I. Do You Know How Hard it is for Me to be Pretty?
if Durga went to college, she wouldn’t hold a conch shell
but a razor in one hand and a bottle of nail polish in the other
she wouldn’t ride a tiger but lace up a pair of running shoes
would she be fearless? If she had to tweeze the space between her eyebrows?
if she had to replace her third eye
with ashtray scarring from an unsteady hand?
my mom didn’t teach me what to do with the disaster in my head
or the one that’s down there
so the first time I kissed a boy and ended up in his bed
he was confused about what
I had never even known to worry about-
I don’t forget about that any more because you know those dreams
where you show up to class naked?
they’re pretty effective at making sure you never actually do that.
i mean when people hold their arms up to mine and compare
their summer to my ancestors I want to smack them every time
shouldn’t I laugh, and feel proud, and thank them for finding
something pretty in the pigment-
where my own flesh and blood couldn’t possibly?
but instead I feel dirty, and like taking it out on them.
i wouldn’t touch Fair and Lovely
and those billboards are all old news but I still have a subscription
and I did take my high school senior pictures in the winter.
II. You Can Learn Logarithims and Which Girls Will Sleep With You On a Friday Night, But Not a Combination of 7 Letters?
when aunties ask my name, i automatically pronounce it the white way.
it drawls, it drags, it skids and clings to anything that will hold it back:
what I learned in kindergarten.
the aunties don’t flinch- they translate it in their minds instantly
and say it back with the scampering lilt that I can’t manage.
i’ve always wondered where they learned this process of decoding
if it was instinctive, twined with the lipids in the coconut oil they smooth in their hair
or something learned, like how to hold the bottom of a sari
when stepping into an airplane.
in Tamil, my name means celestial dancer, beautiful angel, ethereal,
in english, my name has a sister in “apricot”.
the kindergarteners chanting in line for the slide and
the boy who sat across from me in gov for a whole semester
both liken it to “asparagus”-
in english, my name is a farce and in america, i am a novelty.
so you understand why I shy away from “say it your way!”?
i’ve dripped myself into a mold, i’ve set.
to say my name in my native tongue so you can imitate it poorly
and laugh at how it stumbles across your mocking mouth:
to bare a sliver of my soul that i covet so carefully it rarely sees any sun
so you can feed me peanuts, like a trained monkey?
you taught me to flinch at my mother’s accent in the department store line before
I could even read the 12 letters that make up my last name,
i do not give you the right to flinch at mine.
III. Why Is “you smell like curry” The Worst Insult A Fifth Grader Could Think Of?
it’s very certainly
a smell, not a scent, not delicate and it wouldn’t fit on a pastel candle.
it’s concertedly aromatic, decidedly chiral,
warm and strong in ways that make me a little jealous of how unapologetically
it won’t ever come out of my clothes.
if a dash of cumin on a baked chicken breast warrants “Exotic!”
by title, I’m just wondering- who got to draw the line?
who delineated spice racks as exclamation points and niche art but
condemned a hand swirling curry, half closed like a not-yet-flowered rose
who decided that my grandmother’s kitchen must be Febreezed away
and yours, preserved in jars?
I spent years apologizing for a food that accosts, undiscriminatingly, all noses:
I spent years trying so hard to be “not aggressive”.
maybe if I had known to articulate
the impertinent gorgeousness of the crisp edges of a warm mutton roll
the hsss of okra, whispering secret stories on the stovetop:
the harsh compress of the word pungent does no justice to the
blanket-lovely smell of steaming chicken curry.
By Apshara Ravichandran
Apshara Ravichandran is a medical student who lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her orange cat Dwayne and a rotating roster of foster kittens. She has published op-eds in medical publications and is now stretching her creative muscles. She plans to pursue child and adolescent psychiatry.