Saya Shamdasani

Blob of Brown Bodies

english is my mother tongue
because my own mother was afraid
to teach me hers.
as if hindi’s rough edges,
would taint me,
burden me,
and otherize me.
and so a coat of fresh white paint
was plastered over my brown body.
the same brown body that danced kathak
every saturday morning in tenafly, new jersey
where i’d tie bells around my ankles
and do chakkars in my guru’s basement
until the soles of my feet burned.
that’s when my guru would call me upstairs and fill my stomach with food,
dosas and idli sambar,
the same food i told my mother to hide when my school friends came over
because i was scared our samosas would scare them away.
and so she bought lay’s potato chips
and i’d beam at their shiny, yellow labels,
reminders that i was american.
american like burgers on the fourth of july,
american like the star spangled banner,
american like the kids at school
who i loved
who i wanted to be.
i’d watch them descend from staircases
and glide down hallways
as if they were made of gold,
as if they were worth more than me.
and when i heard them call me dirty,
or my hair too thick,
i wore sunscreen in the winter
to make my skin lighter.
but to them,
i was still riya,
another addition to the blob of brown bodies.
see me.
tell me i am saya
and not the brown girl to my right.
i am tired,
angry like that man
in the restaurant
on 72nd and 2nd
who banged his fists on the glass table
when my family was being too loud.
“go back to your own country and act that way,” he yelled,
hatred, like blood, dripping off his words,
like we had stolen what was his.
hungry for his country.
i don’t like talking about that day.
i don’t enjoy the guilt that prickles my skin when i tell these stories
because my voices tell me “it’s not that big of a deal” and “there are bigger things in the world”
and “think of your brown sisters who came before you,
the seas they crossed,
the stories they stomached to bring you here.
and think of your mother and father
who walked through fire
to place the world before your eyes.
think of the charcoal stains on their bare feet.”
four years ago i would have stomached this story.
i tell it now because
i am whole,
pieced together by my mother, grandmother, and friends of color,
lost in the beauty of my culture,
thanking the sun for painting me with a heavy hand,
drowning myself in the sweetness of my homeland’s language.
but mostly
i tell this story so that
the next
brown girl
won’t have to.

About the Author: Saya Shamdasani is a freshman at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. She is passionate about the written word, social justice, and education policy.