Updated: Sep 14
Life gets complicated & convoluted when the past is nothing but a dark pit that drains the moral strength from within any individual.
“The Lost Smile” by Pooja Jonnalagadda tells the story of two friends, one helping the other walk out of the abyss. Both believe it isn’t easy but isn’t impossible.
Can you tell me one thing which you desperately want in life? For me, I want to live. Yes, I want to live no matter how tough things get and I want to have the strength to face my hurdles no matter how tough they get. I know time tests us with everything it has and it shall not stop at anything, but I learnt we should never give up, even if it costs us everything.
By the way, I’m Vani and I’m with such firm convictions because I was stuck in a phase for a long time and it took me everything to come out of it.
Life had never been the same after we parted our ways. Even in the most beautiful times, I felt nothing. Even when everything was as I expected, I never even tried to appreciate it. Three years have passed and yet my heart still retreats to him. Even on the busiest of days, my mind is clouded in his thoughts, his scent, smile; they still make my heart flutter. His presence not only makes me nervous but also makes me do stupid things and even now, years later, nothing changed.
From all the walks, laughter, warm hugs, passionate kisses, leant shoulders, held hands, to everything being vanished, here I am sitting in the dark, crowded in my thoughts. I am stuck and every time I try to move forward, I recall my actions... deeds I have never committed before and acts that cannot be undone. They stay right within me and I have to make peace with myself about my recklessness. Though this realization often rips me apart, I knew, I had to pick myself up for better or worse.
So I tried and changed little by little into a different person. As much as I couldn’t because the past often reminded me of the good old times which cannot be lived again, I knew, I had to get back in life and challenge myself.
So, in time, I rebelled against myself and sought independence and adventure. At first, though I thought I was getting better, I failed bitterly and often needed a shoulder to lean on but after a few more months, I shattered all my existing barriers and started walking in my new path.
As much as I ran away from my past, there was still pain hidden deep within and foolish hope that life will be as beautiful as it was. At the same time, a sober voice echoed in my head to not fall in love again and that warning hit me constantly.
Dissolved in my contradicting thoughts, I couldn’t help but conclude that I had to take a leap of faith away from this darkness into the light by changing everything. Though I wasn’t ready to fight back right away at what life would throw at me, I believed, I will slowly and gradually get back and face it. I believed this wasn’t where my book ends and before I write ‘The End’ I promised myself, I will be happy no matter how many times I get knocked out, I will stand and fight until I complete my journey without any regrets or unintended compromises.
So leaving my past behind, I mustered my courage and first set out to find out how I could be happy. For financial freedom and self-worth, I took up a job, hoping to live, I visited new places and met new faces every passing day. I even moved to a different city and things started to gear up now. Everything about this new place warmed me up and it felt good when people around me cared. For a minute, I thought this was exactly where I belong at this point in time.
The five-storey building I just moved into was lovely with only two flats per floor with peaceful corridors. Even in the office, my teammates were wonderful and collaborative. One day returning to work, I started reworking on the incomplete presentation and knocking on my cubicle arrived my manager.
Pointing to a man at the end of his twenties, my manager said, “Vani, this is Vedanth and he is from one of our Client companies. He will be helping us with the project and I would like you to introduce him to everyone.”
After the manager left, I stared at him silently not knowing what to talk about. He stood there right in front of me and a minute later, he asked, “Did anyone tell you that you have a photogenic face?”
Looking at him, I said, “I’m sorry...”
With a smile, he continued, “You really have a photogenic face, Ms Vani. I’ve never embarrassed myself like this in the first meeting itself but I would like to ask you if you would like to take part in a photoshoot?”
This was really the first time I was invited to a photo shoot. Though there were a bunch of pretending photographers in my bachelors’ none of them even thought of picking the skinny me. Realising he was waiting for an answer, I replied, “Maybe I would have if this isn’t your usual line to start a discussion.”
Observing him smile, I introduced him to my colleagues and in the days to come, work never felt any different. Though he ranked higher, Vedanth was just like a member of our team and he was just as cranky about developing software as the rest of us. He hated working overtime and loved parties, dinners and literally anything but work and whenever we spent time together, he would often ask me to give him time for a photo shoot.
After his consistent requests for a few weeks, I realised he was neither joking nor giving up and thinking about it for a while, I eventually agreed and he took me to his place. Except for the room where he had a few studio equipment and photos, all of his apartment was as dirty as any bachelor’s room. What I loved in his photos was that the people in them felt genuinely emotional.
For the next hour, he tried his best and the photos were just awful. Noticing me, he asked me for one more time slot as he wasn’t happy with this work. Though I felt it wouldn’t help, I agreed and next week, we did another session and this time the photos were even worse as I didn’t even try. Turning off the studio lights, he remarked, “You seem lost Vani... I cannot see the light within you and if I can’t, the camera cannot.”
Making coffee, he asked, “What’s bothering you?”
Hoping to talk to someone, at last, I confessed about how I broke up with my boyfriend giving in to family pressure after nearly spending half a decade and having imagined my entire life with him. Passing me the coffee, he said, “Ha… your regret is devouring your life then…”
Sipping the strong coffee, I asked, “Why are you so fixated on photographing me?”
With an elegant smile, he replied, “After a long time, I’ve met a girl who possesses the innocence of a child, Vani,… You know how rarely that happens?”
Never realising innocence was an attribute to beauty, I could notice his excitement as he continued, “How many girls do you think I know would regret leaving their boyfriend two years later? You know how adorable it is to have such a kind heart?”
Looking into my eyes, he said, “Elegance, class, respect, and discipline can be inculcated even after they are lost any number of times but innocence can’t be and that’s why children are nothing short of divine beings and so are you to me, Vani.”
I felt he was trying too hard to get his third session but this time, he didn’t ask. Two weeks passed by and I had to question him if he gave up on the photo. Surprisingly, he admitted, “Until you forgive yourself and end your regrets, I will be wasting our time clicking pictures,” and this statement stuck with me.
It took me a while to understand that I need not demonise my past and make it a dark place to visit. I realised that my efforts to move on wouldn’t succeed until I believed that my actions were circumstantial. I might not have done the right deed or I might have but in my lifetime, if I wished to be happy, I had to forgive myself and make my past a memorable and happy place rather than turn it into a dark pit in my mind that is triggered every time I do something we used to do in the past.
Now I knew how to truly walk out of the darkness and by the time I did in the next few months, Vedanth’s project was completed and this time, he had to go to another city to work in another office. As a send-off party, he took our team to dinner and after we cheered, I thanked him for helping me in my final step and he just smiled. That night was truly memorable and when I returned to my place, he emailed me an image titled “The Lost Smile” beneath which he wrote, “I never thought I would end up capturing you in my phone at dinner but this was what I was hoping for when I asked you for a photoshoot. I’m glad you are living your life Vani and let no decision ever take you down again. Keep smiling my lovely champ!”
And that’s how my story changed. We never know how the universe works. Some stories end just so that they can begin again with a better note. Moreover what has actually ended always gives you a key to go to the next door.
This short story is available in paperback & ebook.