I think I became conscious of my ugliness first than of my good looks! And why won’t it happen when I, along with all kids of the neighbourhood, would be fed upon stories of my ugliness during my childhood. It still surprises me why would they do so. “They” here refer to all those people who had known me as a small kid—a small sickly weak kid who would cry non-ceassantly until she was picked up. And who would pick up a child who was not cute by the standards that they had for cuteness. The standards “they’ had for a cute baby were sure tough standards to keep as I am talking of fifties when our elders had the Gori Mems for the personification of beauty and cuteness. I failed miserably to keep up with those standards especially when my elder sister, a fair rather very fair kid, gave me stiff competition. I don’t think that I might have felt this when I was an infant as how did it matter to me whether I was picked up or not but all the stories about how my sister was preferred to be picked up and cuddled, made me wreathe under unexpressed anger. Even today while writing all this I can feel the surge of anger that might have played havoc with my persona while I was growing up!
Amma had an interesting story to tell about my elder sister, “she was born in January and there was snow all around and she was such a fair baby just like white snow!” And would add, without paying least attention to what her outpouring did to me, “Our Jamadaar named her Barfu after the Baraf that is snow!” All the while my sister would listen to these stories about her perfect beauty whereas I would ask God why was he so unfair to me, for making me so dark coloured. Later when I would relate these stories to my friends they would look at me in astonishment and would exclaim, “But you are so fair, why would your mother call you dark?” How could I explain to them that it was not the complexion that she was referring to but relativity of complexions! My complexion was measured in comparison to that of my sister. Now that was unfair. I started hating Angrez Mems as my elder sister would always be compared to Mems, angrezi Mems. Perhaps like multitude of Indians, especially the ones having seen Angrez mems in person in the forties and also having heard a lot about their pinkish-white complexion, nothing else could redeem their prestige than to borne a child as fair as an Angrezi mem! It seems my mother had, with one stroke of delivering a white-as-snow baby, had vindicated all the Indians of her Lower Bazaar Mohhalla that had lived under the shadow of the British Raj not much far from their humble dwelling places. Under these circumstances it was no surprise that my mother would brag a lot about her first born fair child than rue about the second born dark child, especially when both the kids happened to be girls!
Under these circumstances it was not surprising that I became aware of my ugliness much before being aware of what sex I was born under. No one rued or repented the fact that I was the second girl born in the family. Luckily for me at that time complexion and looks were much more important than being a boy or a girl! I don’t blame my mother or our neighbours for flaunting my sister’s fair complexion as I can well understand, today at least, that it was a proud feeling of having turned the tables on the British by siring a child a fair as they were. I can laugh today freely to think how much proud all would have been to have a fair child with golden locks and green eyes! My bad luck that I could not bring the same sense of pride to my parents and my neighbourhood aunties!
I always blamed the month of August for my plight. Having heard umpteen times how my elder sister, born in January, had snow like complexion, I would want to know how a child born in August would turn out to be? I could never find any answer to it and I remember having put this question to my teacher when she read the first poem of our English primer in the class. The poem was “Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace…” I asked Miss, “It should have been January’s child is fair of face…” to be followed by a hearty laughter by whole of the class. I moved and inched inside my self-built cocoon to save myself from jeers and smiles of all those who knew my nick name at home, Kaloo! I could feel them laughing in their sleeves because they knew how obsessed I was for being dark in colour, and also that how jealous I was of my sister’s fair complexion! I was “the other” in the family, in the neighbourhood and in the school as well. It was quite late in my life when I overheard that having been born in the second half of August, I was Bhadron.born child. It had no meaning for me till I learnt the popular name for Bhadron—Kaala Mahina! Oh! My God! I was dark complexioned as I was born in Kaal Mahina—the Black month! I could see the pictures of dark black clouds hovering over the horizon in the month of August, I learnt about the songs about “Kaale Baadal and “Kaali Ghata” and could know why I was born dark! Why did my mother conceive me in a month to have me delivered in the month of August! I could find something fishy in all her planning. She delivered me deliberately and knowingly in the month of August, the Kaala Mahina so that I could be born dark complexioned, I rued. But, outwardly, I would try to balance the score with my sister by saying, “I was born in August, the month when our country became independent!” But not to be left behind, my sister would defend this argument by saying, “I was born in the month of January when we celebrate Republic day!” I could never understand the big deal about becoming a republic though become a free nation always had a special charm for me! It still has till date! The fights would go on and on taking different modes and moulds where both of us would be at our warring best. My mother would exclaim in exasperation, “Why did I read the Mahabharata when I carried both of you in my womb?”
I started hating my sister for being fair, to be honest, for being in a true coy of Angrez Mems. I can see for sure that I identified with the suffering Indians, the “blackies”, as they were called by the Angrez masters. Freedom of the country from Angrez masters meant a lot to my small little mind as it meant personal vindication for me! It was in this context that I would listen for endless hours any story or incident that related to the life of Angrez Sahibs in Simla as I identified myself with the all-time suffering Indians and identified my sister with the Angrez Sahibs. My parents by calling my sister “Barfu” among many of her other pleasant-to-the-ears names and by naming me “Kaloo” had, in fact, demarcated the colonials and the colonized in their very home though at that time, and even till much later, I didn’t have any inkling of these theories! I grew up in a small cozy house in Alley no. 2 of Lower Bazaar Simla, as a neglected and near abandoned child. At least I thought so, for a very long time, till I was able to see and feel clearly without any prejudice!