Behenji to Model: What a Journey!


I got married in 2014 and being married to a Punjabi meant that I had to wear the chuda (the red and white wedding bangles) for atleast 45 days. I religiously did that. One of those days, after a couple of client meetings, I went to the Shangrila Hotel in Mumbai to enquire about booking a conference room for my upcoming Lego Certification Program (for trainers in the Learning and Development space) to be held four months later. It was the first time Lego was coming to India through Drishtique Worldwide – my Human Resource Consulting Company in India and it was a really prestigious thing for us. I wanted it to be a smashing hit and wanted to host it in a five star property for obvious reasons. The trainer was going to fly down from Denmark and I was really proud that we nailed that deal.

How I turned from a 'behenji' to a #model! #Perception #Assumptions Click To Tweet

Prejudices in Shangrila! 

I walked into the lobby and asked the folks at the reception about who I could speak to enquire about the Conference room. They requested me to sit and said that they would send the Marketing Manager to assist me. I found a lovely King chair and sat down, lost in my own world within a few moments of waiting patiently for Mr. Marketing Manager. Though I was literally day dreaming thinking about the meetings I had completed that day, I did notice a hip-looking girl in fancy western wear catwalk her way onto the princely sofa opposite me.  I guess in five minutes I saw a Shangrila’s uniform clad young kid walk up to us. He came straight at me first, looked at me from top to bottom and made a mental note that I wasn’t his target audience and moved on to the hip girl opposite me. Mind you I am stressing on the word hip for a reason. The cat will be out of the bag shortly. He spoke to her in English (though I couldn’t hear what he said as he was pretty up close that pretty woman and was literally speaking into her ear) and all I could see was her fierce nod which I assumed meant ‘no.’ Awww! He looked so disappointed and glanced towards me. Seeing there was no other woman waiting in the lobby he gathered that he had no choice and hence walked up to me and spoke to me in HINDI!! He asked me whether I was the one looking for the conference room. You get the drift right?


The poor little behenji in me decided not to feel insulted and ashamed; and the notorious girl in me decided to trick him instead. I gave him that confident ‘Archie special’ glance, put my spectacles above my head in the world famous way in which only I can do and replied in the most authentic American accent (see how having a firangi husband helps?!), that it was me who he was looking for! Man! You should have seen his face. He was appalled. There is a very popular term in Hindi called “pani pani ho gaya” that fits his expression at that moment perfectly well. I guess more than being shocked he was embarrassed at his foolishness of having assumed that I was a behenji who wouldn’t be able to speak in English because of my Indian clothes (mind you I was wearing a flamboyant Fab India silk salwar suit), diamond nose ring which is in no mean way inconspicuous and my wedding chuda. I wanted to have a hearty laugh but controlled myself. Tough it was, but I didn’t want to embarrass the kid any further. I went slow on the accent during the conversation and though I made sure I asked him everything I had already made up my mind not to use that hotel. In good time during our casual chat (oh yes, that’s what it became later) coffee and cookies also arrived and just when we were about to bid our goodbyes, he apologized for what he did!

There was a time when I used to cringe even at the thought of hearing the word ‘behenji’ but now ofcourse it just holds ‘what a silly joke’ value for me and I laugh at the stupidity of the word, or better still the usage and meaning it holds for many so-called modern people. It is the most pathetic phobia (yes I have been stuck on that word since yesterday… did you read my post on acrophobia?) that many people possess and all I can think of is how clouded their minds are, not just their eyes. To judge the behenji or not-so-behenji or ‘oh! She is a freaking model´ quotient on the basis of the attire to me, is the biggest insult that anyone can hurl at anyone! All it conveys is the judgmental mind of the person who is making these assumptions!

The gaontan (village girl) from Mumbai

I was always very flamboyant in my dressing sense. But flamboyance in no way meant that it was all about western clothes for me. I enjoyed wearing both – Indian and western clothes depending upon my mood and what my situation demanded. At first being judged on the basis of clothes used to really irk me, but then I guess with age comes maturity and wisdom and you stop getting affected by such remarks and comments. I distinctly remember an incident once when I was studying in college and accompanied my aunt to her hometown Nagpur. We had taken the overnight train and were tired, so we decided to take a quick nap in the afternoon after we reached home. I was wearing a salwar suit and my hair had become messy thanks to sleeping off. When I woke up I was surrounded by some women who were apparently my aunt’s cousins. Most of them had a very sombre expression after looking at me. I had just about woken up and did my rounds of ‘namaste’ with everyone and walked out to use the bathroom. I overheard someone telling my aunt, “kya re Madhuri, kaisi gaontan (villager) lagti re teri bhatiji (niece).” Honestly that time I was livid. All I was doing was just being ‘myself’ and here this lady who lived in an almost village type of city decided to play judgmental and called me a village girl just because I was dressed in Indian attire? What did they expect me to do? Roam around in shorts and a spaghetti top? Would that make me a model? Perhaps in their eyes, “yes!”

The Gaontan - Village Girl - look
The Gaontan – Village Girl – look

The red-haired shot skirt clad model! 

Oh! I have to quickly narrate another hilarious incident and this one is going to make you laugh. It may be a bit out of context, but please bear with me. During my corporate stint with an MNC Bank where I was a trainer and taught the new recruits and other bankers, I was obviously looked up to like all teachers are. One day I was walking into my office and knew there were some people walking behind me. I heard a whistle and turned back to look at why was someone whistling in office.  I saw two of my students and apparently they both were whistling and stopped dead in their tracks when they saw it was me.  I smiled and wished them good morning, completely ignoring the whistle. They wished me back and ran to their departments. In the evening one of them came to me with a sorry face and apologised for their morning behaviour saying ‘they thought it was new recruit with such a fancy haircut and short skirt.’ Ooo la la, the boy had the guts to apologise and yet wanted me to know why he did what he did. Just because I was wearing a seemingly short skirt and had dyed my hair red! Times were a-changing… the behenji was now being looked at differently!

Finally! From behenji to model… what a journey! 

To my utter surprise, all of a sudden people look at me in different light these days. I don’t know whether it is because I now live in the United States, wear western attire more often (well, it’s a tad difficult to wear Indian clothes in these crazy winters) or because of my love affair with the concept of selfies and passion to pose for the camera? Just two days back I got a message from a friend asking me what had happened to me and whatever had happened was awesome, because I never looked so gorgeous. Model-like! Was it Desh? I chuckled at that message. Sigh! While I’d love to give all the credit of my current gorgeousness to my beloved husband I was wondering how he was instrumental in making me look like a model?!

The Model Look Post Marriage
The Model Look Post Marriage

What has this world come to? It set me thinking. What kind of mind-set do people possess? Is it only about looks, complexion, attire, manicured nails, modern hairdos, and the perfect grooming for which they would part with an arm and a leg and also get under the knife? To my mind, I was always this way. Why has people’s perception changed? Why do the qualities and accomplishments of a person take a backseat and appearances assume the eternal driver’s position? No wonder ‘fair and lovely’ sells like hot cakes and being and looking like a behenji is looked down upon. Why stereo-type women who prefer to look the way they are? Does that make them any less beautiful? I think Indian attire is ever so stunning. There is no woman on this planet that would not dazzle in a saree. Oh oh, I guess only if she wears a sleeveless blouse, isn’t it? Else a saree-clad will be the popular behenji!

Saree and the Sleeveless blouse look
Saree and the Sleeveless blouse look

All I can say is more power to those who are so easily taken in by the physical aspects of a person rather than what the person really is made of. I’d rather look who I am and be what I am than change for the benefit of others. Oh by the way before I bid au revoir, did I mention I just finished reading “10 steps to stop worrying what people think about you?” 😉

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