Mohanty ma’am was teaching the class five students of Arya Wonderland about similes.
“As beautiful as?” she asked, looking at the students.
“The rose, the Taj Mahal, Aishwarya Rai….” There were several shouts.
“And now, as ugly as?” Mohanty ma’am questioned.
There was a pause then a girl said in a loud and clear voice: “As ugly as Sarita.”
There were a few giggles, a couple of sniggers and then laughter.
Sarita felt herself burning with shame and pain as all eyes turned towards her, bored into her, making her feel exposed. She hid her face in her hands and wept.
Yes, she was ugly. Her classmates were right. There was no doubt about it. The left side of her face was completely scarred. There was only a slit where her left eye should have been. And what was left of her ear was a tiny morsel of flesh.
Sarita and her mother had been caught in a fire when she was an infant. Her mother had escaped with a burnt hand, while half of poor Sarita’s face had been eaten away by the flames.
Sarita was a happy go lucky child who did not believe in blaming fate or moping over her ill luck. But sometimes when her classmates got really mean, the tears would come.
Sarita was very good in studies. Whenever her classmates needed her notes or wanted to have a doubt cleared, they would come to her. She was kind and forgiving and would willingly help them.
But at other times when they did not need her help they avoided her. She longed to have a real friend but she had none.
On the road, in the bus, in the park, wherever she went, people would turn and stare at her. Their faces reflecting many emotions – horror, revulsion, pity but never friendship, affection or even acceptance.
Sarita was very good at drawing and spent most of the evenings with paper, pencil and paints. She always drew things that were ugly or rather, considered ugly – bats, lizards, snails, vultures, toadstools, weeds and everything that was looked at with revulsion or distaste.
That is the reason why, despite her talent, she had never won a prize in any painting or drawing competition. Who would select a picture of a toad or a lizard when there were lovely flowers, exotic birds and beautiful scenery to chose from?
That evening Sarita decided to draw the ugliest creature imaginable. She thought for some time and got started. After three hours she looked with satisfaction at what she had drawn.
It was a strange creature with the body of a lizard, the head of a toad and the wings of a bat. It had two saucer-like eyes which looked in opposite directions and snout like that of a wild boar.
Its body which was dirty brown had scales which were slimy green in colour. It was a magnificently ugly creature.
She named it Babolito – a name derived from the first two alphabets of the animals that had inspired the creation.
That night she stuck the painting on the wall opposite her bed and slept.
Suddenly she woke up with a start. Someone had called her name. She looked at the painting. It was still there but Babolito had disappeared.
She heard a noise and turned around towards the window from where the sound had come. There it was, a looming shadow.
She gasped in surprise. “Babolito…!”
The creature, which was the size of a rhinoceros, put its head through the window and spoke.
“Little one. Are you scared of me because I’m so ugly?” It had a soothing, gentle voice.
“Of course not. Why should I be scared of anything ugly. I myself am so ugly. I was only
surprised seeing you alive.”
“Would you like to come with me?”
“I live in a strange land called Hydroplanet.”
“What a funny name!”
“Yes, it is a peculiar name. Do you know how it got its name?”
“You know, water changes its shape according to the container it fills. Hydro means water and in Hydroplanet, the face of every man, woman and child keeps changing moment to moment.”
“I’ll explain. The face, it is said, is the index of the mind. And Hydroplanet is a perfect example of this belief. If someone is thinking cheerful thoughts his face looks happy and contented.
If he is frustrated, his face appears angry, irritable and tired. This is one place where no one is ugly or beautiful because nothing is permanent. As your thoughts, so your face.”
“But how will I go?”
“Sit on my back and hold on tight.”
Soon, with a mighty whoosh Babolito took off. They climbed higher and higher, through mighty clouds.
Finally, Babolito went right through an enormous cloud and stopped in front of a huge gate. The doors opened and in they went. A strange sight met Sarita’s eyes.
Men, woman and children were busy, walking, talking, jumping, playing or eating. As she watched carefully, their faces kept changing every moment.
She saw a tall, muscular man walking ahead.
“That is Adonis. At one time the most handsome man in the universe.”
At the mention of his name the man turned and Sarita gasped. Adonis was anything but handsome. His eyebrows were somewhere on the top of his forehead, his nose was not on his face but three inches in the air and his lips were curled in a permanent smirk. He looked weird.
Seeing the look of surprise on Sarita’s face Babolito said, “I told you, little one, this is Hydroplanet. Adonis once was very handsome but his arrogance has made him look like this.”
Wherever Sarita went she saw men, woman and children stopping and staring at her with a strange expression in their eyes.
“Why are they staring at me like this. Is my ugliness so stark even in Hydroplanet?” she asked Babolito.
“Come with me and you will soon know the answer to that question.”
Babolito led Sarita to a huge peepal tree which has a door in the middle.
Babolito opened the door and asked her to go in.
“Go on, take a look,” he said.
Sarita entered the tree and stood transfixed. Standing in front of her was the most beautiful girl she had ever seen in her life. Her lovely eyes filled with warmth, her skin glowing and her face full of joy and happiness – she looked ethereal.
“Who…who is this girl? Is it a fairy?”
“Ha, ha,” Babolito laughed, his body shaking with mirth. “That girl is you, little one. What you are looking at is a mirror.”
“Me? Is this a magic mirror that makes even the ugliest of things look beautiful!”
“No, silly. I told you, here in Hydroplanet your face reflects the thoughts in your mind and the feelings in your heart. Your face is a reflection of your pure mind and heart. You are a lovely person inside and it shows on your face outside!”
Sarita hugged Babolito.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash of light. She opened her eyes and looked around. She was in her room. It was morning and her mother had drawn the curtains. The picture of Babolito was back in the painting on the wall.
Had it all been a dream?
She got up and looked in the mirror. She did not see a child with a scarred face. Instead she saw a pretty girl smiling back at her, her lovely face glowing with happiness.
Sarita laughed and looked at Babolito’s sketch on the wall. Was it her imagination or did Babolito actually wink at her?