Me, a racist?

It was an afternoon like any other. In a busy, cosmopolitan city, life was buzzing past. The shopping arcade was full of shoppers, picking up odds and ends for the New Year. Many were strolling around aimlessly, waiting perhaps, for a friend. I was trying to buy myself a new pair of pyjamas and there were a few stalls just for this, offering bottoms and tees for prices as ridiculously low as Rs.75! As I browsed lazily, looking through a riot of colours, I heard a voice behind me.
“See, I told you there is someone strange here, didn’t I?”
It was a mother with a toddler in her arms. For a second, I thought they were referring to me. I was very soberly dressed, so I did not understand why they would classify me as ‘strange’. The mother started to rummage through the enormous pile of clothes, talking in a low voice to the baby in her arms. I realised that it was not about me, but an African woman, at the other side of the counter, looking through the wares.Their conversation reached my ears, and what I heard was not pleasant. Here it goes, snippets of ‘that‘ conversation-
“Do you see that lady there? Do you see her hair? So many little braids, no? Why do you think she has done that?”
At this point, I nurtured a small hope that the mother might go into how different cultures have different dressing styles, but what she said shocked me.
“She is mad, that is why. And if you do not behave, that strange woman will carry you away.That’s why she is sitting here. To carry away babies like you.”
Needless to say, the child did not utter a word for the rest of the spree. I was just speechless. Would the conversation have taken the same turn had it been a white person instead of the African? As Indians, we are subjected to discrimination too, why does it not make us more tolerant? Is brown better than black? And white better than brown? If someone had commented on the mother’s brightly coloured saree, would she have taken it?
Most important of all, should a two-year old be taught to be scared of people who just look different? Does that mean anyone ‘Indian’ looking can be trusted just by virtue of his/her looks or hairstyle? It was a very disturbing scene. I think we must teach our children to accept all kinds of people, more so this day and age, where the world is getting smaller and smaller. Let us not hide behind a hypocritical cloak of tolerance while setting a bad example in action for the little ones around us.
For under our black/brown/white/wheat/cocoa/chocolate/almond/olive skins, we are all one.

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A plate of sunshine…

Leaf and fruit
Dew and rain;
Melting sugar
On my tongue, here it snows!

Mani ambled along the village road, on her way to the market to buy some vegetables and fruit. It never snowed in that hot village, (you would not be able to find it on a map!), but Mani, like many ten year olds,had a fertile imagination. She was friends with the elves in her cupboard, who ruffled her clothes and made a mess; each night she said her goodnight to the man on the moon. Her teacher often told her mother that her marks would really improve if she just learnt to channelize this creativity into more productive pursuits.
She reached the market where the familiar sabzi uncle would give her all that she needed before she even asked. It was convenient, she could carry on with her silly rhyme!
Here it snows,
like milk and cream
Kanha’s dream
in flakes of white.

She packed her vegetables in a dirty old cloth bag her Amma had given her, and started on her way back. She reached the stone bridge over the river, where the banks glistened in the sun. Stopping for a minute to admire the view, she was jolted back into the present by Rani, her friend from school.
” Hey, Mani. What are you doing?”
Mani turned around and smiled. Rani was like that, always catching you by surprise. Mani loved to call her the Sudden Girl, because most things happened to her all of a sudden! Why, just last week, the maths teacher had let her off without a beating for scoring one on twenty, because, all of a sudden, he felt that her marks would surely improve the next time!
“Amma wanted some vegetables for dinner, “Mani replied. “And what is the Sudden Girl upto?” she asked with a wicked grin.
Rani seemed pensive as they started walking towards their homes. They lived really close to each other and spent most of their free time together- plucking mangoes or doing homework. Sometimes they packed leftover rotis or dosas in banana leaves and had a picnic by the river. They always had fun, what with Mani’s imagination and Rani’s serendipity.
Today, Rani seemed extremely quiet. She did not smile and looked very scared. Finally, just when they had crossed Ramana Uncle’s house at the end of Temple Street, she blurted out in sobs,
“Appa is very sick! Amma and Anna are taking him to the town hospital tomorrow!”
Mani was shocked. What was so serious that it needed a visit to the town hospital? People went there only if there was no other way out. Why was Rani’s Appa being taken there?
Thoughts ran helter-skelter in her mind. But she had to help Rani. She offered her soothing words and took her home. Mani’s Amma already knew and invited Rani to stay the night. In the attic room, with the termite-infested bed, Mani and Rani spent the night, worried and scared. After all, ten year olds cannot embellish their conversation with fancy words, they could only worry and fear.
Day dawned. There were chores to do and of course, school. The girls could barely concentrate on anything that was happening. Even when their history and class teacher, Dhanamma Ma’am announced a picnic to Chocki Hills, Rani and Mani were the only ones in class who couldn’t scream in joy. They waited for news from the town. Rani’s Amma had promised to call. Rani waited by the phone all evening. Mani just paced the courtyard, trying to memorise the poem for Recitation Exam.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, the phone rang. Rani picked it up, tears streaming down her face. Just the anxiety of waiting had made her such a wreck!
“Rani, Appa is feeling much better now. Do not worry. Stay with Aunty and do not trouble them. Anna and I will return in a few days. I will call everyday, ok?”
” But.. but what did the doctor say?” Rani mumbled, flustered with all the instructions.
” Rani, ” her Amma seemed stressed and exasperated, ” the doctor has asked for a certain medicine. Unless we get that, Appa might not survive.. Rani..” she paused for a second, ” Appa has malaria.”
Tears flowed down Rani’s cheeks like rain.
“What is that medicine, Amma?”
“Sontoshin.. anyway Rani, I’ll go take care of him now. Be a good girl. Do not worry, my dear. God will take care.”
Rani put the phone and sat down quietly next to Mani, who was writing her ‘barahkhadi’.
After a while, she asked Mani, ” Eh.. Mani.. where do you think we can get sontoshin?”
” What?” Mani was flummoxed. She had never taken a pill before.
“It’s a medicine, that can save Appa.”
Mani thought hard. What kind of medicine was that, ‘Suntoshine’? Were they talking about the sun? Yes, that was it! The sun can cure any disease, her grandmother had told her that. Even now, every sunday, Mani recited the slokas to please the sun god.
” Of course, I do, Rani! It’s Sunshine! Soon, your Appa will be dropping you off at school on his bicycle!”
Rani was elated. ‘ Come on then, let’s pack it and take it to town!Let’s run like the wind, Mani!”
“Wait a minute! It’s sunshine, but how do you we pack it? We can’t wrap it in a banana leaf, can we?”
“True, Mani.. what do we do now?” Rani sounded dejected.
Mani could not bear to see the disappointment on her face.She was determined to find a way out. The girls went to bed, trying to think of various ways to gather sunshine, but of no avail. Sleep tugged at their tired eyes and they could keep awake no more.
Early next morning, Mani woke Rani up.
” Rani, wake up! I have found a way to gather sunshine! Come with me, quick!”
Rani ran behind Mani all the way to the stone bridge. The banks were dew-covered.
” There, ” said Mani, ” this is where I see the sun everyday, glistening from those grains of sand. We’ll gather this sand on this copper plate that my Ammamma gave me, ” she announced proudly, producing a shiny plate from her satchel.
Painstakingly, two little girls gathered the sand and lined the plate. Mani told Rani that the sand had to remain slightly wet at all times, or the sun would escape. Rani was extra-careful, so she laid her muslin handkerchief over it, to keep it moist until they reached town. Clutching the plate with both hands, the girls clambered onto the bus. They did not make contact with the curious onlookers, for they knew the medicine would not work if they frittered away their energy in idle talk. As field and river and bridge and grove passed by, they had only thought on their minds : Rani’s Appa. Rani had asked her Amma for the address of the hospital the night before. Her Amma seemed wary, but had indulged her. Rani must be missing her Appa, she felt.
” Rani and Mani, what are you doing here?” asked her Anna, amazed to see them, early in the morning, with a copper plate in their hands!
“We found the medicine!” Mani hissed, “here it is!” There was much jostling and arguing after.
Just then, the doctor passed by. He wanted to know what the commotion was all about.Mani repeated the events for him: how they gathered sunshine to save Rani’s Appa. The doctor listened patiently and took the plate from their hands. ” I see.I do not know how to thank you girls for this. We have been looking for this very medicine. Now let me administer it to him. You want to take him home with you, yes?”
“YES!” chorused Mani and Rani in tandem, so excited that they could not see the doctor winking at Rani’s Amma as he took the plate into the ward. Forty-eight hours later, an emaciated but completely cured man, emerged from the hospital room. He was received by warm hugs and tender tears. He was so happy to be going home with his family. The famiy thanked the doctor for all his help. The doctor smiled and asked Rani, “Do you realise what actually cured your Appa?”
“A plate full of sunshine!” he added, his eyes crinkling in good-natured teasing.

Many years later, Rani and Mani learned how much the nice doctor had worked to save Rani’s Appa. They realised that true sunshine that heals, lives not on the river banks, but in people’s hearts. That’s when you can offer, plates full of sunshine.. to heal, to protect, to cherish and to love.

Just for your information, Rani grew up to be a famous doctor, inspired by the one who saved her Appa and Mani? Well, her imagination still is strong as ever and guess what she does for a living? She writes stories for children! Amen!

(A huge thanks to the prompt from http://creativewritingprompts.com/ !)

A trip down memory lane…

Like this post I wrote a few weeks ago, winter is one of my favourite seasons. I love the other seasons equally, but just that the physical proximity of the cold makes me wax eloquent about the wonders of this season. After a story on monsoon memories I read in a magazine for children, (I wonder when I will ever outgrow that :reading juvenile stuff!), I felt like writing a winter diary.. my memories of winter. Come to think of it, a memory is very much like your job. It can be nourishing, yet like your work when you do not take the weekends off, it can take a toll on your state of mind.
My earliest memory of winter would be my sixth birthday. I went to school and distributed the customary 50 paise candies and basked in all the attention I received. I wore a red sleeveless frock that smelled like new clothes and did not reach my knees. My uncle promised me a cake(they were a luxury in my family-birthdays meant a new dress, candies for friends and a visit to the temple. No fanfare, no parties.) I remember waiting the entire evening. The cake never came. Disappointed, I went to bed, only to be woken up at 11:30 PM. Groggy and shivering in the cold, I blew the candles and cut the cake which was placed on the window-sill. I do not remember how the cake tasted, but I got the cake and that’s what counts!
The next memory of winter was in college, of fetes and celebrations throughout the month. I would wake up very early each morning(say 3 AM) to study for my exams and go back to bed by around 5 AM. I would snooze to wake up to the intro music on Vividha Bharathi at 5:45 AM and thoroughly enjoy the Tiruppavai and all the lovely kritis after. A cup of coffee and the radio on a winter morning, need I add how divine that feels!
After I got married, for the first time in my life, I decorated the Christmas tree. I was so excited! We went shopping for decorations and Santa and packed little gifts in shiny paper and placed them under the tree. It was all so magical. Neighbours poured in to watch in surprise at this crazy couple, who, just a couple of months ago, had put up a very traditional golu.Children played around the whole day around the tree, all from the neighbourhood. With our dogs and fish, it was all total chaos, yet one of the best times of our life.
So there! It was fun writing this post. Thank you, Zai Whitaker , for the wonderful idea. You are a wonderful writer and I can only imagine how much children enjoy your writing!

The Voice

Wonder what was it about the voice that attracted him so. To most others, it was just something that they heard everyday. Nothing special, right? A mere whisper in the everyday noise and chaos. Yet, each morning, he woke up only to discover that he had been dreaming, of THE voice. Sweet, yet not saccharine. Husky,but not masculine. Slightly raised to be heard, but never too loud. If he had some extra time in the morning, he gave the voice a form and some clothes- Not too tall and a round face, wearing a green silk shirt and cream coloured trousers with brown heels. And yes, pearl studs for the ears.
It was strange, considering that he was thirty-four and had been in no serious relationship so far.He found most women boring and their talk insipid. Clothes, make-up, cleaning.. what else do women talk about anyway? He was not a chauvinist, it was the just the way he felt about things.
He hurried through his breakfast, gulping his toast, washing it down with hot tea. His tie was askew and his laces were untied. His mind, well, we know by now, was dreaming about the softness and timbre of the voice. In another fifteen minutes, he would walk to the bus-stop at the end of the road and get on. Once on the bus, his daily rendezvous would begin. The voice never told him much.Just the usual, here and there, now and then kind of stories.
Sometimes, when the testosterone levels in his blood were high, he would want to meet the voice. She never refused, for he had never asked. How could he, it was practically impossible. He often felt to be the most unlucky man on earth. Here he was, completely, madly in love.. but with no way, either in or out of it. Strange predicament, don’t you think?
His days were filled with dreams and at nights, like most men, he made love, to the voice. He had reconciled himself to the fact that he might never actually go out with the Voice or even hug her in person, let alone share a kiss. It was a divine love, he reasoned, with no trace of physicality involved. (Just pretend that I did not tell you about his dreams, okay? He is quite sensitive.)
His days were punctuated by the voice. Friends often teased him about it. He did not mind, not many understand true love. A love that he would carry with him until his grave. For voices do not go out with you to the restaurant, nor do they get married to you, in a white gown and a golden tiara. He was indeed a sad man. He must have been truly sincere, for which man loves a voice with such passion? Most men would need a model’s body to dream about while making love, and here he was, completely faithful to a voice.

His parents found the entire idea ridiculous. They tried to reason with him.”Son, no man falls in love with a voice.You must get over it now and get married to a real woman. Pretty, intelligent and who is of real flesh and blood!”
They met with an obstinate refusal of their request. Well-wishers tried to get him drunk at the local bar and then screamed into his ears, “Get married now!” He puked on them and came home as obstinate as before. Doctors prescribed medicines to alter his mind and change his thinking. He spit the pills to save them in a velvet-lined chest in his drawer and dozed through the sessions with shrinks. What do shrinks do in any case, other than putting you to sleep? Things came to quite a stand-still until a beautiful female cousin called him and planted a beautiful idea into his head: ” What if the girl you marry IS the voice that you are in love with?” The parents wasted no minute after this. He was married to the first girl they could find.
For the first month after the wedding, he asked the girl not to say a word. He did not want his dreams shattered so early in life. The girl, perplexed at this whole drama called her life, finally blurted out, ” What’s wrong with you? Do you not love me?”
It was NOT the voice. All his hopes, flushed down the drain. He wept like a child, fallen to a heap on the floor. Gently, the girl, the new bride put his arm around him and asked, ” Were you in love with someone else? You can tell me, I understand.”
Snuggling up to her bosom, he started to talk, hesitantly..” Yes.. I still am..”
“Who is it, ” she asked. She was hurt with the candid display of vulgarly extreme love, but was determined to be kind.
“It is a voice.”
“A voice?”
“Yes. It is the voice of the woman who announces the names of bus-stops. Route Number 324. 8:25 AM. ”
Poor girl, she laughed for a full fifteen minutes after that. Like I told you, the man is quite sensitive. He has asked her to go back to her apartment and never come back. He also refused her a divorce, saying that he still doesn’t know if she can be THE voice he loves, for voices can and do change over the years.
I do not know if it is normal or not for a woman to voice her concerns so openly, but I need help.
Two months ago, I married this man.