Edited by- Kiara Lakdawala
Gaori was not gori and that was the biggest plight of her life. For a girl whose name meant ‘a fair-skinned girl’; she was as dark as the mud she grew her cabbages and potatoes in.
When she looked at herself in the mirror, she just saw her brown skin, not her beautiful almond eyes or her long and wavy hair. The colour of her skin was the sole factor that made her ugly, which she was reminded of every day. The town kids would sing, ‘Yeh kaali-kaali Gaori, tu ru tu …’as she would pass by them.
Though Gaori would laugh it off most of the time; she would sometimes be surprised to find herself red with humiliation. That’s when she would break down, asking God where her parents were and why they had to leave early.
Just at the mature yet tender age of eighteen, Gaori lost her parents to a landslide. They both were cabbage and potato farmers. She had spent nearly all her childhood with them on their field, observing everything with her own keen eyes and learning how to love vegetables. In no time, it was discovered that she had green fingers too and the vegetables bloomed under her care. The three of them were happy in their own world of mud and plants, happily tired by the end of the day.
Now Gaori had a field to tend to but no one to tend with.
‘Arre didi! Aap ke liye Shimla se kuch laya hoon!’
Gaori came running out of her tiny house, adjusting her dupatta and sliding on her chappals.
‘What is it Sonu?’ asked Gaori excitedly.
‘An envelope. Why have you and your Maasi made me your personal postman? I go to Shimla for work, not for your personal errands.’
‘Stop sulking now, I’ll pack some kheer for you.’
Sonu’s frown instantly tugged upwards.
After bidding goodbye to a cheerful Sonu, Gaori set off to deliver some kheer to Pammi Aunty.
Pammi Aunty was an old widower who lived all by herself. Pammi Aunty and Gaori both were the only women in town who lived by themselves; hence they naturally became good friends.
Pammi Aunty’s door was wide open when Gaori reached there.
‘Aunty! Anyone can enter like this.’
‘Bache, what will anyone steal from me? All my valuables have already been given to my daughter-in-law.’
Gaori just shook her head. Aunty was extremely fond of acknowledging the fact that she was old but Gaori had become accustomed to it by now.
Pammi Aunty’s eyes directly went to the envelope in Gaori’s hand.
‘What is that? Love letter? During my time I used to get a lot of love letters. My brother used to go beat those boys up.’
Gaori giggled and simply said, ‘No no, Maasi has sent this. Must be another wedding invitation.’
‘Show show. Wedding invitations are so fancy these days.’
Gaori tore open the envelope but a instead of a fancy wedding card, a letter and a photograph fell.
The photograph was of a fair and handsome man. He was in a white shirt and was standing beside a grey car.
Pammi Aunty snatched the letter from Gaori’s hand, to her shock and read:
‘I have found a suitable boy for you. I have personally met this man and he is extremely pleasant. His name is Shyam and he has a good and steady job too. He works as a driver for the Chhanchads. They are a rich and influential family in Shimla. I know that you are not interested right now, but just consider it. If you like him, then send a photo of yours via Sonu.’
Pammi Aunty had a teasing smile on her lips while Gaori just looked dazed.
‘Do you have nice photo?’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘He is handsome. He is so fair, he has kanji eyes too.’
‘But then do something about your complexion. You both will look like a black and white photograph. Take haldi from me and go to the market and buy fairness cream.’
Gaori’s eyes showed hurt but she simply nodded her head.
Gaori just stared at the photo. She looked at herself in the mirror. She glanced at the fairness cream sitting innocently on her dressing table. She unscrewed the lid with shaky hands and squirted the cream on her palm. Slowly, she applied it on her face, her hands mirroring her emotions of hope and shame.
A week had passed and Gaori complexion remained the same while her confidence dipped. She prodded and poked her features a lot more than she used to before.
She was peeling boiled potatoes one day. The skin was brown. She peeled off the outer later and it was white inside.
Gaori was just layers and layers of brown.
It was a particular cloudy and windy day and the harvest season was nearing. Gaori was tending to her potatoes and cabbages fondly, plucking out weeds and singing softly to them. Her father had told her that music helped plants grow strong.
In the distance, three indistinct figures were approaching her. Gaori shrugged and went back to her work.
However, within a few minutes, distraction appeared in the form of those three people. Two of them had enviable white skin, like milk. The man had dark brown hair while the woman had blonde hair which looked like molten lava in the sunlight. The third man was definitely an Indian.
The foreign couple was talking rapidly to the Indian man in a language unknown to her, fiddling with the cameras which were hung around their necks.
Gaori gave a questionable look to the Indian man, who simply said, ‘They are saying that you are very beautiful. They have never seen a skin tone like yours. They are asking if they can take your photograph.’
Gaori looked helplessly at the woman with pleading eyes, but the woman just smiled back with a brilliant smile, encouraging her to pose.
Gaori took a deep breath, smiling tentatively. Her hand was clutching her sari pallu tightly behind her back, wrinkling the cloth material.
A quick sound of the camera shutter, and a photo slid out from the camera effortlessly. Gaori just stared with her mouth agape.
The woman beckoned Gaori and showed the photograph to her.
Gaori was stunned to see herself. Her eyes were glittering and her nose pin was shining. Her smile was hesitant, but in a flattering manner. Moreover, her complexion seemed to suit her. It made her feel different in a special way.
Gaori just turned towards the Indian man and asked, ‘May I keep this photograph please?’
The Indian man translated this to the couple, who seemed to be giving an affirmative reply.
Gaori took the photograph and waited for the three of them to leave. She quickly went back home, took out a piece of paper and wrote:
‘Here is a photograph of mine. You can send it to Shyam. Give my regards to Maasa ji and Jiah.’
Gaori sealed the envelope and kept it on the dressing table. The half-empty fairness cream was still sitting there innocently. Gaori picked it up and threw it in the dustbin.
She looked at herself in the mirror and smiled.
She was dark and lovely.