We lock hands, walk to the waterfront. Overlook the Queen’s Necklace. Watch valet parkers and street vendors scuttle to catch a glimpse of the ‘firangi’ couple. His grip tightens. Then loosens completely. We find ourselves staring— dubiously. The sun-scrubbed monument before us declares:
“Erected to commemorate the landing in India of their Imperial Majesties King George V and Queen Mary on the Second of December MCMXI.”
A reluctant white Englishman. A brown, hybrid but ultimately Indian girl. Ambushed by their own diasporic reality. Startled by a shared past. A gaggle of scalpers peer through the confusion. Try to sell us drugs and get their picture taken with my boyfriend. I stand cast aside, stranded from my moment. Watch the tourist become the attraction. Where would this picture would end up? On the mantel with an idol of Krishna, an incense stick, and a hundred rupee note next to it?
We drive home in silence. My confusion surmounted by a burning, misplaced jealousy: why do they like him? He’s not even from here! Am I not attractive enough? Is he better looking than me?
At a red light, a brown Stepford Wife smiles down at me from a billboard. Her face split into ‘before’ and ‘after’ images:
“Fair & Lovely: dermatologically proven to expertly treat skin fairness problems”
The shade of my skin, the precise duskiness of it, is sold as a “problem” when not under the guise of consolatory café society yadda-yadda. I am the quixotic other. My skin, a declension narrative.
My boyfriend, however removed from Their Imperial Majesties, is removed by a shared, human connection. To me. But that very racial inclusion, the shade of his skin, or the lack thereof, respectively, is reason enough for strangers to ask him for a picture. The same absence of color that brought India its post-colonial status, its poverty. Its slave trade. But contrasting against the sun-scrubbed Gateway, erected to commemorate the landing of our imperial colonizers, my brown community reminds me: white is fairer. And lovelier. Indeed.