pulitzer prize-luminary commended author
HOW AN INDIAN GIRL BECAME
THE RIGHTFUL HEIR TO
BLOND AMBITION, or, WHY AN INDIAN WOMAN NEVER QUIT HAVING
Geetha wanted to be a star when she was young. Unfortunately for the little girl, she was not very attractive and most importantly, she was not talented, at all. Her greatest dream was to be a South Indian Classic Bharatnatyam dancer. When her mother tried to enroll her stubby, short, mahogany-hued daughter into a prestigious Mumbai dance school, she was rejected, and even worse, the dean of admissions laughed at them. That didn’t stop her parents from taking the would-be brown Shirley Temple for auditions throughout the city – for children’s shows, print modeling, television commercials, and everything in between. Geetha finally did manage to garner some success, getting a role as a before-teen in a before-and-after acne cream commercial. Still, she never achieved her real ambition of becoming a dancer: a classical dancer for theatrical dance performances.
As she got older, the untalented Geetha remained untalented. She ended up going to a two-year junior college, and became an administrative assistant for a pale, balding, quiet high school counselor named Simha Kapur. She married him after a year, and after a year of being his wife, she gave birth to a baby girl she named Neelam. Their marriage, dull and listless, came to a swift end when he asked Geetha for a divorce. Neelam was six at the time. It was a conversation as dry and uninteresting as their dispassionate union had been.
“I am leaving you, Geetha.”
“Why is that?"
“I’m not feeling love for you anymore.”
As Geetha had not worked, there was no settlement problem; he would pay monthly alimony. The divorce proceedings ended within a week. One thing kept her moving however: Neelam, of whom she received sole custody, was attractive and, better yet, talented. In dancing.
As is usually the case with most adults who brutally fail to become stars, she took out her aspirations on Neelam, who would become her only child, and was now her backdoor to stardom. A ruthless and overzealous stage mother, she was a tragic stereotype, taking the little girl to every little-girl pageant and go-see and audition in the city.
Neelam was ten the first time her upper lip, eyebrows, and sideburns were waxed by Geetha. Neelam was eleven the first time her hair was dyed blond by Geetha.
Geetha was obsessed that her daughter look perfect, that her daughter looked like a star, or at the very least, a star-in-the-making. In her mind, this meant that her daughter’s long black hair would not do, and her scant, barely-visible little girl facial hair would not do. Neelam was not hairy, not really. But Geetha thought she was a wildebeest.
“Where did you get such hairiness? I’m not that hairy! Your dad is a gorilla, yes, but girls should get their mother’s body hair! Cheee, so dirty!”
The pretty eleven year-old would just sit quietly when her mother went on these rampages. Although Neelam did get tiny roles in some television ads, and was photographed in two dresses for the Namaste catalog (picture Sears), Geetha wanted more for Neelam, and figured the wax and dye makeovers would get her more gigs. In a way, they did. She won four beauty pageants, and in two of them, Geetha didn’t even have to plaster her face with the makeup of a thirtysomething Avon saleslady.
Still, Geetha pushed her more. And waxed her more. And made her even blonder as the months passed. She thought blond hair on brown skin was sexy. She had a point -- RuPaul, or maybe a tan Pamela Anderson -- wore that look perfectly. But a little girl shouldn’t look like a tranny.