Little Tani was not her usual cheerful boisterous self when she got home today. She looked crestfallen, her eyes were puffy. Aastha looked at her and instantly knew something was amiss. Her motherly instinct told her something has happened in school that had upset her precious doll. She went to Tani as asked her "what happened honey, what makes my baby so sad today?"
Tani burst into tears. "Mumma I have not been chosen to play the part of the bride. I wanted to it so much. I was waiting for the annual day since so many months and was hoping that this time they will give me the lead role in the skit. I was so good at the dress rehearsals. Everyone said I am such a good actor there is no doubt I will get the part of the lead. But they chose Sonal. I overheard the teacher saying " we want a pretty and fair girl" Mumma - have I not been chosen because I am not fair?
Is only being fair considered beautiful?
Will I always have to play second fiddle to people because of the colour of my skin?"
Aastha was stunned but used her presence of mind not to react. She was deeply hurt but did not want Tani to see her reaction. If she did not put a strong face before her daughter, she could never raise a confident young lady, she knew that.
She was drawn into memory lane.
Aastha was 12 years old. She was dusky complexioned just like her father and her brother was fair skinned like their mother. She was a bright child, hardworking, obedient, intelligent, pretty but the first thing most people noticed and had no qualms in proclaiming loudly that she was dark . "What a pity". They lamented. "It would have been ok if the boy was dark skinned and got his father's colour. But the girl. Who will marry her?" They always said. It was like someone piercing a dagger through her heart. She remained silent but the wound kept hurting.
Her first love Sohan, her friend in college. They were always hanging out together and she had fallen for him. In fact she was certain he liked her too but she felt he was shy to propose. Her first heartbreak - when Sohan proposed Nisha her good friend. What hurt her even more than his choosing Nisha over her was when she overheard his conversation with Nisha "I can't believe Nisha you thought I had fallen for Aastha. Come on, can you imagine how we would look as a couple. The white handsome rabbit with the black cat. Argghh I don't think I can compromise that much". She cried her heart out for a week, tears of bitterness, tears of hated, tears of pain and betrayal. She never spoke to Sohan after that.
Time passed and she was a young woman now. Her parents were looking for a suitable alliance. Her mom kept fussing over her "apply fair and lovely cream beta and wear this light pink colour it goes well with your skin. I have called the parlour aunty, she will do some light make up". Aastha loathed these 'boy seeing girl' programmes. It was really awkward parading yourself decked up in jewellery and make up , answering their questions and seeing the look of disapproval on their face when they saw she was dusky. She was tired of it and one day she declared to her parents " Ma stop this I wil not subject myself to this humiliation any more. I do not want to get married. "When she had given up all hopes, in walked Jeet. He was like no other. He adored her for her qualities, her education, her nature , her interests. They were married in a few months time and life turned into a new leaf. She got pregnant. Then it stated again " have kesar with milk daily, you will have a fair child". they said.
At times even she wished the child was fair like Jeet, at least the little one would not have to go through what she did. Tani was born with her Mother's features and complexion. Aastha made a promise to herself the day she held her precious daughter in her arms " she will not bear what I had to. I will raise her as a strong, confident and thick skinned, fearless girl who will not be deterred by people's talks. She will make her own destiny.
From that day on Aastha stopped holding herself in low esteem and set about her goal of raising a strong daughter. Tani was just 10 but she was shocked that the little one had already got her taste of the bitter pill. She jolted back to the present. Without any emotion in her face she asked Tani calmly " what's the role they gave you beta?"
"It's the role of the bride's best friend. The one who dances at the wedding and who makes the bride realise in the climax about what a big mistake she is about to make." Aastha smiled "now that's a very interesting role I would say. I recall reading the script and in terms of this character's importance in the play I felt it was no less then the heroine. Plus the fun part, you get to dance at the heroine's sangeet. Now din't you so badly want that? I remember you said the bride just sits and her friends dance. So apart from acting you get to show your dancing prowess too. You got a better deal than Sonal, darling. What makes you sad?
Tani 's face lit up , her beautiful eyes sparkled. Yes Mumma you are right. It is indeed a very good part.
One more thing honey " I intended to tell you this once you grew up a bit but as I can see things are different today so it's time we spoke . There will always be people to pull you down sometimes by using the colour of your skin as a excuse sometimes maybe some other feature or attribute. If you were fair skinned there would find some other shortcoming in you. What's important is how much you believe yourself and your abilities. The day you give up or let their words affect you, that day you have let a part of your soul to be ripped. And they would continue ripping it till nothing is left. So don't let them into your sanctum. Be confident of yourself, give your best shot now in this play and always in life darling. Always remember Mummy and Daddy love you. You may not be the heroine in this play but you are the princess in our life, always.
"Yes Mumma I love you I will do my best and not let this come in the way of my performance."
Aastha hugged her little girl and smiled. One baby step towards her goal of raising a strong daughter, there would be many more hurdles along the way but she was certain she would overcome them, 'they' would overcome them.
Right now time to celebrate their little victory " how about some chocolate cake Tani?
Bhagwan you speak English with your daughter? What is happening these days?
People want to show off and are forgetting their roots”. I have heard this many times. Earlier my
reaction used to be - apologetic. I would keep quiet and try to ignore the comment
and find an escape route. But now if someone dares to talk to me about this
matter, I snap them off then and there. I am unapologetic I don't think I have
done anything wrong which I need to feel ashamed about. So yes I do speak in
English at home and this is my first language. No qualms about it. And
it's not because of an inter caste marriage in fact I have been speaking
English as a first language right since childhood. To give you some background
on how this came to be. My mother’s parents belonged to Mangalore ( it's a
coastal town in Karnataka) they migrated to Bombay in search of a livelihood
when they were young. They married, had kids and their kids were brought up by
a maid. As my mom and her brother lived…
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horrible end. I was always an avid
reader, thanks to my Mom who inculcated this hobby in me when I was young and this
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thank her enough for this. I was drawn into the enchanting world of books,
where the characters danced before my eyes, it seemed so real.
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