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

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

Of Red, Hormones and Girl-Things You Shouldn’t Discuss

White and Red Skirt

She ran to the nearest washroom. It was the PT period and everyone was down at the playground. Nobody saw her running to the washroom. She shut the door on herself, almost throwing up at the stink. No matter how highbrow the school, the washrooms oddly started to stink toward the end of the day. Now, she told herself, surely it wouldn’t be so bad. Surely it would last out for another hour or so. Continue reading

9 Rules of Partying For Introverts

Tangy TuesdayIntroverts at a party

Wait, why do introverts need to party at all? I give you this, my dear: destiny. Sometimes, no matter what you do, destiny makes its presence felt. There will invariably be some party you just cannot miss – an office do of the husband he has to attend to be polite, a family gathering you must go to or risk being called snobbish, you get the idea. Considering I already battle my fair share of “why don’t you talk to us more often”, I try and avoid this scenario with R. So, when he whisked me away to this event, I found I couldn’t say no. Continue reading

No, Don’t Ask Me When I Plan to “Start” a Family

One of the rather uncomfortable side effects of marriage is the constant pressure to procreate. And the even more discomfiting fact is that this pressure comes from people you have never and would never discuss the mechanics of procreation with. Now, while I’ve been reasonably fortunate so far in dealing with the curiosity about my childbearing plans, that’s not what compelled me to write this post. It’s something a bit more disturbing.

After marriage, there is a host of people who enquire when you’re planning to “start a family”. And this always, imperatively, bugs me. No, not because it’s personal and nosey (which it is) but because it’s founded in falsehood. You see, I already have a family! Continue reading

Back To The Jungle

* Winning Entry in Disney’s My Mowgli Memory Contest *

Jungle Book

It was a late-winter Sunday morning in Delhi and still dark outside. The household was asleep. I tip-toed out of my bed, put on a jacket, and rushed to the washbasin. The floor-boards were chilly, the water even worse. But I didn’t mind. Before everyone woke up, I had to shower, put on fresh clothes, pray, and finish my homework. Erm, in case you have pinned me down as this ideal, unreal kid, let me burst the bubble. There was a big reason for the big rush.

Jungle Book aired on TV on Sundays. I couldn’t miss it for the world.

Outside our living-room window, the sun was now high up in the sky. The kitchen was fragrant with weekend-special breakfast, and I knew it, a chocolate pastry for me. Meanwhile, in the jungle, Mowgli the man-cub was being raised by a family of wolves. He had two excellent friends – Baloo, the bear and Bagheera, the panther. They hadn’t a soft bed or fluffy paranthas, and lived in perpetual fear of Sher Khan. But despite this, they were a bunch of happy folk. They were also my role models.

My family, predictably, latched on to my Jungle Book love, and used it to sell whatever point they were making. So, when I came back from school one day, my shirt all soiled with mud, Granny would go “Looks like our Mowgli jumped into a jungle puddle!” Or, if I crept behind Mom when the neighbours brought out their dog, she would remind me “Darling, he’s no Sher Khan!” You get the idea. This is why even though my home was well-lit, comfortable, and in the heart of the city, there was an aspect of the jungle to it. In my mind, there were mysteries right behind the fridge, or in the store-room, or in the dark of the attic. Almost within reach.

I say almost because I could never hold on to time. To be honest, I didn’t even try. Growing up seemed so tempting, so full of big and new experiences. So I grew up. There was holiday homework, then college assignments, then work deadlines. Unlike the freedom of the jungle, and the simplicity of those early Sunday mornings, life now presented complicated challenges. There was a time when achievements the size of Colonel Hathi came easily. Memorizing the lyrics of “Jungle Jungle Baat Chali Hai, Pata Chala Hai”, for instance. And now, one of the most daunting achievements was finding satisfaction.

I wonder how it will be to see my favourite people from the jungle all over again. They will have new and interesting voices, in a virtual world more real than ever before. In the Hindi version, I especially look forward to Irrfan Khan as Baloo and Om Puri as Bagheera – rich, powerful voices to portray the most adorable friends (and bodyguards) ever! Times have changed since the Jungle Book of my childhood, and we have reached new, fantastical standards of film-making. 

This Friday, I will sit with 3-D glasses over my spectacles, and let Disney carry me effortlessly into the depths of the jungle. There, waiting for me, will be all my friends of yore – the happy-go-lucky Mowgli, the affectionate Baalu, the strong and sensible Bagheera, and all the rest. Together we will re-create the beautiful and innocent land of childhood, still untouched by time.

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I’m blogging about #MyMowgliMemory at BlogAdda.

Picture Credit: The Hindu

Why Some People In a Movie Hall Just Can’t Shut Up

Tangy Tuesday Picks – 8 March, 2016

Silence

Okay, picture this. You have booked top notch seats in the over prized multiplex (wait, they are all overpriced – redundant adjective). You are all geared up to see this movie with widespread acclaim. And then it begins. But not only on the screen. Oh you denizen of utopia, not only on the screen.

Lately, I just can’t seem to watch a movie without being surrounded by people who talk as if its their living room, kids who cry as if their umbilical cord has just been cut, and mobile phones that constantly sing obnoxious ring-tones that their owners are too obnoxious to turn down. It is a cacophonous Rohit Shetty film and you don’t even have a helmet. So, I decided to try and enlist the various reasons behind this curious phenomenon. Continue reading

Why Celebrating Halloween Doesn’t Make Me A Bad Indian

Tangy Tuesday Picks – 3 November, 2015

Happy Halloween

I first read about Halloween in a story-book I got for my fourteenth birthday. It piqued my interest – you know, all those goodies and chocolates people have ready for you, the fun costumes you get to dress up in, and the glowing jack-o’-lantern at your doorstep. I especially loved the lantern because it gleamed so. (Erm, actually, it was the best possible use I could think for a vegetable I detest.)

Continue reading