Kali

It was my mother’s fault that she birthed

Me on the banks of Kaveri

For try as they did they could not wash the black alluvial soil off my skin.

Kali

Little piece of coal my mother’s brother calls me

As he pretends he can’t spot me in the darkened birthing chamber

It sounds very cute when said in Tamil.

An endearment.

Kali

This one just got baked a little longer in the oven laughs my father when

My mother guiltily presents him with yet another daughter

One whose skin only a paddy farmer could love.

Kali

I am six when I am made to understand that

I who was proudly showing off my 99% in Maths was less than my best friend,

At least I’m fairer than you she says,

Sadly looking down at her own 73% marks

Kali

Raahat Ali hisses the epithet in class 3, that I would get familiar with through the years because I refuse to let him hold my hand

Kali

The shame I feel looking at my white face black neck makeup at my Arangetram.

The shame

Is for the secret pleasure that even though I look like a clown, I am fair

For two hours

Kali

I burn my skin to a crisp with hydrogen peroxide Congratulations.

I now possess blonde sideburns to contrast my black skin.

Kali

The proud mother of a prospective groom, who insisted on a fair skinned bride

For her son who was ‘white as milk’

Amma told her off in no uncertain terms that her daughter

Is dark as decoction and only when you mix the two.

Do you get rich aromatic

Coffee.

Kali

The boy who said your skin shines

Like burnished copper.

I let him go, I thought he was lying.

Boris Becker declared that the only time

He noticed that his girlfriend was black

Was when he saw how beautiful her skin

Looked against his white sheets

Kali

Touching my husband’s peachy creamy skin when we make love

Wondering how he could find me desirable

Kali

Lakme has three shades white, off-white and peach

The joy I feel when I purchase my first compact

At Heera Panna smugglers market

At age 26

It is the mythical, never seen before MAC compact,

in the pre- Manmohan Singh era

And it is the exact shade of my skin,

NC45

They got me. They knew I existed.

I had a number.

I still have that compact. After 18 years.

But the shop assistant wants me to buy NC 44 Because it makes me look fairer.

Kali

I’m pushing my light-skinned daughter on the swings

Someone asks me where her mother is

I bristle that I’m the mother

The lady giggles apologetically,

Usually only maids are dark skinned no,

No offense meant ji

Kali

Stay indoors, don’t swim, don’t tan, it’s OK

That your Vit D levels drop to 4.75

Depression, stress fractures are a reasonable price for fair-er skin

Melanin is a disease, there are treatments for it.

Kali

Stick to gold jewellery, silver makes you darker

Leave the diamonds to the porcelain Punjabis

Don’t wear white, don’t wear black,

don’t wear blue, don’t wear pink,

Don’t wear light colours, don’t wear dark.

Don’t wear pastels, don’t wear warm colours, don’t wear cold either.

Kali

She who stands naked

Wearing heads and blood

Suffering no one

Fangs are bared as are the talons

Fulsome, fearsome

Black of skin

Revered worshipped adored

Kali.

 

Postscript: This is my young friend Catherine. She’s barely 17 and loves taking photos of herself and uploading them on social media. Every now and then there will be a crass comment related to the beautiful colour of her skin. But Catherine deals with it well, she ignores them; something that I need to learn to do 🙂

74 thoughts on “Kali

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