Brown Enough: The Un-Love Poem
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At first, we co-existed in that one-road, red-brick dust mottled town we call home,
You a part of me and,
I – chubby cheeked, more trust than fear,
Swinging from creaky colorful gates into coddling arms,
Flashing milk-coffee brown legs under jewel-hued petticoats –
A part of you, with nary a question as to our united destiny.
Then the ocean rose up in front of us.
Too young to understand, I assumed I made the crossing with you.
But, in the still-chill, May-spring air of JFK airport,
In the insidious whispers of my fourth grade class of “She stinks” and “She’s a
Hin-du” spit curses,
I found your embrace missing, with only my imagination
To transform snow-wet cement sidewalks into monsoon-steeped red roads.
Over the years, we played gossip tag, tab, kept tabs on each other
Through propaganda-addled words that broke both of us.
Those arms that once coddled now had grown tongues that sliced
Winter-dull tan skin through phone lines spanning oceans.
They said I strayed, that I betrayed, that I loved another.
And I—I grew cages around my heart.
I became not Amita, not Sanskrit imbued vowels meaning unlimited and friendship,
But Uh-me-da, hard consonants that flayed the skin off of my bones.
Like little boys-and-girls at school playgrounds, we spat-and-hissed across backyards
Until we both grew up, paused, and took a second look at each other.
Maybe, it was the imprints of my bare feet once more on your red-dust road
That allowed you to forgive me.
Maybe, I stopped looking at your photograph and looked at you instead.
And you—you were so much more than a 10-year-old’s memories,
More than coconut-oiled, jasmine flower plaited braids,
More than bells ringing on camphor-perfumed temple fires rising out of cool,
gritty stone floors,
More than Appa, Amma, Akka, Anna.
You were the barrel-chested drumbeats of the dhol married to the bass of hip-hop,
The colorful skirts of raas swirling beneath tank tops and sheer shawls,
The quiet conviction glinting in Bhagat Singh’s eyes reincarnated in your cricket
The sisterhood-laced laughter spilling over fudge brownies and margaritas one
night, chai and chaat another.
Tumbling down the hyphen-strewn chasm, I fell back to those days
When our tongues twisted into sing-song words without accents
When ABCD, FOB and NRI were just alphabets.
Shifting from quarrel-some reality to Bollywood narratives,
Where muguthees glimmered, sarees glittered and kohl-lined eyes gleamed,
You and I—we shined.
Envious, they gushed, “Oh my gawd, you’re so lucky! I have no culture at all!”
And as long as we held on to that façade, pretended
Nothing existed outside of our song and dance and laughter,
Yes; we were lucky.
But, behind closed doors,
There was a side to you that no outsider saw,
Where, ruled by upper-middle-class, wallet thickened hypocrisy,
You turned your backs on people not faithful to your personal ideology.
Fathers told daughters with bruised lips that no, you can’t leave him.
Mothers told sons with breaking hearts that no, I want a daughter-in-law, not a
Children were hushed by elders, dictating that that’s not their reality.
Possibilities were crushed that weren’t convenient to your model minority.
Honor meant silence.
And that—that, I can’t do.
This author’s pen will always scribble.
This poet’s tongue will always rhyme.
So, go ahead. Pack your bags. Leave me to mine.
Because, in all this time,
I’ve owned my truth:
My skin will always be brown enough for me.