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As her peels of tinkling laughter rang through the house, I smiled to myself wondering on the joys of a happy childhood, and busied myself with my chores. It was past 4 in the evening and it was time to get the girls ready for the few hours of free play in the park in the condominium. A few hours later, we came back home, not in as happy a frame of mind as we had left. My daughter was peevish and in tears and my younger one, just an infant was a little quite too, as she watched her eldest sister burst into tears. If we were lucky, a few days of the week we came back home in a happy, uplifted mood, with a burst of happy endorphins surging through the body. But most days were like this.
The conversation that I had with my six-year old after that has got to be the toughest adult conversation that I have had with a child! Even the birds and bees one doesn’t loom as large! Telling a child that a so-called friend who does not appreciate her as she is, is not really a friend in the first place, can be quite a task. Especially when you yourself are caught in the same vicious loop at times.
My elder daughter is almost seven years old. She is a little reserved by nature, extremely creative, sings beautifully, is very affectionate, is a child who does not demand for things as I have seen many kids her age do, has lovely jet black hair, beautiful eyes and a smile that lights up my world and makes it a paradise. My husband and I are united in the thought that we need to give her a happy and free childhood rather than pile on pressures of education. However, she has a huge chip on her little, not so worldly-wise shoulders – she does not fall into the category of acceptable skin colour, having a slightly more than wheatish complexion. And young though she is, she has heard it from several quarters already that she is not fair. Kids in the park, in school, other “well-educated” mothers and grandmothers, uneducated maids, guests who come home, supposedly well-meaning relatives and friends, do not think twice before asking the poor girl “why are you so dark?” or saying “we do not want to play with you because you are not white”. I have heard her crying to sleep on several occasions and asking God why he had done this to her. I have seen her slink into the background, when a so-called “white” kid assumes the ringleader position in the park. I have seen the way her shoulders drop when she is made the maid in the mama-papa game. I have seen the smile fade away from her lips when a “well-educated” mother has asked me within her earshot “you are not so dark skinned, so why is your daughter is so dark skinned”? I have seen extremely rude and precocious children being made a part of the “gang” because of their skin colour. I have seen that even young kids who should be busy bonding with other kids have fallen into these petty ideologies. I have seen her really unhappy because the people around us are so judgmental.
After a lot of falls, I have learnt that it is tough to change a mind-set that a larger section of society adopts. It is a notch easier to strengthen yourself from within and empower your child to face the words with nonchalance, words that she is most likely hear for the rest of her life. And for this, we have worked together, my daughter and I, to develop a strategy.
a) We tell each other every day that the best friend we will ever have is we ourselves – her father, her mom (me) and her little sister, because we love one another unconditionally
b) If there are these so-called friends in the park, we politely stay out of their way and play by ourselves
c) We tell each other every single hurt and slight – my daughter has felt so much better after hearing that her mom, the epitome of strength in her little eyes, has also faced similar slights
d) A sister will be your best friend, at any age
e) One single friend who loves you as you are is worth a million who make you feel tiny
f) Life and people are full of imperfections. Embrace your imperfections and focus on your strengths (easier said than done, I know, but the earlier we learn/teach this lesson, the faster can we brush away all these “specimens”
It surprises me that in this time and age, we think not of education or accomplishments or beauty in character or sweetness of nature, but pay so much heed to skin tone or lack of fashion sense. Not all of us can be a Nandita Das or Sushmita Sen to turn around and face the world. #Khuljayebachpan to me is all about living a free, unshackled childhood. A child so young is not equipped to fight these idiosyncrasies, all she understands is the force of the rejection. All she wants is to be happy with other kids, to play, to laugh and to breathe free and I am with her every step of the way to help her do so. It saddens me that the so called global world that we live in still hangs on to baseless ideas of colour and beauty.
If we cannot rise above all these antiquated ideas and give our children a happy childhood and a better place to live in – a world that embraces them as they are, for what really matters, then I will teach her to love herself as God made her. I pray for a ‘khuljaye bachpan’ for my child and all other children in the world.