Thursday, 11 September 2014

Pink, Blue or Purple?

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She was different from all the other girls in my class. Bold, daring, extremely energetic, defiant at times and almost always shabbily dressed. The contrast was glaring, right on one’s face. While most girls  flaunted well-oiled plaits and pigtails secured by black ribbons, washed and powdered faces sometimes highlighted by a bindi or a smear of kohl and neat uniforms, notebooks and bags, this one just did not yield to such expectations. At first I found her queer, the odd one out, a girl with whom one could never associate the colour pink (as is ingrained in us by the media, garment and toy manufacturers and almost everyone in the whole wide world). She would chew gum in class, laugh out loudly, pick fights with boys that sometimes turned into physical brawls, roam around carelessly not the least bothered by homework and assignments, jump walls and climb trees. One could never find her gossiping with other girls about make-up, boys and the like. She was so different.

I soon developed a strong liking for her. May be because she reflected a part of me that was left unexpressed because of the way our family and society moulds girls. There are so many gender stereotypes and roles assigned by the society we live in, that it is really hard to escape being victim to at least a handful of them. She loved sports. That was her world.That was what kept her going. She championed in any sport she took part in. Athletic and agile, determined and dedicated, she was made for the playgrounds, and the tracks marked with chalk. The sound of the whistle, the gunshot that marked the beginning of a race, applause and cheers from the audience and the clinking of medals and trophies were music to her ears. In her I saw my unfulfilled dreams come to life.

However, the boys teased her and called her a “man”. They teased her mercilessly about having doubts about her sex. They invited her to “guys only” parties. The girls too did their bit. They didn't allow her to be their friend. They made it clear that she was not worthy of hanging out with. A friend who could never be introduced to one’s parents. She became an outlaw in my class and I watched helplessly. Gradually she was labelled a tomboy. Jokes about her floated everywhere, managing to creep up till the staff room. Teachers and well-wishers advised her to behave like a girl if she wanted to be loved and respected. Her mother was summoned for a meeting that saw the tormenting of a poor, hapless woman by some teachers. As I watched the mother leave the school in tears, I decided to do something about this. We had a class discussion where everyone spoke openly and freely. I stressed the importance of tolerance to diversity and the need for all of us to bust certain gender myths that plagued society. The students responded well and promised to be her friends. I desperately hoped it would bring about some change in attitude.

Of course it did. By the end of the year Sharmila became truly sharmeeli(shy), stopped going for sports and other activities, confined herself to her girlfriends and their gossips, never answered back or questioned me, came to school with oiled hair, clean nails, colourful bindis and “behaved herself” as the other teachers told me. Everyone except me seemed to be happy about her turning over a new leaf. The boys in class were happy as she had been “tamed” and was no longer a threat (as she was stronger than some of them); the girls were now ready to take her into their fold. She was not the same person any more. Instead of bringing about a change in mind-set of the society, she had erased her own identity and individuality. She seemed to be happy to be loved and accepted by everyone. But the part of me that had come to life after a long period of dormancy shrivelled. May be there will be a time when one can express oneself freely, without the fear of being isolated or rejected. I eagerly wait for that springtime where there is a little cosy space for everyone in this world.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Black and White

Anita loved reading stories to her seven year old son. She looked forward to those moments of togetherness, when both of them would cuddle inside a blanket after dinner and step into the truly bewitching world of stories. Fairy tales, stories with moral, fables, folk lore and stories from her own childhood would come alive in their cosy little den every night without fail. Nikhil loved stories that taught him some value. He would imagine himself as the protagonist of such stories and feel like a hero, with so many good deeds to his credit. “I will grow up to be an honest, caring and wise man” he told his mother, who would then feel proud of her kid. “My son will grow up with a lot of good values”, she thought to herself with great happiness.

One evening, as usual mother and child prepared themselves for story time. With great curiosity and interest, little Nikhil listened to a story that taught him the important value of compassion. The story became etched in his mind and he decided to be kind and try his best to help people in need. Apart from wanting to make his parents proud, he also wanted to feel good about helping someone in trouble. Anita told him many more stories that fascinated him, but this one was always in the forefront of his memories. It was his favourite story. He badly wanted to experience the joy of caring and sharing. He just did not know where to get started.

On his way back from school one day, he happened to get the coveted window seat. He was only interested in the window and not the seat. He gazed with childish amusement at all the wayside sights- people returning from work, other school children, shopkeepers and hawkers, beggars, high rises, houses, huts, tents, trees and so many other things. He then saw something that touched a raw nerve. A child of his age was begging on the streets, a baby girl ( probably his sister) in his arms. Initially he was surprised at that sight, but deep hurt and many many questions haunted him during the rest of the journey. Why didn’t the boy go to school? Why were they poor unlike him? How could he help the boy? Nikhil decided to do something about it and bring a smile on the boy’s face.

Anita was pleased that her son empathised with the street urchin. She repeated to him, “Good boys care for others and help them in times of trouble. You feel like helping that boy. So you are very good at heart. Daddy and Mummy are very proud of you!” Nikhil felt triumphant. He was going to give his parents and the boy a big surprise. The next day, he did not take the school bus home. He roamed the streets in search of the boy and his sister. He found them and talked to them. He learned that the boy and his sister had been orphaned. They were hungry and had to beg or pick pockets to get enough money for some bread. His heart went out to them. He seemed to know what to do.

Anita was surprised that the boy hadn't come home. She was beginning to get worried and decided to call the school. Her fears melted when she heard the doorbell ring. She rushed to open the door. What she saw left her perplexed and angry. There he was, her little one Nikhil, holding the hand of a dirty, unkempt kid from the street carrying a baby with dirty nails, tattered clothes and a running nose. “We will take care of them Mummy”, he said excitedly.

Her head was spinning. How could they have kids from the street at home? What if they were part of a group of gangsters? What if they carried some disease? What would friends and family say about these new filthy members of the family? This was ridiculous. No one did such things. She lost her temper and screamed, “What’s wrong with you Nikhil? Go inside, take a shower NOW! And for God’s sake ask these creatures to go back.”

Dark clouds of sadness gathered on Nikhil’s face. He was deeply hurt.” I thought you would like the surprise, Mummy” he cried. The other two kids stared without any expression on their faces. They were used to being screamed at, so they left silently, without any fuss. But Nikhil was inconsolable. He threw himself on the bed thinking about his new friends who left suddenly. That was his first encounter with the hypocritical world of adults which was like a black and white chess board.

The Heroine

There was an ocean of people pushing, pulling and jostling eagerly waiting to catch at least a glimpse of their favourite star. Cameras, mobile phones and eyes watched athirst with bated breath. Journalists were ready to take notes, critics to shoot questions, policemen positioned to take action at the slightest sign of trouble. She was on her way and would arrive soon. The crowd was ready to wait an eternity for that blessed moment of sensory treat.

Maya was a recent addition to the film industry but her magical looks, effortless acting and impeccable style had already transformed her to a demigoddess. Youthful romeos dreamt about her day and night, the middle aged drooled over her pictures that seemed to be omnipresent (someone had even pasted her poster inside a public toilet) and the older men remorsefully remembering their prime as they thought of her.

The wait was over. Their goddess had landed from heaven among their midst. Each look of hers, the turn of her neck, her graceful gait, everything about her was lapped up like a sponge and relished like nectar by her fans. She walked over to the stage, escorted by her assistants and took a seat among the other guests. The press conference pertaining to her upcoming release was about to begin.

She patiently answered all the questions with honesty, stopping once in a while to sip some ice cold water. She felt comfortable to be amidst people who showered her with love and admiration. She could see people arguing with the guards, trying desperately to gain entry into the hall. Cameras clicked, slurping up every bit of her. She felt important. She was on top of the world. This was what she had dreamt of all her life and now she was living her charismatic dream.

Somewhere far away a whistle blew. Perhaps some fans were trying in vain to catch sight of her. No cause for worry. Then a second whistle by a policeman. Would the crowd go crazy as they sometimes did when they saw their superstar? The third one was really loud and with it the smell of overcooked lentils wafted into her nostrils. The crowd, the admirers, the press, the policemen, the banners, bouquets and cameras vanished into thin air. She was greeted by spices and vegetables, greasy utensils and a bucketful of smelly clothes.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The happiness bubble

Her excitement was overwhelming. She beamed and grinned as she stood in front of the huge shiny mirror in her bedroom. She scrutinized herself again and again. She couldn’t afford to make the slightest mistake. She tried various kinds of smiles and finally settled for the one that was restricted to the outline of her scarlet red lips. A smile that was never destined to reach her eyes. Quickly, she marked her mental checklist- the stylish hairdo, with a few careless strands that framed her face, the flawless make-up that hid the shadows around her eyes and the horrible freckles and blemishes, her smooth and supple skin that was newly waxed, the tastefully chosen diamond jewellery that was custom made to look just like the one a woman flaunted at a party few days ago, her designer sari that was sure to steal the show and the stilettoes that cost a bomb but elevated her to “a higher level”. Perfect.

Pleased with her efforts, she dabbed some perfume and nodded at her husband. He noticed the grief and loneliness in her eyes that the make-up couldn’t hide but chose against speaking about it. He got the car keys and prepared to lock the door. She almost forgot her precious Louis Vuitton! She cursed herself for her negligence, grabbed it from the closet and got into the car.

They drove in silence as usual. They had nothing to say to each other. For the past twenty years, their relationship had been engulfed by a strange kind of silence. Convenient, because there were no loud fights that turned eyes in their direction, because they were free to weave their dreams and desires into a cocoon around them and nest peacefully in its warmth. She adorned herself with an aura of confidence that sometimes dangerously lurked near arrogance  to hide her insecurities; while he thought of the jokes he would crack at the party to mask his desperation and emptiness. She thought she was happy. She mentally rehearsed her carefully chosen response to all the compliments she would be showered with.

They arrived at the venue that was tastefully decorated with the finest fragrant flowers and soothing lights. There was colour, music, food, chatter, whispers, laughter and clinking of glasses everywhere. She felt glad as people stole glances at her. Some with envy and some with admiration. Her happiness knew no bounds as people admired her attire, jewellery, bag and almost everything about her. So what if her husband did not notice her, so what if they were strangers sharing a bed? She was admired by so many people here at the party. Everyone loved her diamonds. They were jealous of the LV she clutched. She forgot her grief and erased the loneliness that had stealthily crept into her life. She was the star of the show tonight. She was haloed by an endless bubble of happiness.

Suddenly, everyone’s attention was drawn to the black Mercedes that pulled up at the parking lot. Out came a young lady who wore bigger diamonds and a more expensive dress. Everyone was breath taken by her beauty and style. The endless bubble of happiness popped with a bang. But of course, there was another party coming up.

Image courtesy: Google