Beauty and the Beast

The dog park is a great equalizer. I know that now. I have a dog that I take to a park everyday. I’d say he’s a rather cute looking Goldador who manages to turn heads wherever we go. I won’t be lying when I say I treat him like arm candy, every time I step out.

Ravishing blondes and gorgeous men routinely stop to pet my dog. But he’s not always that lucky in the park. In the dog world, the fattest Corgi could charm the sexiest poodle. The laziest retriever could interest a dominating pug. The noisiest Yorkie could chat up a sober Shiba. The rules are a bit uncanny. So, my dog despite his adorable looks and athletic wit, is sometimes left bouncing in the periphery of a canine carnival.

Sometimes through my dog, I encounter emotions I’d never understand as a human. I’m sure, I’m not the only one. Like that other day when a beautiful young man was trying to socialize his dog at the park. He knew how to chat everyone up. His dog, not so much. It was a beefy Pit-bull. Deep brown eyes, broad shoulders and all—but then I have a soft spot for Pit-bulls. I wasn’t sure how others in the park felt. They kept their pooches at a wary distance.

The man in any social scenario would’ve been the center of everyone’s gaze. But here he was circling the group of dogs…umm…like a creep. May be his dog was too strange for the other fellows. Dare I say a little on the ugly side? Though relentless in his pursuit, his pit-bull faced constant rejection.

The man was clearly new to the experience of being left out. Good looking men with the gift of gab are rarely so awkward. He had no rehearsed lines to wiggle out of the situation. All he could do, was stand in the corner, pretending it didn’t hurt at all.

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Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve…

When I was a little girl, I lived on a university campus where my parents were professors. The campus was cut off from the city by gates and guards. If on one side of the university wall there was traffic, pollution, congestion—on the other were lush green fields, tall trees, libraries and schools—where students and teachers could coexist in a safe space.

Naturally, my parents were okay with me taking walks  by myself by the time I was 13. So, I would get up at 7 in the morning, put on my jogging shoes, and run all the way to the campus gate with my best friend. The road that took me to the end of my daily circuit was one of the most picturesque in the entire university. It was dotted with Eucalyptus trees on one side and Bougainvillea flowers that cascaded like waterfalls, on the other.

One day, when my friend was down with flu, I decided to go running by myself. The biggest hurdles I could possibly encounter were untimely rain (since it was the rainy season) or street dogs that sometimes chased us home. But, I had faced these scenarios earlier, without much trouble. So, I strapped on my jogging shoes and happily ventured out.

When I reached the half-way mark, I slowed down to catch my breath. A small group of students, who were out on a jog like me, overtook me just then. They were a bunch of guys from another country. I could tell by the sound of their accents that seemed peculiar to my ears and the fashion of their clothes that I had never seen before.

Each year, our university took in a sizable chunk of students from all over the world. Our  chancellor believed that it added to the diversity on campus. In exchange, it allowed foreign nationals to learn our local language and customs.

As these students crossed my path, they muttered something amongst themselves and I thought I heard them laugh. I suddenly grew wary of their presence. Were they laughing at me? Could it have been my overactive imagination? For all you know, they were simply sharing a joke amongst themselves. So, I resumed jogging, without giving heed to my paranoia. This time I overtook them as I gained pace on my way back home.

Ten minutes into my run, I started to feel the burn in my muscles. I had pushed myself little too hard in the last mile. I needed to slow down and stretch my body. I approached a bench on the sidewalk and bent over to relieve the pain in my legs. In the meanwhile, I saw the same group of guys, catching up.

As I watched them jog toward me from a distance, I tried to guess their age. It seemed like they were 25-year-olds. They were all much taller than men from my country. They had broader shoulders, athletic bodies, and different colored hair. I curiously studied their appearance and wondered if I found them attractive.

As they approached, I self-consciously pulled my gaze away. That’s when I felt it land right next to my feet. I could’ve been wrong about it once, but it happened twice, then thrice—white, foamy spit collected from their mouths hurled in my direction.

My teenage mind could not comprehend what had just transpired. May be, I reasoned they were just spitting on the ground to clear their throats. Sometimes when people are exhausted with exercise, spit gathers up and you need to throw it out to clear up the passage. I had seen my brother do that on the football field. May be, it was simply that?

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But, why did the three of them do it at that same exact spot, by my feet? Was it something they had talked about? Was this the joke they were in on? I stood there soaked in my sweat drenched clothes, paralyzed by something I could not understand.

I am still not sure what really happened? Over the years, I have allowed memory and time to smudge the details of that November morning.

But, for several months in my dreams after, I remember trying to find my own resolution. In one dream, I could see myself running faster so that the boys never caught up. In another, my best friend never had flu, so we were together when the incident happened. We teamed up against my assailants and took them to task. In another, I caught up with the boys, blocked their way, looked straight into their eyes, and demanded an apology.

In another, as we wake up to this new world, I wonder, could there be a #metoo for this too?

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“Until one day, when I decided to wear lipstick…”

Privilege has no color. But when you have privilege, no matter what you are—white, brown, black, or yellow—you are blind to it.

I know—I was.

When I lived in my own country, I had it all—the right twang of English, the right profession, the right social class, and the right color of skin. I wasn’t the fairest of all, but was fairer than most. So, I never understood why some of my friends, even an inch darker felt invisible.

“It’s all in your head,” I’d tell them. “It’s not others, it’s you. You’ve convinced yourself that you’re un-pretty.”

Then I crossed oceans, hopped continents, and found myself in a land where melanin had several more shades. And I ranked pretty damn low on the spectrum. I wasn’t the darkest of all, but was darker than most. The only difference was, I didn’t know it yet. I had grown up thinking that I was fair, so that’s how I thought the world saw me as well.

Until one day, when I decided to wear lipstick to work. I never put on makeup usually. But, this day I felt like dressing up. I pulled out a new shade of red I had recently purchased and spread it across my smile. When I entered office, everyone took notice. Either it was the right color or it was cause I looked different. But, when heads turned and I got compliments, I knew I was looking good.

It was 10 past 9. The day was off to a good start, when my boss walked in. She was a wonderful woman whom I admired. She gave me my assignment for the day and another look.

“You look beautiful,” she said. “That lipstick looks perfect on your skin color.”

The high that I had been riding all morning came crashing to a resounding low. All day long, her words kept ringing in my ear—what did she really mean? What is the color of my skin? 

I looked around at the faces of my colleagues and then mine reflected in the window pane—a tiny island swept by an ocean of white. That day, was the day, I discovered my color.

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