Akansha Patra

my skin, my sin

my mother smears my body with a paste of turmeric,
and rubs it all over my five-year-old frame,
like one rubs soap over oil spills and curry stains,
or, when the living-room wallpaper blotches,
like, how menstruating women clean their bedsheets.
my mother says, turmeric is an antidote
for my skin,
as if it were a disease, plaguing my body, making me sick.
so, she rubs fast and frantic,
determined to make me look brighter, lighter, quieter.

my mother births an infant and the neighbour pities,
"Oh, the boy is fairer than your daughter!"
on the bus, in Kindergarten, a girl with two ponytails asks me,
"Why are you always dirty?"
at school, in art class, we draw fruits and vegetables,
and the skin-coloured crayon is peach,
but I'm not.

my father reads me fairy-tales,
of pretty princesses, who live deep within the woods,
and are fair like the morning,
I learn, fair means beautiful,
and the witch is dark like dusk, with her skin
growing boils and itching all over,
I learn, dark means ugly.

the school stage doesn't accept me as Sita,
I am capable of being neither goddess nor princess,
the Brahmin boys in my class tell me, I must be a Shudra
unholy, sinful, lowly, disgusting.

I was born the colour of the evening sky on an August day,
the colour of drenched earth after a night of rain,
the colour of my mother's eyes,
the colour of Krishna himself,
and yet, I am an eclipse,
my skin shadowing, my body a celestial object.

I try to shed my skin every year,
like snakes below the kitchen sill
I try to pull apart the edges under my fingernails,
as if my skin were a half-wrinkled, half-rotten potato peel.
I've eaten detergent,
I've drunk bleach,
I've scrubbed my shins with sandpaper,
I've spun myself in the washing machine.

but my skin sticks to my skeleton like honey,
it doesn't give way, it stays.
the colour is thick and rigid, alike my spirit,
it doesn't erase, it doesn't fade.

and when the world comes to my rescue,
redeems me for my sins,
"but you're beautiful on the inside,
some men actually like your type."
I become more than just ugly,
I become a fetish, a preference,
another prop for inclusiveness.
I become screens on a matrimony search,
I become a confession at the city Church.

and the years turn as the world phones each day,
to harass me with their schemes,
I've been a sloth at grasping, what it all means.

and even though, I harmonically hang,
swinging between wanting and not wanting
my snake-like skin,
I slither around in it,
and show myself to people who fear it,
whisper-looping in my head,
I'm a goddess, I'm a princess,
I am a sin of Jesus.


Akanksha is a 21-year-old Master's student of Clinical Psychology, who's often found hiding behind the giant heap of books on her table, reading poetry late into the night and writing out detailed stories off minor incidents that mean nothing, really. She is a lover of skies, chaser of butterflies and the smallest person in a room, always. Her Instagram is @annesextonstan.