She liked his eyes. They said something to her. Eyes were important. When he spoke to her, she read his eyes instead of listening to his words. Every time their eyes met, she felt naked under his gaze. It wasn’t about the body, as much as it was about the depths of her heart. His eyes spoke volume. They didn’t need to talk.
They came close together,
The petals soft and alive.
Water and love nurtured,
But there was too much darkness.
The light stayed suppressed,
The petals laid themselves to rest.
It was as if they hadn’t seen a thread in days. The stray hairs were insignificant to others but creating havoc in her mind. She held the magnifying glass closer and closer. Her light brown eyes were anxious. The long waves that fell on her shoulder looked great though. Her watch said it was getting late. It was time to hit the salon because bad eyebrows ruined her mood.
Dia was excited. Mrs. Das had just made an announcement. The school play festival was coming up and her class would be putting up Cinderella. “I will be Cinderella,” thought Dia. She knew that everybody found her beautiful.
Mrs. Das walked over to the blackboard. “Please raise your hand if you want to try out for the role of Cinderella,” she instructed. Dia looked around. The other girls knew that they didn’t stand a chance. Mrs. Das was always praising her. Whenever Dia dressed in pink, she would say, “You are looking like an angel, child. You’re so fair.”
Dia raised her hand. She knew there would be no competition. She would be Cinderella. Suddenly, she noticed something. Maya had raised her hand too. She looked nervous. Still, her hand was up high. Mrs. Das wrote their names on the board and asked the class to raise hands for the other parts. Dia did not hear anything. “How could Maya want to be Cinderella? She was so dark!”
The next day, Dia, Maya and their classmates, were supposed to act out the parts that they wanted. Three boys wanted to be Prince Charming. Raj got the part. When everybody clapped, he said, “I hope that ugly Maya isn’t Cinderella!”
Maya ran to the bathroom to cry. After she sobbed to her heart’s content, she made a decision and wiped her eyes, heading back to the classroom. Dia was at the centre. The whole class was clapping loudly.
“Maya, come say your lines,” the teacher called her. Maya looked down at her feet. She replied, “Ma’am, I don’t want to try out for this part. May I please try out for the evil stepmother’s role?”
Dia jumped up from her seat. “I’m Cinderella! I’m Cinderella!” Raj was happy too.So, Maya tried out for the stepmother’s part. All of her classmates voted for her. One of them said, “She’s the perfect evil stepmother because she’s so dark and mean looking.”
On the day of the play, the parents came to school field where a stage had been set up. Many grandparents came too. Dia’s parents sat in the front row. “That’s my daughter,” her father pointed out proudly to the parents seated next to him.
Halfway through the play, Dia had just come to stage wearing her white gown. She wore shiny silver shoes and a silver bow in her hair. Shreya was with her. She was the sweet, round, Fairy Godmother. Shreya started singing Bibbidi Bobbode Boo but was interrupted by a shout in the audience. “Get out,” a parent said angrily. Shreya stopped singing. The person being shouted at was a poor girl in rags.
Dia was upset. Her play was ruined. She jumped off the stage to tell the girl to leave. “How dare you come here? You are so ugly!” The little girl, who was Dia’s age, burst into tears. The other children came running. Maya walked over to the poor girl and put an arm around her. She said, “Stop being rude. She only wants to watch our play.”
Dia frowned. She said, “Maya, she looks like you. That’s why you are fighting for her.” Then she added, “Black and ugly girls.”
This time Maya didn’t cry. Instead, she took the girl to a chair. She asked all the parents to sit down. “Dia, the play must go on.” Dia followed her because the others looked too embarrassed to even stand near her. “What a mean child,” said one parent. Dia’s father did not sit in the front row this time. He was not feeling proud anymore. The mothers did not praise her after the show. Everybody had forgotten that she had skin like snow.
The evil, dark stepmother was not ugly at all. She was wonderful.
First published in TeleKids (An ABP Group publication)
She felt darkness surround her. The pain pushed at her head, her neck, her chest. Sleep was a thing of the past. Anxiety was her new friend. Damn her photographic memory for remembering every little detail of death. As she tossed and turned in the messed up bed, she asked out loud: Why do I care so much? The answer came loud and firm from her soul. She’d rather hurt than be a cold stone.
Reuse Reduce Recycle. Every American grows up with this slogan. Starting from pre-schoolers to senior citizens, everybody tries to do their bit for the planet. Even though it has been years since I’ve come to live in India, I cannot accept the wastage that I see around me. Soda bottles, soda cans, and paper are thrown into the garbage heap every day. Not only are we contributing to global warming, but we’re not teaching children how to protect their environment. Call me a preacher if you may, but I don’t think it’s all that difficult to start recycling programs in the country.
Every school that I’ve been to in the United States has three kinds of bins in their classrooms or in the hallways. One for paper, one for plastic bottles and soda cans, and the other for actual trash. This ‘training’ from childhood makes sure that the children grow up into adults who put the right things into the right bin. Even in college, we had this set of bins. There were the blue, green and black bins with symbols of what should be thrown into each one. I spent my first few months in India looking for the recycle bins and just received blank stares and sometimes even a laugh.
As pre-schoolers and kindergarteners, we reduced and reused by making various things in craft class. Sometimes we made pencil stands out of milk cartons. Other times we made stuffed puppets out of old socks.
Even the grocery stores in America promote recycling. I remember my trips to the store with my parents. The first stop was the Indian spices aisle. The last stop was the recycling terminal where a friendly lady would take our big bags full of bottles and cans and paper and give us five cents for each item.
Here in Kolkata, I see people around me throwing everything into the garbage bin but there are some small ways that some people try to reuse, reduce and recycle. Every Friday, a man comes to my neighbourhood to collect our accumulated bottles and newspapers. He sells these newspapers to vendors who use them to make paper bags. For example, the bags used by the muri wala. The bottles too are usually recycled–both glass and plastic.
In America, we neighbourhood kids got together and went to every house in the area to collect their bottles and cans. Then we took these to the recycling centre nearby. Things like this should happen in India too. We have to take care of our environment and its health. So let’s do something before it’s too late.
It was impossible to know who really cared. Most of the new ones thought that a selfie with her would launch their social careers. Even the blood relatives made her uneasy. “It’s like everybody wants a piece of me now,” she thought. Life was good again when she stopped trying to figure them out and learned to smile at them all. But life was best when she came home and found herself sharing her bed with the furry ones.