Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Roots

"Do you know how do they make the roads?" asked her friends.

Neeti knew how roads were made. There was the gravel, the tar and the huge road-rollers. She saw them everyday on her way to school. "Maybe they know something more", she thought.

"Not really. Tell me how they make the roads", she fell for the trap.

"When you wash your face, they collect the water and make the roads from that", they explained and laughed hysterically. It was mean but not unusual on their part. They made fun of her dark complexion under some pretext or the other everyday.

Neeti lowered her head, walked a few steps trying to hold back the tears that welled up. Once done with that, she joined them back.

They always walked back together from their dance class in the evening. These were her good friends. They were nice people. Making fun of her skin colour was a regular source of amusement for them. It never occurred to them that she was getting hurt and it never occurred to her that they were in the wrong in doing so. Maybe the fact that she laughed along with them most of the time had something to do with it.

She laughed along because she had no other option.
But it did choke her up every single time.
She hid it well.

She asked her mother why was she subjected to such cruelties? Mother had no answer. She was still bearing with outbursts like, "Such a handsome son of mine had to go and get himself a dark bride like her. Love marriages should be banned. Etc. etc.", even after fifteen years of marriage. She consoled Neeti, "See even Lord Krishna was dark. Dark girls always get fair boys". It wasn't much of a detour for her innocent questions but Neeti took comfort in them.

She was only eleven.

Annual Day is a day the students look forward to and the teachers hate.
It means no school. Acting in school plays. Entertainment program. Free snacks. Prizes for those who did their best all year long. And a chance to show off your parents.

She was no longer in the primary section. Her first year as a secondary school goer had begun well as far as studies were concerned. She was a part of the school play. She had auditioned to play the young princess. She wasn't chosen. She didn't feel bad. To settle for less was ingrained in her. It was as if she knew that she was meant to be a peasant and not the princess. She accepted the role of a poor farmer's daughter happily.

Mother was very happy too. Her sister Roma was in town and she would be accompanying them, to see her niece act. Neeti was treated like royalty at home that day. Nothing should stress her out. Her performance was scheduled for the evening. Mother was going to leave early with her to help her get ready. Father, Roma Mausi and her younger brother were to arrive later.

The green room backstage was chaotic. School had appointed two ladies to do the make-up. Mother pleaded with one of them to take longer and do a good job on Neeti. She had brought her own foundation cream and powder. The make-up lady barked,"Only powder and lipstick for the students who have smaller roles, no foundation for them." Mother tried her best to have the rules bent.

Neeti was oblivious to all this.

Finally she was called in for the make up. Foundation, podwer, lipstick, kajal, eye liner, rouge, gold dust. Mother had done a good job begging.

Next day was a holiday. She couldn't wait to get back to school.

Roma Mausi came to drop her till the school bus the following day. Neeti got curious looks when she got onto the bus. Children made gestures and pointed at her. For a moment she got scared. Did she look horrible in the play? Did she not look nice? Was anything amiss? Many thoughts sprinted across her mind. She took a seat and tried hard to listen to what they said. A girl behind whispered, "Did you see Neeti's parents? Her father is so handsome and her mother so beautiful." Nobody spoke of her.They were not talking about the play. They were admiring her parents. What a handsome couple they made. For those who had missed out on the Annual Day, her classmates in the bus pointed in the direction from where Roma Mausi was still waving her a morning bye-bye.

Neeti knew that her mother never got a chance to go out and sit with her father the whole evening. She was busy helping in the green room.

She should have turned around and said, "No that wasn't my mother. That was my aunt." But she kept quiet.

So what if they made fun of her. At least they thought her parents were good-looking. She didn't want to dis-illusion them by revealing who the pretty lady with her father was that day. She let them believe that the beautiful woman waving at her right now was her mother.

She waved back with added enthusiasm.

Seeds for a whole new generation with the same old mindset were taking roots.

5 comments:

  1. :)

    very nice...because of the way you write, the characters come alive in front of the reader's eyes. Simple and different!
    The last line is a sixer! :)

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  2. It's so true. I'm married to a North Indian. And when I went to meet the in-laws, the forst thing they said was, "Kitni kaali hai".

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  3. @ Anagha :):):)
    @ Mads - Yes have been through that so often. "she looks fair in photos...but you should have told us that the girl is dark...it would have saved us the trip" is the extent some families go to :)

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