I Don’T LoOK lIke a VegetARIAN

Recently- well,actually for quite a while now- I’ve been thinking of eating meat again. Vegetarianism has been a rather strange companion for ten years now. Sometimes I just want to bite into a juicy, succulent chicken leg. Sometimes, the persistent smell of fishy fry- that usually makes me want to stay in my room -overwhelms me to the extent that I feel like I’ve already had that brown,crispy,thin piece of fish. And that’s a satisfying feeling. I profess to have no religious reasons for having turned or remaining vegetarian, so I try staying at a distance from the Brahmin-vegetarian debate. All that talk of beef, makes me hungry too and I want a sweet porota wrapped around spicy,peppery beef. I also stay at a distance from the animal-rights debate, I look at a dog with such immense distrust, I can easily reconcile with one less hen clucking around. Then there’s that thing of man being naturally carnivorous- meh, my canines went missing for a year so I don’t know about that. None of this, of course bothered me before I turned vegetarian and now there’s a constant onslaught of these  ideas of being vegetarian.

 People are often surprised that I am a vegetarian, not many Malayali vegetarians out there. And even more so, when they hear the rest of my family eat meat. I give different reasons every time I’m asked. It really started from a rubbish conversation with my father this one time, and I was simply trying to prove I had the will to stay away from meat. That little ego clash got sown into my skin. Speaking about skin, the other reason people are surprised I’m vegetarian is because I ‘don’t look like one’. What does this mean? I remember this notion of vegetarian when I was a kid to be tied to the idea of someone who’s fair-skinned. No, really. Vegetarians were those Brahmins- fair,glasses perhaps,smartest kid in class. I was none of that. There’s a certain cliche, about this feminist- vegetarian-hippie, nature-loving junkie image that I absolutely detest. The more people know me, the more they connect it to this rhetoric of the fancy, politically correct lot. I see why it goes together, but I simply don’t want that weave to be my story. To top it all off, I hate egg and have low tolerance to milk- so close to being vegan.

Then why am I a vegetarian?

I sometimes think, I’m afraid of a new onslaught of identity marks that will be cast if I now decide to eat meat. And I already know what some of them will be,something-something-obsessed with caste…


What city is this?


What is a city?


Where are the people?


Where is the green, the blue and the brown?


What grows here?


What plagues the people here?


What walls are these?


i SmeLL diSSenT- protest diaries

I find walking mostly functional. I have to get from point A to point B and there’s nothing else on my mind but reaching my destination as fast as I can. I walk fast. I wear sensible shoes, carry a large bottle of water and am not amused by sight or sound that could distract me when I am trying to reach my destination. I find it amusing then when people walk for recreation. I cannot even take a walk in a park and I simply abhor those guided tours that you take while sight-seeing(such an odd phrase). But walks are quite the trend today and I really do mean trend. Everyday for the past few weeks  I open the newspaper to see walks organised for different purposes. Heritage walks, cultural walks, fictional walks…where in this crowded city do these odd group of strangers meet to walk? When maraa, a media and arts collective in Bangalore that I work with on and off initially suggested a walk as a creative practice, I simply did not understand them. The first walk we took was an olfactory walk. An Olfactory Walk around garbage dumps and sewage lines and manholes for about a couple of hours, punctuated with some storytelling and informative bytes. The walk was as odd as it sounded and the first time around beside the all-pervasive odour that kept the small group of us company throughout the walk, i’d stick to unusual as the better adjective and informative if i were being technical. I still hadn’t wrapped my head around these walks with interruptions.

The second walk was last Sunday. The theme of the walk remained the same and our best guide was still odour. This time around both form and effect created a complete picture of how a guided walk can be creative, so I will spend time explaining it in entirety. The collective itself works to explore different issues within the city of Bangalore primarily and with that in mind, the theme of waste disposal, management and the worker was rooted in the practises of the city. The obsession with this issue began with a series of deaths ;of workers dying due to asphyxiation in manholes. Subsequently someone from the collective joined a protest that took place at Town Hall regarding the issue of the garbage workers in the city and found to her surprise and disappointment that the protest was little more than a handful of people with placards sitting in the blazing sun for a few hours to disperse just as hopelessly a while later. A lot of projects that Maraa takes up and makes their own, rise from similar dead spaces. The stillness in the air at protests in Bangalore and slogans that never seem to reach a crescendo before it falls, is one of this spaces they have tried shaking awake with music,theatre,storytelling and now walks.

A motley group gathered on a Sunday evening, reserved by most Bangaloreans for blissful nothings and filter coffee to voluntarily breathe in the putrid air of remains. We walked in pairs, along a long drain pipe, white hosues, a small open garbage dump,a children’s park, littered sidewalks, white houses, children playing on the road and more parks, white houses and trees that seemed to want to touch the grounds instead of towering above. We walked through quiet residential lanes and sparse traffic, past a bakery with glistening chocolate treats and past organic gift shops. We walked till the roads grew wider, the houses became retail stores and the monopoly of the bikes on quiet lanes gave way to an incoming storm of roaring,whirring,huffing and puffing vehicles. We went up to a skyway that I always thought the city had forgotten about and stared for a while at this storm. “The storm of progress,” they said in orchestrated harmony behind us. The creative was now seeping into what was simply a walk until that point. The performative element seemed like an initiation into something we had willingly entered a while ago but had just then become reality. I wondered what a bird must feel like watching the city from above. Did the bird find it odd that the creatures on two legs thought it was life that the whizzing vehicles and the bustling stores represented; colour was the colour of denims,the leather, the canvas, plumped lips and widened eyes. We stopped and watched what we called life, standing above it and looking down at it now in its form of metal,plastic,tar and concrete.

The walk continued. It felt like for once, the life was not outside of me. We were leaving the noise behind once more. I don’t remember where we stopped next and for what, but the pauses were more close together and the punctuations were more varied. We stopped at an open drain line beside another children’s park, as our guides for the day-odour and human- put up pieces of paper that overlooked the drain. We read about an old man, a drunk, his life neck-deep in the murk we flush down everyday. We read about a woman, she fed her family with hands that sorted through what we clamped tightly shut and covered in opaque black bags thrown out of sight every morning.

There’s a children’s story about elves that came at night to cobble shoes for a shoemaker. He never saw them, but the work would be done every morning. Patches of material turned into beautifully designed footwear. The smelly garbage dump or the overflow of a sewer line forces you to acknowledge it in all its ugliness, its presence activates all senses and pervades all thoughts. I wonder why a garbage dump cleared out, or the roads cleaned every morning or the black bag outside my gate that goes missing every morning doesn’t occupy any space in my mind then. The shoes were made, did it matter if it was magic or little elves that toiled all night long? And I am not talking about any kind of labour, it’s hours,days,years of ones life spent in toxic remains of creatures with an intellectual faculty. It should be inconceivable that human hands touch these remains, yet we seem to have designed and perpetuated a system where an entire community does nothing else by virtue of birth alone.

We stopped by another garbage dump near in a narrow lane that couldn’t make sense of a sudden group of people. We listened to a masterful ideology given license to by someone we still regard as the greatest Indian. “The Bhangi’s service is like that of our mothers, but we never

call them untouchables. Far from it, the mother is revered as a Goddess worth remembering during

our morning prayers. The Bhangi therefore is a true servant of society—with the only difference that he works for earning his bread, while the mother does it in a beneficent spirit. The mother serves the child with love and she gets love in return. But salary is the return the sweeper gets for his service. Just as we cannot live without mothers, so can we not live without sweepers.

Another bit of treasure from the Prime Minister and whose brain child the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is,

I do not believe that they (Valmiki’s) have been doing this job (cleaning) just to sustain their

livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after

gene-ration…. At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their

duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job

bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is

impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or


It is terrifying to know we still draw inspiration from a man dead and long gone and another who is to lead our country to a better and brighter future. In Stalin K’s documentary on manual scavengers he juxtaposes scenes of dry latrines in villages being cleaned up by Bhangis to officials claiming that the ban on manual scavenging has ensured that there are no more manual scavengers. The documentary film, Lesser Humans- an apt title, considering we have no records of humans still continuing this practise, so they must be lesser humans- along with several other films, reports and documents compiled by private organisations show extensive proof of this practise in existence, while there is still supposedly no governmental records of this. Who then are those men who died in manholes, who is that man you see lowering himself into one to unclog your faeces and excrements from last morning?

I found my mind running from mundane things like finding a rhythm to the sound my shoes made on gravel to the colour of my red nails against my skin to the brown of hot sweet tea swirling in a red cup. When I caught my mind running haywire, I wondered again if it was possible to keep the mind wandering when the walk should be keeping my mind on garbage and those green uniformed bodies that incidentally I still did not spot once during the walk. Perhaps they were to remain invisible. Punctuations then are those pauses that keep the words from becoming a ramble. We stopped and sat under a tree. We were told that it was the site of the main garbage dump of the city. A tourist guide often triumphantly proclaims the main attraction of a place, this large open garbage dump was the equivalent then.

Chimamanda Adichie says that when she’s writing fiction,she feels free. You are still bound to truth when you are writing telling a story, but you aren’t bound to facts. And the truth often becomes a telling tale when it captures the imagination. We couldn’t sit under a tree and not listen to a story. So we listened to one, and this for me was the most momentous part of the walk. There was an alarming quiet in the story that was unsettling in its telling, with imagery that compelled colours and shapes and in this case, odour, to take form in the mind. A story about a land that seemed so far far away and yet within the realms of this city, where a glass of water not contaminated or a breath of air that didn’t breathe in every toffee wrapper,banana peel,gnawed chicken bones,rotting vegetable,used syringes,diapers, sanitary napkins,used condoms from every household in this city, were heard to come by. There’s a quote by Zizek that maraa shared at some point of time that comes to mind, “In our most elementary experience, when we flush the toilet, excrements simply disappear out of our reality into another space, which we phenomenon logically perceive as a kind of a netherworld, another reality, a chaotic, primordial reality. And the ultimate horror, of course, is if the flush doesn’t work, if objects return, if remainders, excremental remainders, return from that dimension.”

This story then, was a horror story of a netherworld that wasn’t in this world or my lifetime, let alone this city;this then was a story of a ghost village with ghosts, not humans. A land where everything that dies and is discarded by the living world ends up. How could I comprehend it as real when my reality was an empty dustbin and water that filtered through layers of corporate sanctified safety? I didn’t leave that land for the rest of the walk. We probed further into ideology that had licensed human existence to an unredeemable fate. We laughed about the mammoth campaign that took birth on Gandhi Jayanti, the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan that had spent millions into promotional advertisement before Neetu Ambani found a broom of the right colour.

The sun had long set, an enforced silence had become more clouded with deep unsettlement. Someone asked what we were all thinking,”What are we to do about it?” Do we call the local Councillor, call both residents and the powrakarmikas, the contract workers and BBMP officials? A large assembly, a small localised one? Do we ask for more safety measures, gloves, boots? But they don’t want the material that slips off their hands and only makes their job more time consuming. Then what? Better wages? Can we start by reducing our consumption and being more conscious of our waste produce and then about disposal from the household itself?

The walk is a provocation, their memo said. As a practise, it had developed well with its performative bits, the silence, the ideological debates, the stories all weaved into the odour. They took an element from the issue they sought to tackle and imaginatively found a way to let it seep into our conscience even with thoughts of brown tea in red cups. Given a sense of both the issue and sensibility to the practise of walking itself. It had most certainly provoked questions, that didn’t reach resolutions but had burned a deeper sense of being in my mind atleast.

Could it have been the same if my mum had gone for the walk instead of me? What if  Lalana, the soft skills trainer, Partha a research student in law, Prerana a journalism student were replaced by my uncle,the Homeopath from Kerala, my maid Lakshmi who faces most of the burden of the amount we consume at home or even my dad, who for all his politics is still an old Nair who goes back to Kerala to all the kneeling and cowering by the lower caste helpers at home? What would the walk have provoked in them?

My stride changed as I walked back home after the walk, my pace was rhythmic and fast and I didn’t stop till I reached my destination. My walk was merely functional again. My mind however was still stuck in that netherworld where the bottle I now crushed would end up. I cannot believe any human system can exist and exist thus for centuries before me and possibly still for generations after me

[13/02 2:44 AM] me: Aargh Rohith Vemula’s name is starting to sound an awful lot like Nirbhaya
[13/02 2:44 AM] You: Well at least it is his name
[13/02 2:44 AM] You: I wonder also how much the savarna-ness of a name like Rohith has to do with it
[13/02 2:45 AM] You: Other Dalit victims had unusual names. North Indians wouldn’t be so celebratory of a Senthil.
[13/02 2:47 AM] me: Hmm that’s interesting. I would have thought that if he had a more Dalit sounding name, his case might have been stronger for claiming victimhood. If you gain the upper hand with a Menon/Rao tag, shouldn’t it work with a Dalit name too?
[13/02 2:48 AM] You: It does need a nicer ring to it, for protests and the like.
[13/02 2:49 AM] You: Even a Sheetal Sathe, Sachin Mali, more ‘mainstream’ names. We all know a Sheetal, Sachin, Rohit, Jyoti.
[13/02 2:49 AM] You: I’m part Tamil and I simply dont know any Senthil, not even as a friend of a friend of a friend type acquaintance
[13/02 2:50 AM] You: It’s a distinctly working class name in TN, I think
[13/02 2:50 AM] You: So I wonder, I could be wrong. But then who are the unusually named victims in Indian memory? Everyone seems to have savarna names
[13/02 2:51 AM] me: Perhaps. I would have thought the name might have actually lent more validity to that whole thing of him not being Dalit at all
[13/02 2:51 AM] You: I thought so too but I think BJPwallahs want to tread carefully
[13/02 2:52 AM] You: They want to muddy the issue but not disfigure it altogether
[13/02 2:52 AM] You: They do have a Dalit voter base after all
[13/02 2:53 AM] me: Actually that’s true. if there are any, they are nameless or we remember it by another name. Like a place. Khairlanji, Badaun
[13/02 2:53 AM] You: Yes, these geographies of sexual violence as a memory
[13/02 2:53 AM] You: I posted a status a few days back, don’t know if you saw
[13/02 2:54 AM] You: Went to an Indian restaurant and the Delhi uncle owner asks me where I’m from and I said he probably hadn’t heard of it but this town called Manipal
[13/02 2:54 AM] You: And he said of course he had, he’d seen it on Crime Patrol when they’d reconstructed the gang rape
[13/02 2:55 AM] You: so I asked him where he was from and when he said Delhi he must have seen something on my face coz he immediately said ‘Yes this rape culture these days is so bad’
[13/02 2:55 AM] me: You might have struck gold with this. There’s always been a refusal to name or identify the lower castes/certain racial profiles by their original names. Reminds me of Jane Eyre’s Bertha. Also, this malayalam film i watched recently, where this guy fron the Paniyar caste refers to how he is simply called Paniyan and  not even afforded the dignity of a name
[13/02 2:55 AM] You: It struck me how in his mind Delhi and Manipal were synonymous with gang rape. How awful.
[13/02 2:56 AM] You: Ohhh yes.
[13/02 2:56 AM] You: To be fair though victims still alive should be allowed full anonymity
[13/02 2:57 AM] me: Oh yeah, i see that here as well. Especially when they talk about Islamic countries, or just the Third World.  Their minds map these spaces in large chunks that could be anywhere. Anywhere far away from where they are. But all grouped together
[13/02 2:57 AM] You: But these locations of rape seem to say more than castes
[13/02 2:57 AM] You: Yesssss
[13/02 2:57 AM] You: There’s an othering of sexual assault so conveniently associated with distance
[13/02 2:58 AM] You: Oops sorry
[13/02 2:58 AM] You: Was scrolling up to see how long we chatted
[13/02 2:58 AM] You: And dialled by mistake
[13/02 2:59 AM] You: Three hours!
[13/02 2:59 AM] You: Three and a half actually
[13/02 2:59 AM] me: Haha jesus!!

the girl in white pants

Frida Kahlo
frida kahlo, without hope

She was young, very young. 10 maybe? A little older perhaps. She was dressed in pink and white. Her spotless white pants and her dark eyes as she stared out of the window seemed lost and out of place in that crowded train. I moved a little closer, and a little more till my toes felt her bare ankles. They felt cool in the sweltering humidity of the crowded train. I kept moving, inching closer to her. Stepping on toes and pushing the old man standing beside her. As my toes found her skin again, I saw in her face the first sign of disturbance, just the slightest; but she merely moved her feet and retreated unto herself. But I refused to let her go, as the jolt of the engine came to my rescue and my body pressed against hers momentarily. She sat up almost violently, her terrified eyes looked up at mine. She had felt me growing against her.

Her mother had noticed her discomfort and offered to shift places. But she refused, she wouldn’t leave. She wanted to be right here, with me. Why does she keep moving away from me though? Can’t she see that her mother would bother us again? And she did, she kept offering to shift places even. But I knew her, she wouldn’t leave me. She simply shook her head. Each time I pushed myself against her, her face would contort in pain. She’d look up at me, her eyes pleading. She looked so innocent, so vulnerable…but I couldn’t help it. The more she looked at me, the more I pushed myself against her. I couldn’t get my eyes off her, the bare hands right against me…And then it happened.

A tunnel ahead; a few seconds of darkness. I gritted my teeth, the excitement building. She looked at me again, she had realized what was going to happen. The moment the darkness hit, I almost fell forward, my hands reaching out just as her hands reached up to cover her chest. The light was beginning to filter in as I moved back, a nail scraping against her neck. She was almost in tears. Would she cry? Would she finally say something? She looked up at me almost pleading and I stared back at her. The train screeched to a halt, but I couldn’t move. I didn’t even remember where I was heading anymore. My head was heavy and all I knew was that I needed to be there, to touch her, to keep looking into those fearful eyes.

I refused to move as the crowd jostled, abused and pushed me to get out of the train. Even as I moved closer to her, almost towering over that body that seemed even smaller, I felt the first blow and I realized the man was yelling, asking me to stop what I was doing. He had been watching me he said, watching this private moment I shared with her. Why was he intruding! Look at her, he was scaring her. I fought back, feigning innocence. I told everyone he was delusional and I was simply minding my own business. Her parents now knew what happened, but I knew her, she wouldn’t give me away. That was our moment and she wouldn’t let anyone else in. They made her sit elsewhere and she did.

She didn’t look back at me, but I knew she would never forget me. Never forget we had looked into each other’s eyes. I would remember her pink shirt and spotless white pants and she would remember me and all of me against her body for the rest of her life.

thick thighs and chubby ankles

collarbones sticking out with a double chin for company
my flabby arms dance wildly as i flail them about to punk rock
chunky muffin tops pop up brown and toasted in my little crop top
fleshy folds of sweat line my small tummy like a double decker bus
i haven’t heard from my cheekbones, so i’m guessing i’ve been stood up for life
but this birthday,i’m celebrating the layers of fat that have kept me company for 23 years
you’ve been kneaded and moulded and have still stayed resiliently by my side
and maybe it’s the tough skin with the flabby fat that’s kept me going all these years
so this birthday, the two of us have a date

 italian and a large ice cream sundae

ThE MAd woMan In the attIC

I never quite understood how fairy tales helped put little children to sleep. I read a lot as a kid and we had many a bulky book of Cinderella stories. I read and reread them, their tired pages always firing up my wild imaginations. My books were my sanctuary, but for everything that it did for me it never quite helped putting me to sleep. On the contrary, it blew the lid off my mind to introduce colours I’d never seen with my own eyes before; tingled my taste buds to bread and sweets that were beyond the realm of my mamma’s kitchen. I reimagined myself in blue eyes that I had never looked into and golden locks that no amount of Indian sun could coax my black hair into. These dreams kept me up for hours at night.They were not always rainbows and sunshine either. The fairytales were a constant trigger for nightmares.

The little girls were subject to cruel realities, snakes and toads came out of their mouths, they were often orphaned and were haunted by evil stepmothers,wolves and witches. The happy endings never made up for these terrifying realities. I grew beyond the fairytales to read little novels, most of them English- so you know they were morose. I was terrified of the hellish plague-ridden London streets, the gloom and despair of the English weather forever casting cloudy shadows even in warm, balmy summers of my childhood. One particularly morose novel was Jane Eyre. A stark contrast from the boarding school amusements of my Enid Blyton novels, Jane Eyre always managed to upset me.

It wasn’t merely her poverty that got to me, but that her character was so remarkably familiar that her fate read like a prophecy to me. The quiet child, buried in corners of a room with a book, often chided for her lack of cheer and amiability and when she spoke, she got a rap on her wrist for her sharp tongue. While the wife in the attic was the monster of the story to me, it was Jane who I always thought was the mad woman. Her many delusions, conscious meanderings from what was normal and acceptable, even her love for an old, scary man were abnormalities. She could only pretend to be the chaste Christian and everytime she grew tired of her mask, she ran away to don a new one. Even as I lived Jane’s life through the novel, I felt it becoming the narrative of my life.

Years later, I read Jane Eyre again .And two weeks after, I read Wide Sargasso Sea- that brilliant story, dragged out from Bronte’s attic and given a life of its own. With every few pages, I would find similarities between Jane and Antoinette. England’s gloom and the Caribbean heat has both eked out the wild bearings of these women. Both as similar as they were dissimilar. It made me wonder who the mad woman in the attic was again. Why are these fiercely independent women such a threat to the world?

Recently I read Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, where she traces the very genesis of the capitalist order through the ordering of the witch-hunts in 16th c Europe. The pragmatics of inequality that capitalism needed, could not afford hysteria, superstition and the ethereal- those qualities associated with the feminine need to be erased out of the square box of a normalised world order.In the present globalised world, she says the same is happening with women in the Global South being expelled from their livelihoods.  Witches and ghouls, women of loose morality and unchristian behaviour are not just unwelcome, they are brutally expelled.

Who is the mad woman today? The card carrying feminist? The lesbian? The widowed and the unmarried? The raped? The sexually active? Moulded and shaped into pretty ceramic figurines, the times we don’t cross our legs, smile and acquiesce, we risk setting loose the mad woman in our attic. Or is it setting free?

OF angeR, FemIniSm and COLOURs OF the rAiNBoW

Someone once mentioned in a passing comment, that the Dalit movement in India is very different from the LGBTQ. One is about rage and anger,the other about celebration, the Pride March is full of colour and music and dance and the quintessential drugs and alcohol. The Dalit movement has its own music too, wonderful witty numbers by the likes of Sambhaji Bhagat and Sharat Chamar Nalingati. But the thing is, that while the Dalits might have a visible antagoniser held at a wary distance, the LGBTQ movement is not resentful of sympathisers outside the league. But this is not to say that they aren’t angry; their colours may seem celebratory but their language of protest is just as potent as that of the Dalit movement. In fact,I really don’t see how any issue, class struggle,caste oppression,feminism, anti-globalisation…how can any of this not be underlined by anger?


Over the years I have realised how overtly political I am, often I choose to believe I can titter about offensive stereotypes or dismiss a sexual comment, but you know what?I can’t. In college or outside of it, the friends I was with and the people I worked with, all deeply involved with socio-political issues, well-read and intelligent, but the conversations were never distanced from that sense of anger. So when I walked into my Feminist Society meeting at uni, I was vaguely amused by what I thought drove feminists in the first place:righteous anger about deeply disturbing inequality and injustice. Now do not get me wrong, I am not talking about resentment here, I am talking about anger. Here were a group of women and men, eager to help and excited about feminism, but can put up a powerpoint presentation on running a campaign against sexual assault and violence and smile through it all.claudiosouzapintobycatherinelarose56

A conversation with Homie from Home the other day and we realised this lack of anger and protest was explicit here. Everyone was polite, they stood in their long queues, got up for an elderly person in a crowded bus, said their thank you and their sorrys, and never posed a sense of threat to your personal space. Students in a Politics class did their readings,made powerpoint presentations everyday, spoke about Marxism and development issues, wars fought and won, recession and a breakdown of world order, all without ever getting into a heated debate! I didn’t even know you could speak about Marxism without a loud tug and jolt between opposing sides of the debate. Rallies and protests are happening in London even as I write this, some distinct shouting of slogans, against maintenance fee, higher education tuition fee, things that matter, but do they sit around and plan protests by sending out friendly requests? Baking cookies and samosas so people might sign petitions? How odd. Homie from Home says, it’s because they have nothing to aspire to, even with austerity measures and what not,they believe they can lead fairly comfortable lives and have never felt any great instability in their lives to shock them into feeling a deep sense of resistance.

Are there any angry First World activists out there who’d like to tell me about their own brand of anger?

Meanwhile I shall go back to wondering how a friend could take a Marketing class while learning Politics, so she can get a job and make some money.

FeelIng bROwn…heAvenly hOney/CaRAmeL

brown skin

For years in primary school, the ‘skin colour’ crayon bothered me endlessly.I have never made a drawing of myself. Or whenever I did, I never gave my skin any colour. I drew it in stark black outlines on a white piece of paper, large eyes coated with black eyelashes. My skin colour most certainly wasn’t that pink toned white of the ‘skin colour’ crayon, I could tensely finger the brown one, but I couldn’t openly acknowledge I had dark skin, because i knew my friends would only reiterate it. The dark skin on my hands that I constantly hid, sometimes turning my hand palm-up to reveal the lighter shade of skin. In a thriving market of Fair and Lovelys my skin colour was a constant bother as a child. I grew up and out of being bothered about my dark skin however, and I never could draw anyway, so out went the offensive packs of crayons. For years together I hadn’t felt the brown on my skin until it brushed against a sea of whites.

How do you feel the brown on your skin burning like it’s been caught aflame? You’ll see it in the blue eyes against white skin on a bus driver who will take a closer look at your bus pass, the lady at the supermarket who will look into your wallet as you fumble with foreign currency, the flight attendant who will look through you when you ask for help. Sometimes you don’t just feel the brown, but you feel your dark hair pressing into your scalp, you feel brown eyes struggling to lock into blue ones,you feel every dark shadow and pimple and freckle, even your clothes lugged across a continent forcing you to be aware of your difference. When was the last time I felt brown? I felt brown when a girl in college said I looked pretty, my immediate shrug of dismissal made her compassionately tell me that I shouldn’t feel ugly simply because I was dark. It was possible for me to look beautiful even with my skin colour. It was easy for me to dismiss the girl then, her pettiness was just that, petty and parochial, a girl from a small town who didn’t know any better. A few big words in free-flowing English was all I needed to satisfy my own petty vengefulness. But when you are conditioned into believing in the superiority of the White race(wait, White skin) you feel remarkably small when the brown burns into you. My comfortable upbringing, excessive lifestyle, and anything else that made me feel confident and secure back home didn’t matter to those blue eyes. To them, I was something out of the covers of a Nat Geo magazine, both pitied and feared and disliked for my brown skin and foreign features. I wasn’t how people looked like, I was how the poor people from war-torn countries, littered with beggars, famine and hunger, people who didn’t speak English and were grateful to be in their country of plenty looked like.

Did the lady at the supermarket make her kids finish the food on their plates that evening telling them how the brown girl at the store fumbled about with a small bag of groceries and a nearly empty wallet? Racism is prevalent in more than just violence and exclusion and a denial of rights and opportunities, it is in the ‘gaze’, the gaze that burns your skin colour into your flesh. It is in the pity, the benevolence and the innate suspiciousness of the ‘gaze.’