pressing the backspace had never felt so right.