Saturday, April 25, 2009

EBONY AND IVORY: THROUGH A MOTHERS’S EYE


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(THIS POST HAS BEEN WRITTEN FOR THE MOTHER'S DAY Add ImageBLOG CONTEST IN INDUSLADIES.COM)


Soon after my younger daughter was born, the doctor came and placed a tiny swaddled bundle in my lap. Even through the sedated haze of the anesthesia, I was amazed to look into a pair of startlingly blue eyes. Which were set in a face as fair as ivory.

I was amazed (nobody in both sides of the family-tree has blue eyes). But, more than that, I was anxious and apprehensive. For nine months, the spouse and I had been preparing our elder daughter about this life-changing event. She had been told all about how God was very happy with her for being a good girl and was giving her a very special gift. She had often touched my tummy to feel her sibling kicking merrily in the womb. Every day, she would come back from school and relate the day’s events solemnly to her yet-to-be-born sister, bending over my tummy to whisper ‘secrets’ to her sibling which I was not supposed to hear. In her imaginings, her sibling would be a younger version of herself. She was prepared for the big day, eager to welcome her brand new sibling.

We were prepared, too
. Prepared to understand that occasionally, our elder daughter would feel jealous, or resentful, or left out. That she would need an extra dose of love and attention to cope with the shift in status from ‘only child’ to ‘elder sister’. That we would have to be very careful not to neglect either of our children, nor to compare them in any way. Only, we had not taken into account the ‘fairness factor’ - and the discrimination that breeds in the minds of people.

When our elder daughter sat cross-legged on the hospital bed and took her tiny sister carefully in her ebony arms, our world was complete. The spouse and I fell in equal love with ebony and ivory.

But so many people didn’t. So many people look and do a double take. So many people look at them and say, putting on a wise and circumspect manner, “They look so different from each other, you would hardly think they are sisters.” Some of them look through ebony, altogether. They look at ivory and gush, “Oh, she’s such a doll”. Strangers often bend down to cuddle ivory, “She’s got such unusual eyes.” Ebony waits at a distance with wistful eyes. Well-meaning friends and relations keep on saying, “Your elder one looks so studious, she will grow up to be a doctor. And the younger one should try her luck in modeling.”

I try my best not to flare up. Not to resent such colour-crazy comparisons. To forget those who ignore ebony’s tremulous sweet-shy smiles. To forgive those who categorise fair skin with beauty and dark skin with brains. How stupid can they be? How insensitive to just cuddle one child and overlook another? How ignorant to make value-judgments on the basis of colour?

Of course, children have their own ways of coping. Ebony often says, Maa, my favourite ice-cream is chocolate-flavoured because I am chocolate-coloured. Bonu (sister) likes strawberry ice-cream because she is all pink-and-white like that. Which one do you like best?” I tell her that I love both chocolate and strawberry ice-cream. And I hope that ebony grows up happy and confident, not minding the stupid colour-comparisons so many people invariably make. And I also hope that ivory grows up to learn that inner beauty is much, much more valuable than any outer shell of prettiness. That both of them realise that chocolate and strawberry are both as sweet and as lovely as each other.

The spouse and I try our best to make up for the imbalance in attention. He explains that skin colour is a non-issue, a mere difference of melanin content. Almost-eight ebony nods wisely, and ivory, all of three but wanting-desperately-to-become-as-old-as-her-sister, nods animatedly, keen on copying her sister (which is why we call her copy-kitten).

When I hug, I open both my arms wide, so that both can run to me at the same time, upturned faces glowing with shared glee. I divide my kisses equally. Same with the scoldings, too. Although, to be honest, an average day usually sees more scolding than hugging. But a bedtime hug is a must. For all of us.

And one of my best motherhood moments (from an unending list of countless moments) is when they fall asleep, ebony cuddling ivory, curled together, arms around each other. I look at their sweet sleeping faces, so peaceful, so precious, so alike in their dreams and hopes. They look so similar.

Of course, I know they are different – they have distinct personalities, separate likes and dislikes which will become even more distinct as they grow up. But the superficial skin-deep difference of colour cannot encompass the depth and complexity of their beings. It does not realize the shared mutuality of love which makes them equal.

And when they get up in the morning, they again look alike with their tousled sleepy-eyed yawns. Then we (the maid, the spouse and I) get them ready. Their reluctance to bathe in the mornings is similar, as is the dilly-dallying over breakfast. Once these initial hurdles are crossed, however, they are ready for school, which both of them love equally. Off to school they go, bright and eager, with identical ear-to-ear grins and matching steps, hand in hand; ebony taking care of ivory like a good elder sister, ivory looking up to ebony like all younger siblings do. Another day begins, full of the promise of exciting, and exhausting, motherhood moments – some to cherish, stamped-forever in memory’s album, some to bear with fraying-patience and gritted-teeth. Through the ups and downs and roundabouts that comprise a mother’s journey, I’ve learnt to embrace both ebony and ivory. And all the shades in-between. A mother cannot discriminate. She would rather rejoice in the rainbow of variety that life offers.

23 comments:

ugich konitari said...

Sucharita,

What a wonderful post.

A lump in the throat as I read about your two beautiful gems trundling off to school together, ready to face another day.

And I wish certain folks just shut up, at least in front of the girls. Children by themselves dont notice colour, till the adults interfere. I have experienced that many times.

These kids are really golden kids, and precious.....

SGD said...

A lovely post!

Yes.....in India beauty is so skin-deep!People judge beauty or worse, the person by the colour of their skin. And sometimes even the parents are party to this cruelty!

Lazyani said...

Sucharita,

For me , this is your best post till date.

I actually feel envious as you are blessed with the colours of the world within your warm home and you have had the chance to enjoy the subsequent feeling.

And one unwarranted advice-- let the world and its thoughts about skin colour go to hell.

Pradip Biswas said...

This is a very beautiful post. We still go by colors because we were slaves for centuries togethers and all our masters from Aryans to British were whites only. Your post was read by our group and on behalf of all of them I thank you for such a nice post.

Koel said...

I haven't read anything more beautiful and touching a long long time.....Lots of love to your bundle of joys, and I'm sure with thoughtful parents as you both, they will both grow up to be wonderful human beings, immune to all these social toxins

This discrimination based on physical attributes is something that I can so well identify with..... lot of relatives were not too happy about the way I looked, and that I was dark and also fat when I was a child....and never bothered about expressing their insensitive views so openly...but then I am blessed with 2 best people as my parents.....no amount of negativity could do me any harm....

Though I have grown to be a confident, and moderately successful technocrat over time, I am still not sure whether beauty is only skin deep, or it is most important thing in the world.....Being still single at 33, many of the same relatives still relate it to my apparent lack of any physical beauty.....and I am still so confused :-)

But then I believe good is always bigger than evil, and i draw my sustainence from a close bunch of very loving relatives and friends with whom I can be myself be comfortable, without bothering always about how I look....and also my work place, where looks still don't matter...

sidhubaba said...

I hate to bring in the Pizza Hut connection - it seems so dazzlingly insensitive to your lovely post - but ebony and ivory do make the best combination. I know it is easy for Sidhubaba to say so, almost impossible to follow, and more impossible to teach: but people will be people. To ignore people without seeming snobbish is the secret to happiness.

Sumandebray said...

You have published yet another meaningful post. All children are so beautiful. It baffles me how could come one make certain discriminating comments. But I guess what Pradip said is correct. We have been indoctrinated to view a particular hue more beautiful due to years of subjugation.
But I guess it is very important to take extreme care of both children as it is very easy to have a dent in the young mind. To make them understand that beauty is skin deep is as important to make them realize what each one’s specialty is. This will make them strong. After all we live in a world which respects only the strong … whether you like it or do not!

nsiyer said...

Nice to read your post. I was reminded of a african kid writing on colour and on discrimination. Sometimes adults make such comments that they in fact breed differences. Nice to see that you and your hubby are wonderful parents and have are putting in your best to give them your best.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

@Suranga (UK),
Motherhood is a golden (with a bit of tarnish) period, and I'm actually loving most of it...

@SGD,
When people and media play up this skin-deep issue, it often leaves behind soul-deep scars.

@Lazyani,
This post was one which was very very close to my heart, so close that I was not too sure that I could write about it at all....but then, as you have advised, I thought, what the hell, let me give it back as good (or as bad) as I've got.

@ Pradipda,
Thank you for showing this to your other colleagues as that has helped the message to reach out to more people. And I agree with your explanation of fairness-worship.

@Koel,
I understand fully the self-doubt and HURT that can arise because of such insensitive barbs, as I've had to face quite a barrage of them myself for many reasons. In my eyes, however, you have always been one of the few cousins who I really admired and liked, as much as for your intelligence and academic/professional success as for your innate gracefulness.

@Sidhubaba,
Would you believe that I was actually at Pizza Hut a few days back (all alone, as I have left behind 'the gang' in Kolkata), and I had an E & I, for old times sake, and I had a tough time finishing it, and I wished so much that you and Sutapa were here too. Thank you for taking my mind off sombre matters.

@ Suman,
I, too, hope that my daughters grow up to be strong - not to be bowed by insensitive barbs OR to be swayed by flaterring comments.

@NSIyer,
I hope that our efforts (and their natural resilience) help in bridging the differences between my daughters.



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EverythingSudipa said...

All the fairness ads in India,show fairness is synonymous with confidence and all matrimonial ads demanding fair,slim, beautiful brides are so offensively noticeable.I being dusky, my Ma always told me "kalo jogoter aalo" but everyone else didnt understand it and blatantly spurted out their kink.
In a society so obsessed with colour, it's difficult to keep kids unscathed.But I will always try to raise my daughter as a strong indiviaul and no less than a guy.
I never tell her that eating healthy will make her skin glow or make her beautiful like Cinderella...everything is directed towards strenght(inner or outer).

Lilly said...

Oh my, between you and Ugich you are making me cry. I hope you both win!!! Lovely story and I did not realise that it was such an issue where you are. Both girls are beautiful I am sure and both will go on to do wonderful things in life because of the love of their parents. Just a BEAUTIFUL POST!!! I could picture them both hand in hand.

Nancy Yos said...

Very lovely. My two daughters, also, look nothing alike. One is a redhead, the other brunette, and their faces are completely different. When they were little, people used to ask me point blank if they had the same father!! (I made sure to tell the girls privately that there was a time when such a question would have gotten the ask-er called out -- or at least earned him a good sock in the jaw.)

Then baby #3 came along -- a blond boy, and for a while I had a variety pack. Now he is brunet also, and rapidly shooting towards 6 feet in height.

One more little bit of joke trivia. I am a great fan of the Tudor era, and I've watched movies like Anne of the Thousand Days together with my kids. When my redhead was old enough to handle it, it was fun explaining to her why the birth of the princess Elizabeth was such a disappointment. "Well, you understand," I said. "It was a red-headed GIRL. I mean, Good Gawd...."

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Hi Sudipa,

The marriage ads used to make me so angry when I used to look at them, in fact, if any ad did NOT mention 'fair skin', I'd feel a wave of gratefulness at the existence of such people.

Hi Lilly,

Fairness-fixation is, sadly, a very very common trait in Indians, and what is even more sad is that 'fairness' has supreme exchange-value in the marriage market as well.

Hi Nancy,

An assorted bunch of kids are a lot of fun to grow up amongst, especially if we can make fun of people's incredulity, like you can.

kaaya's said...

Dear Sucharita,

This is a beautiful post and one which has deeper and saner meaning.

I love the flow of this write up and the different emotions one feels as one picturises the incidents and the insensitivity of some people around.

Thank you

Little Girl Lost said...

dear sucharita, this was such a beautiful, beautiful piece, it brought tears to my eyes early in the day.
i am a brown girl, who grew up with a lot of fair cousins, and i know how much a child feels. children are not old enough to realize that people who put them down because of their colors are wrong. they feel left out and need to be assured that they are loved. But don’t worry, I’m sure both your little girls will grow up with their personalities unscathed.

and btw, if your girls ask you to choose between chocolate and vanilla, say you love Pizza Hut's Ebony & Ivory. its my favourite :)

Little Girl Lost said...

so glad to have found your blog. will keep coming back now. take care. do visit.

eve's lungs said...

Sucho this is such a beautiful post and so sensitively written.

homeremedies4everyone said...

Any ways very lovely post..

Niladri said...

Its BEAUTIFUL!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

@ Kaaya's

Thanks. We really need more sane people around.

@ Eve and Niladri,

Good to have you back and thank you so-o-o much.

@ Home Remedies,

Thanks

@ Little Girl Lost,

I felt exactly the same when I used to be compared to my fairer cousins.

coffeeismypoison said...

I know what u mean...ur story touched a chord because in my life, i was, often am...ebony. although im not dark per se...my sister was the cutest one :) i love her...but the people around us, are totally [usually] insensitive.
lovely piece and i hope u win :) even if not, u deserve to...
will keep following u...do check out my blog...leave ur opinions!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Hi Coffeeis my poison,

Thanks for the empathy.

Hip Grandma said...

Nice post and I've gone through the trauma with me the older sister being ebony and my younger sister being ivory.But touch would it has not affected my relationship with my sister despite all the comments from those in the extended family notwithstanding.