by Ritu Sama
(Bangalore, Karnataka, India)
Shuchi was her name – as sweet as it could get. She was the loveliest girl in her class of thirty students. Around 3 feet – a bit tall for 6 years, big doe like eyes, almost green in color just like the sea that looked almost green but had hues of blue and black. Hair – long, very long for her age and just the right shade of brown. She was fair – in fact peach in color just like her mother. And she was a dreamer – she dreamt of fairy tales, of good and happy endings. She always dreamt of joy and magic and laughter.
Shuchi gave final touches to the coloring sheet her favorite teacher had given to all students. She loved coloring. It made the picture interesting to look at; otherwise she couldn’t really differentiate between so many black and white images. She always thought that it was the color on them that made a difference. It was her holiday homework, and she wanted it to be perfect.
“Shuchi! Shuchi !Shuchi!” Shuchi heard her friend’s voice. She looked out of the window and her friend Raunak was at the gate waving towards her. He signaled her to come down and join their gang for yet another round of games. This was already the fourth round and it was not even afternoon yet – they had been playing so much during all these holidays. “Perfect!” she told to herself while closing her coloring book. Five more days to go and she had finished all her work for the Diwali vacation. She would be a free bird for the rest of the time. She could do whatever she wanted to - she could play with her dolls, make them ready, put new clothes on them. With these joyous thoughts, she ran downstairs towards the gate.
“Raunak! You know all of my home work is done!! I colored all the ten pages that Chatterjee mam had given to us!” – She shared her happiness, her eyes twinkling at the achievement.
Raunak was her best friend. He stayed next door. He was a lucky kid. His mother was always at home and his dad bought lovely gifts for him every weekend without fail.
“So soon? I am yet to start any studies!” – He complained and ran off towards the football field that was next to the cluster of houses. “I will tell everybody that you are so color maniac!” He shouted as he ran away from her, end of his sentence barely audible.
Shuchi closed the gate and went upstairs, checked all the windows of her room. It was cloudy outside and she didn’t want any to be left opened in case she played for long with her friends. She checked the kitchen, the door was latched. She checked the fan in her room – yes this was on! It was slowly completing it circles. She put it off to give some rest. All done – she stepped out of the main gate with a house key in her bag. Her family was not at home. Her elder sister worked far away – there was no choice, she had to be in the far land to earn money, her sister had said. Her mom went from place to place and her dad was not with them. Small family – scattered around the large globe.
She finally reached the football field where her four other friends had already started forming teams.
“Will you play with us?” Raunak asked.
“Of course!” She was surprised. Were they again planning to ignore her the way they always did when her mom was around?
Their clothes were so different from hers. She found them attired more aptly for the field. But her pink frock looked pretty – she knew she looked pretty in pink. Raunak always said that all girls look pretty in pink. Even her dolls looked pretty when she adorned them in pink flowing dresses.
She started running around the field with her friends – trying to catch up with them. But after sometime, it became boring to run around chasing a dirty football. The previous day’s rains had made the field really wet and the ball was now brown in color. The new white and red striped ball looked shabby in brown. How colors affected ones perception.
Shuchi moved towards a clean corner of the field and sat down on one of the very few dry patches. She took out her story book from the bag. She could read while the sun was still out. With so many dark grey clouds in the otherwise light blue sky, she wondered if the sunset would happen by afternoon. Reading was her second passion – at least that’s what her elder sister, Protima always said. ‘Read and color – that’s all you want to do ever’ – Protima had said to her last
summer. She was at home just for a fortnight and since then Shuchi had not met her. It would almost be a year now.
Shuchi started reading the first story – she remembered each and every word by heart. She didn’t need to look at the book now to read. She watched her friends play and run around while she mumbled the stories in her mind. Every now and then she would see the colorful pictures on the pages and then again watch the kids. It was as if she was reading to them.
An hour passed by and her friends looked tired. Wish she could give them hot milk or cookies,but she didn’t have anything. She got back to her story. A few sentences and she heard her mother’s voice – “Shuchitra! Why are you out again?”
Shuchi quickly closed her book. How did she not hear her coming! She always did. She looked up and there her mother was standing tall and beautiful in a red sari shining like armor.
“Why are you here all by herself?” Her mom asked now in a soft voice.
Shuchi's head turned in the direction of her friends.
“Oh! So you are again with them?” her mom was slightly annoyed.
Shuchi shook her head and looked at the story book lying on her lap. She knew what was coming.
“I had asked you not to play with these boys!” her mom said softly, but sternly. “Why don’t you listen?”
Shuchi looked at her mother to see if she was red faced. She had read that angry people’s faces became red. But her mother looked peach in color. Shuchi was relieved – peach was the normal color of her mom’s skin.
“I like playing with them. They are my friends!” – Shuchi complained.
Her mom hugged her and softly continued – “You are not supposed to.”
Suchi smelled her mother – a mixture of perfume and sweat from the running around, she guessed.
“Anyway, did you have milk today? Where is everybody else?” Her mom started her routine interrogation.
“They are all in the kitchen” – Shuchi said hesitantly.
“Oh! Shuchi ! You again locked them in the kitchen?” – Her mother got up helplessly.
‘May be now her face will become red’ – Shuchi looked at her mom with fear in her eyes.
“They don’t let me play with Raunak!” – she reasoned.
“Because they are our servants’ kids. They are uneducated. You go to the best school in Kolkata. You will grow up to be a lady while all they will do is play football in some by lane of the city.
Shuchi looked at her mother. She just couldn’t understand what her mom was saying. ‘What was wrong in playing football?’ she thought.
“Shuchi, why don’t you understand? They are not of our stature in society. And they always have all of your milk and cookies. Don’t they?” Her mom said now a bit irritated.
“But I gave them the cookies and milk myself. Ma, why do we have to have ‘stature in society’? Is it a toy which Raunak doesn’t have? But Ramu kaka always brings a plastic toy for Raunak on every weekend. Nobody brings for me such colorful toys every weekend!” Shuchi complained.
“And I like playing with Raunak and his friends. They are my friends too!” Shuchi continued stubbornly.
Her mother now looked at her puzzled. After a few minutes of uninterrupted pause her mom simply said. “But Shuchi they are black in color. And remember you said once it’s not a good color? That’s why. Black is the worst color of all!”
Shuchi looked at the kids who were now far away from where she and her mom sat.
‘Oh! Indeed they are black in color. How did she not notice that till now? She hated the color black – even her hair was brown.’ She again looked at them sadly – she should have noticed it earlier. May be her mother was right. With this thought she got up and simply accompanied her mother inside their palatial home. She had to unlatch the kitchen door to let her servants out so that they complete the pending chores.
Her mother was back from her official tour as the company’s head. Protima who was working in the states would also be visiting them in a couple of days. Her dad had married somebody else very long back and she didn’t feel the need ever to meet him. She had her mother and a lot of servants to take care of her. She was happy playing with their black kids – but now she needed to rethink. May be her doll’s makeup would work on them or maybe she had to start liking the color black – after all the night was black and it was fast approaching as she saw the sun set on the horizon. ****