Monday, March 28, 2016


I was trapped in Swargam, the exotic spa. Mom was looking critically at me, her soft hair blowing delightfully across her features. She looked like a golden fairy tale princess of twenty five. She was forty two.

"Put some more bleach on her cheeks, the layer is a little thin" her voice cut across my thoughts as I lay there invisible, choking in ammonia fumes. The spa attendant slapped more bleach on me. I concentrated hard on not letting the tears fall, they mixed with the bleach and made my skin streaky.

My hands shook, as the potter's wheel spun with a crazy piece of clay on it. In mom’s magic hands this would have been a masterpiece of containment, in mine, it was mangled and fast spinning out of control. The tears fell freely now blending with the clay. I looked down. Surprising that the grotesque pot didn't dissolve, but clung on grimly to some kind of form on the wheel.

In a perfect family, born of wealth looks and ability, I was the black sheep. Literally. I had neither my dad's tanned elegance, nor my mom's fair perfection, neither daring nor talent. I was dark as night, small and comfortably proportioned. Ordinary.

I loved pottery, the feel of dark clay sliding against my fingers, clay that matched the shade of my skin.

Have you tried Fair and Lovely dear? Yes I had.

I loved watching my mom's hand against the wheel, so fair against the clay, long and slender, deft and beautiful,

Just lose some weight and you will look like a dusky model

I loved contrasting my own hand with hers, blunt and camouflaged perfectly in clay. It was a form of pain that was always in my heart.

You have really pretty features, you know, despite being so dark

At the potter's wheel, my pain took form, and I could see it. I made pottery whenever I needed to see my pain, watch it mangle itself in my hands.

Are you adopted?

The clay in my hands finally caved in to utter shapelessness. I cursed and scraped it off the wheel.

Today I was going to be somebody. At a small art gallery, Handscapes, an exhibition including twelve of my paintings was to be held. My paintings, mine! It was like a frightening dream come true.

In a way, my first real painting that I called mine was of an orchard. Coconut and papaya trees arranged in perfectly symmetric lines. I saw it daily on my way to college. One day I just walked into it. I didn't think about trespassing or earthworms. It was beautiful and I wanted to stand in it for a while.

It was here that I discovered that I was a child of the sun. I had been taught to fear the sun since the age of seven, I was morbidly afraid of becoming darker that I already was. Today with the rebellion of youth, I stood there among the trees as swathes of penetrating sunrays hit my hair, and danced up my skin.

Inside me, a warmth grew, my skin glowed dark gold and I leant against a tree, upturning my face to the sun, drinking in its sliding warmth. From that day on I was no longer afraid of the sun. I worshipped it, and started painting its warmth into my pictures. And its shadows

It took me a month to paint the orchard. I brushed out the trees lovingly, dabbed on grass and leaves, then added sunlight and shadow to it. Something overwhelming came over me, and I started adding shadow everywhere. At odd angles, at complete contrast to the direction of sunlight, sharp, menacing shadows. The beautiful orchard wore a look of irreparable damage with shadows crisscrossing it, and I loved it.

I went back to all my landscapes and added shadows. A man in the crowd whose shadow had horns, a shop front that had teeth in its shadow, a giant with the shadow of a small mouse. I spent hours debating on each shadow for each innocuous part of my picture, walking an odd angle between symmetry, reality and complete chaos.

I stood in a corner at Handscapes. Meet the artist! Why didn’t I feel like it? The crowd flowed around me, mostly ignoring me. Life hadn’t changed, really. Some who knew I was the artist shook my hand and said the paintings were great. I couldn’t tell if they meant it, I was too nervous to probe.

I saw a young girl enter the gallery. About sixteen, dark and slender. She was clearly playing dress up, heavy makeup, and a low cut blouse that she fidgeted with constantly. Trying to pull it back up her throat. Looking pale as delicate death, with lots of white foundation for extra-fairness. I watched her, as she walked around modeling the inner me. Self-conscious, afraid and unhappy.

Surrounded by the dense caricatures of my pain, expensive perfumes, and the babble of art talk, I looked down at my hands of clay, and realized something. I smiled, first inside my stomach, and then brightly at the girl. She smiled back tentatively, blinking in shyness and shame
"Hi, I'm Nasha, the artist" I gestured at a wall quickly as if confessing to a sin. 

She smiled a genuine smile for the first time, radiant and wide, it took my breath away.

"Hi, I'm Kirti, my mom is your mom's college mate"

I nodded. I had already decided when I saw her face that I wouldn’t go to Swargam again, or inhale ammonia. It was so simple, I didn't belong in an exclusive club. No, God's place for me was more inclusive

"Hey Kirti, do you like my paintings?"

She nodded eagerly.

We walked around the crowded gallery, and I explained to her what each picture meant to me, each drawn of pain, paint and imperfect clay. I finally found the courage to agree when she said, they are beautiful

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