In My Brown Skin

When I was in school, we didn’t have modern ideas about equality across communities, race and colour. (It is another story that equality was there anyway, without any of us talking about it much). So, it used to be fine and non-offensive to make personal remarks about someone’s hair-tie or school-bag or curly hair. It was all in good fun and nobody held it against anyone.

One afternoon, in the school bus, a classmate started a discussion about skin-colour. I think we were in class VIII or IX – that time when you start lingering in front of the mirror for longer moments than usual. She was a rather chubby, loud girl who loved airing her opinions about everything from the food at the canteen to the school song.

“So, do all Bengalis have dark skin-colour?” She said to me, poker-faced. “Like you, I mean.”

I was flabbergasted. I was the typical school nerd, who wore her hair in two braids and had eyes covered behind large spectacles. I was born with reddish skin, says Mom, and through school, I’d say it passed for brown. But point is, it never occurred to me that my skin colour could become a subject for discussion, let alone unify my ‘community’ in some way.

The girl looked around the bus and her eyes fell on a classmate – also Bengali, but reasonably fair-skinned. “No! She is Bengali too, and looks beautiful. I think it depends…”

I nodded absent-mindedly and was stunned to find my eyes prickling. My stop arrived, saving me the task of carrying on the enlightening conversation. Or of gathering my composure.

I loved going to school; I had several friends and all the teachers liked me. I paid little attention to ‘frivolous’ pursuits like folding the skirt at the top to make it shorter, pulling socks down, getting multiple ear piercings, or flirting with boys. Yes, yes – I have already stated I was quite the nerd, and happy about it. Never before had it bothered me that I didn’t count among the ‘fair and beautiful’ girls in school. I didn’t even know the two adjectives necessarily belonged together.

But that afternoon, I was, quite simply, stupefied. Also, stunned, dejected and teary.

Mom had come to pick me at the stop, like every day. I looked at her carefully. She had on a rose-coloured salwar suit, her hair tied with a clutch, and a big smile on her gentle face. Her skin was brown, perhaps a shade or two darker than mine. But it was the skin I touched when I got scared of the dark at night. It was the skin that smelled of lime and lavender when Mom used her shower gel. I had always found it beautiful, and very often, I’d ask Mom if I looked like her yet. Relatives and family members often commented on how I didn’t resemble her much. I tried to make up for it by observing how she walked and talked and smiled. All, in that brown skin of hers.

If I meet her today, that classmate of mine will probably not even remember this incident. It was so many years ago, and was an offhand, casual remark, very characteristic of her. But it still lingers in my memory somewhere – this conditioning of school-children that fair is beautiful. Isn’t school about friendship, learning and fun, where the only things that matter are loyalty, not telling tales to teachers, and sharing your tiffin?

If I have kids one day, I am going to do my best to teach them this: skin colour is just that – a colour. And all colours are equally beautiful.

No, Depression Does Not Just Mean Sadness

“I am depressed.”

It seems like such a simple thing to say, really. We are human beings, capable of feeling a vast range of emotions. So, when it starts raining just on a morning you had wanted to picnic, you can say it’s depressing. As is the taste of the food, the colour of the walls, your mood after watching a TV series. We are all ‘depressed’ about something or the other, almost every day. Continue reading

Why Evenings Have Changed

It is early evening. I can hear the birds chirping excitedly, convening to discuss the night’s meal and if the chicks are going to be happy with what they are taking home. The lights have started coming on in the windows I can see from mine; there are candles in some. An old man is slowly walking on the pavement, carrying a bagful of pastries for his grandchildren. I can hear their faraway giggles from the neighbourhood’s park; they are glad the swings are no longer covered in snow. Perhaps they aren’t his grandchildren. Perhaps his grandchildren are away, in another country, and he only gets to talk to them on Christmas and birthdays. Maybe he is taking the pastries for his wife. Maybe for himself. But I digress.
Continue reading

Chasing Sunshine

Last week, from Monday through Friday, the sun came up every single morning. It was bright and sunny at 6 AM and the rest of the day remained pleasant, even if not too warm. This was a welcome change from the long winter months of grey skies and snow and rare, if any, visits from the sun. I determined to make the most of this change over the weekend when I would venture out into the sunshine and let it warm my winter-beaten fingers and toes. I would also finally discard my black fur jacket which has been my constant companion in the last few months. While it is pretty and smart (considering I made sure R spent quite a lot of time helping me pick one), I have tired of its weight and its brooding reminder of how winter beats down on us still, relentless and forlorn. Continue reading

The Sounds of Solitude

Vaccum cleaning that starts at 7 AM in the morning. Drilling work at the house being constructed across the street. Wailing toddlers making a last attempt at looking miserable so the parents would say it’s okay, school is off. Barking dogs enthusiastic about their morning walk.

Who says the mornings here are quiet?

My little residential area here in Vienna is full of odd noises throughout the day. Things slow down in the afternoons, when the leaves sway in the wind and the rainclouds pour. But there is still the sudden shout from the kids going back home from school, a distant volley of giggles from a group of college students. And sometimes, people calling out to each other in a mix of sounds that could even be Hindi. And yet, I hear a lot of, “Isn’t it absolutely quiet there? Don’t you get bored?” Continue reading

Exclaim Not

We learnt many punctuation marks at school. A variety of ways to express emotion in writing. Figures of speech. Multiple sentence forms. And yet, today, all of that has boiled down to, for so many of us, a single measly symbol. The exclamation mark. It has become the universal symbol of expressing all sorts of emotions – from urgency to happiness and disdain to anger. Now while I don’t deny that all of us have the right to exclaim as much as we want, I cannot also deny the intense reaction it provokes in me. Continue reading

Year-End Resolutions – or Not – and Some Thoughts

New YearIt’s that time of the year again. When the year that’s been by your side all this while starts feeling old, and you can’t wait to shake it off, like a bad habit, and embrace the new. Or, at another extreme, you cannot let go of all that the year has shown you, and are afraid that the coming year may not be as compassionate. At this time every year, many of us ritually go through the process of thinking about resolutions. In simple terms – what can I do to become a better and happier person in the times to come? Sounds very noble when put like that, doesn’t it? After all, what’s the human spirit if not keen on bettering itself continually? When I think about it, there are so many resolutions I could make. Continue reading