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 🙂

71 thoughts on “Kali

      1. Wow v well written.Its a shame that these thoughts still exist.we are beautiful the way we are and no one can define beauty for us.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Beautiful as you. Kali has the power to cut through illusions fearlessly, relentlessly and furiously. You did just that
    Wow. I m glad you are blogging. Keep blogging.
    Love and regards.

    Like

  2. My favorite lines:
    “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”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hema … that was simply awesome …. u nailed it … I loved it … more power to u n it beautiful thoughts n words … God bless 💖💖💖

    Like

  4. This is absolutely stunning and relatable on so many levels. Thank you for writing a piece that speaks volumes about how much further we have to go as a society. Also, you’re GORGEOUS! ❤️

    Like

  5. What a brilliant piece of writing! Simply loved reading it the first thing in the morning whilst birds are chirping and the Sun has yet to rise!

    Like

  6. Please tell Catherine she is so stunning & so is your friendship & the poem! Lovely! My 6 year old was asked by a light skinned kid if she doesn’t take bath since she is brown in colour! We gape the west & the mad love for light skin has become imbibed in our psyche.

    Like

  7. I am 60+. A guy that old cannot fall in love they say. Wrong! I fell in love with Catherine and You! You are both so heavenly!

    Like

  8. I’ve read a number of blogs on stereotyping of the ‘dark-skinned’ girl. But none resonated with me to this level, Hema. You’ve hit the spot for me with this beautiful write-up. I felt like somebody had extracted my thoughts and given it expression in this profound articulation. ‘Touching my husband’s peachy creamy skin when we make love
    Wondering how he could find me desirable
    Kali’
    ‘I’m pushing my light-skinned daughter (son) on the swings
    Someone asks me where her mother is
    I bristle that I’m the mother’
    (Oh he must look like his father, they say)
    The other lines ring true – but these two… It’s me you’ve written about! 🙂
    More power to you… want to read more of your writing…

    Like

  9. 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.

    So amazingly penned down.! I often hear people referring dark chocolate, blacky and words like this.

    Like

  10. Read it again n again. I’m glad she has learnt to ignore the comments. Lot of others feel guilty n ashamed. Loved the piece.

    Like

  11. Can’t tell you how much this resonated with me as a teacher, mother of a teenager I know how much this pulls us back. I have a friend who will never allow herself to be photographed, because she thinks she is not beautiful! If only we all told our children how beautiful they are, no matter what. If only we stopped comments like’ kali ho gayi hai’, our children will feel more sure about themselves.

    Like

  12. I love poetry, and used to write it. I used to think no one actually reads poetry, I used to write for myself, for my expression. This is one of the best poems I’ve read – it’s so touching and beautiful. As a moderately dark skinned person in a very light skinned extended family, being called as the “crow” of the family; having daughters who are very intelligent but might get more tanned and darker than ideal if they go out and play tennis or swimming, this touched me beyond words.

    Like

  13. A Beautiful writeup…I can relate to it so much. I am dark skinned. Got married to a fair boy. It was a love marriage. My kids twins a boy and girl are fair skinned like they dad. The comment I received from my mother in law ” I prayed to God that the kids should be like my son”. I was heart broken. Am I so bad looking just because I am dark. I get stares when I go out with my kids. I started to use fairness products, which I never did before having kids. My husband was supportive and said he loved me the way I was and made me realise not to change for someone who is not important at all. I say I am proud of my color, my kids and my husband.

    A very good

    Like

  14. Amazing expressions….beautifully written…Mam. Kudos! This is an ordeal every other Indian women has to go through because of her skin tone..and this fairness industry makes it worse. Due to this girls loose confidence as a personality even after possessing many wonderful qualities .This black white divide was initiated by colonisation which is still deep rooted in our psyches..this needs removal ,asap. LOVED IT! ❤ Keep up your good work. 🙂

    Like

  15. It brought fresh tears. Every line. You strike the right chord with me, and just penned down every experience I had. Its truly beautiful.

    Like

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