a poem by Prerna Kulkarni
October 21st, 2009.
In first grade,
Aarti wore a sari to her school’s culture day.
She had never felt prettier in her life than
when she adorned the colorful bindi on the middle of her forehead
along with the ornate gold locket
that carried the image of the goddess of strength, Durga,
strung across her neck.
As Aarti entered her classroom that day,
her pillars of self esteem collapsed
as she received pointed stares from the rest of her classmates
who decided not to participate in culture day.
And as Aarti clutched her gold necklace,
She summoned all her strength
to not cry
a seven year old’s tears that usually surface
when she had fallen, cut, or bruised herself.
But saline tears did fall from her eyes.
Because her heart, her sense of identity,
And stayed hurt when seven year old boys and girls
pretended to trip over her sari
that she could feel every glittering sequin
bite into her coffee skin,
scratching the surface of her soon-to-begin journey
of finding the cultural pride that she had lost on
October 21st, 2009.
In sixth grade,
Aarti’s classmates called her
As a nickname to replace the fact that they
Could not pronounce the five letters
That made up her name.
And it is not because coconuts were Aarti’s favorite fruit.
It is because she was told
That her dark brown skin covered a porcelain white mind.
Just like the coconuts
That grew so abundantly on the palm trees in her home back in
Since Aarti was constantly told that she was whitewashed,
she started to believe that her American tongue belonged to only white people.
However, reminiscing on the events of culture day in 2009 made her sure
that she would rather assimilate than stand out,
as she tucked the golden chain of the goddess Durga
into her cotton made-in-India tshirt.
The necklace almost seemed strangle her as she
Heard her mother had not been accepted for a job
Because her Malayalam accent was
Aarti always loved to read,
and in tenth grade,
Aarti started to write,
but she soon realized that
When she tried to write about her heritage
she had little to compose.
So she wrote about the gold necklace that had remained tucked into her shirt
since culture day of 2009.
She wrote about how the pendant was always warm when she touched it,
and how the goddess Durga dangled so near her heart
that she believed the goddess resided in the organ;
providing her the strength to write about
how she had suppressed such an integral part of her identity
in order to feel welcome in a foreign country.
Rereading what she had just printed on paper
Aarti suddenly gained a grain of what had been lost throughout the past ten years.
From listening to herself, to what she had written down,
Aarti understood that she was the protagonist of her story,
and that nobody was more aware of her existence
Suddenly, Aarti’s ballpoint pen became her weapon against discrimination,
her medium of self-expression.
October 5th, 2018.
Aarti’s high school decided to host a culture day.
as she stood in a dark red kurti delicately embroidered with gold thread,
Aarti never felt more self-conscious in her life.
Aarti entered her school
and was met with a great surprise.
Every boy and girl was dressed head-to-toe in cultural garments.
in pleated skirts,
and the most wonderful accessories;
instead of teasing her patterned kurti,
Aarti’s classmates admired her outfit.
Their compliments not only made her feel appreciated but also empowered
with the knowledge that everyone has rich, cultural roots,
And that is not a reason to feel alien,
rather to rejoice and celebrate the beauty of diversity.
Although Aarti’s birthday was on October 19th,
she truly felt reborn on
October 5th, 2018.
As Aarti saw the colorful jewelry that decorated the bodies of students during culture day,
she decided to untuck her own gold chain,
only to find the picture of the goddess Durga timelessly peering up into her eyes.
And immediately she felt
strength coursing through her bones,
inspiration running through her veins,
culture on her fingertips,
and divinity in her mind.
- Prerna Kulkarni
Cover photo source: https://www.nusu.co.uk/news/article/28049/HOLI-FESTIVAL-2020/