Monday, May 22, 2006

The Chocolate Theory of Race Relations

The Chocolate Theory of Race Relations

It was on the fourteenth of April, a humid suburban Mumbai night, that Rashmi Sinha was on the cusp of discovering the key to World Peace. It happened like this.

She was lying in bed, in the dark, eating chocolates from a box on the night stand. Next to her, Alok intermittently tossed his semi-slumbering bulk around. As she twirled a caramel centred piece around her tongue in delicious abandon, something struck her in the small of the back of her imagination. Shaking her groggy bed-mate awake she said, "Alok, wake up, wake up."


"I just thought of something. People are like chocolate. There's really no skin colour like black, white or brown."

"Of course there isn't. Blood types are far more important in dividing..."

"To hell with your blood types. Just listen. All skin colours are just different shades of chocolate" she said in feverish excitement. "I have to write a poem about it. After people read it, they won't be able to look at each other the same way. Are you listening to me?"

"Of course I am sweetheart."

Alok looked at her sleepily as she switched on the bed light. Her long hair hung ragged round her oval face and on her shoulders. Her forehead bulged forward a little too much to let her be pretty. Her dark eyes, turned inward now in concentration, lay above a sharp nose and a small mouth and chin. He watched her, as then and there, in the dead of night, she began the misty process of composing.

On a sweltering summer day
As body after body passes me by
Words for skin - black, white, brown
Melt away into meaninglessness.

Rich shades of chocolate skin
Assail me. Arms, shoulders, backs
Dare me to name their colour and shade,
Invite me to discover their texture.

Skin is beguiling, but does its shade
Really matter? If I put my mouth on
This man's neck and run tongue over skin,
What colour is that intoxication?

Or if I join my mouth to
That man's, what shade, what hue
Can I put to the careless
Abandon that explodes within me?

To my sun-infected eyes, half-open
Shirts and collars assume the shape
Of chocolate wrappers, waiting to be
Opened and swallowed in laughter.

After that, lying sated in the shade,
I could put a name to each single
Taste of skin, but to group them this
Way or that would be pointless.

Rashmi stopped scribbling, and looked expectantly at Alok for a response. With the experience of having walked this tightrope, which could leave him facing either tears or crushed silence, Alok simply said, "But that's only about men. What about women?"

Rashmi turned back to her pages, chewed on her lower lip for a while and then wrote.

A woman whose skin flows under
Your arms like liquid chocolate,
Melted by love. Do not judge her
By the paleness or darkness of her skin.

Embrace her sweetness and her bitterness.
Bitterness is also richness. Beware
The unmelting hardness that comes
From long cold years of neglect.

Rashmi, for artistic sustenance, bit into another piece of chocolate from the box, which led Alok to say, "I thought there'd be something about caramel in there." So she put in one more stanza.

All children are caramel. Your sweet
Years with them melt away quickly,
Leaving photos, empty rooms to recall
The taste and colour of their voices.

"Well?", she asked, "What do you think?"

Alok weighed his choices carefully and decided to take the suicide plunge of honesty, "Its all sex."


"All of it. Its really all just about sex. Look."

Rashmi stared at the pages, frowning. "Well, maybe after a second draft." She then began her diligent job of redrafting. And this is the point where tragedy occurred. If only Rashmi Sinha had been less conscientious of spelling and grammar corrections, if only she had safely put away her first draft in a drawer. If she had, it would not have mattered that by the time she had added her second momentous comma, Alok's mouth had begun to do unfairly interesting things around her waist and that by the time she had corrected the metre in the third stanza, his talented left hand had slipped uninvited between her thighs. The fragile pages housing her poem were soon crushed and scattered about the bed. If only she had remembered them as she fell asleep, or in the morning before they were swept away as trash, things might have been different. But they were not. Now, the world is condemned to move from summer to summer, sweltering in the chocolateless existence it always has, and perhaps, always will.


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