A child is born. She is bundled in a pink blanket.
Her arrival brings a new dawn, tying estranged family members together – albeit for a moment. She is celebrated and loved. Her crib is decorated with adorable soft toys. Mostly dolls. Mostly pink.
As she grows up, her days revolve around playing with dolls and dressing up to resemble them. Frocks with pink ruffles and Hello Kitty socks.
When she is old enough to make sense of letters, she is given some books. The books are huge, some larger than her. She finds turning the pages amusing, but her giggles soon turn into disgruntled frowns as her tiny hands can barely lift them.
Over the next few years, she revisits these books often. Her eyes twinkle each time she sees the beautiful characters in their bright coloured gowns – much like her pink-ruffled frocks. For a couple of minutes, she gets fascinated by the pumpkin carriage, the house with seven dwarfs and the broken teacup inside a shadowy palace, but soon gets bored as they don’t move or sing like the ones on the dabba TV in her grandmother’s room do.
Her days begin with rhymes and end with her father reciting stories about three fairies that fly on ponies. Like her, they wear bright pink frocks. But unlike her, they live up in the clouds.
Now that she is starting school, she feels like a big girl. She had spent the last few months gazing at school kids from the living room window. There would usually be two groups of kids that walked past her home. One group wore similar clothes.
While the navy skirt and white shirt did not appeal to her, she loved how their chatter reverberated around the neighbourhood. She loved the idea of walking to school with kids her age, but the biggest appeal was that they brought back colourful popsicles every day on their way home. She thought she’d take a gigantic backpack with her so she could bring back a week’s stash on her first day itself.
A few months later, she marches to school with a tiny pink backpack and Hello Kitty socks. Her plan to collect inventory is entirely forgotten. Her smile is radiant; her enthusiasm palpable.
Years go by in a whiff and it is now the last term of Class 4. She learns she has to leave all her friends behind and start a new school. No problem. She is determined to live up to the challenge. After all, she was getting a new backpack. A bright pink Barbie backpack.
On her first day of the new school, her father takes a photo as she poses with her new bag slung across one shoulder in front of yellow tulips and red roses – a tradition he started on her first day of kindergarten.
She enters the classroom with a bright smile. Her smile is still radiant, and her enthusiasm palpable. But she notices something different this time. None of her classmates had bright coloured backpacks – let alone pink. She feels a bit embarrassed by the weird looks her bag attracted. Quietly, she sits on the second last bench and does her best to hide her pink backpack under the table.
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Every Friday, kids at her school could opt out of wearing uniforms. She thinks this is cool. She is excited to wear her faded pink checkered pants and Hannah Montana t-shirt to school and cannot wait to flaunt her recent purchase thanks to the discovery of the world of American teenage sitcoms.
Her heart sinks as 30 pairs of eyes stare at her as she enters the classroom that Friday. Their sharp gaze feels like a thousand needles piercing her. The walk to her desk never felt longer.
That week, she became the ‘new girl with a Hannah Montana shirt and Barbie bag’.
It is now autumn. Leaves start falling and the weather gets chilly. She is giddy because it is her birthday month. Her parents refuse her request for a new school bag. She gets disheartened as she was hoping to turn things around at school. Her disappointment turns into fury as her grandmother, her one remaining hope, also turns her request down.
Livid, she takes her pink bag outside and throws it into the wet soil next to yellow tulips that have now turned brown and are starting to rot. She brings her ink bottle and pours blue ink all over the bag.
The school bag is not so bright anymore. Barbie has lost half her face between the mélange of wet soil and blue ink. She carries the stained bag to school like a soldier carrying battle wounds proudly, although her scars are of her own making.
Over the years, her wardrobe changes. Bright colours become a rare sight. Dominated by blacks and greys, pink now becomes a forbidden word any time her mother insists on buying new clothes.
Like colours, changes in her life become visible. Her circle of friends now includes boys. They compliment her for her style; she shrugs, playing it cool. They tell her she is anything but “girly”. It makes her smile. Finally, some validation! She abhors the colour pink now and even paints her nails black.
Trying to fit in, she proudly adorns the invisible “not like other girls” sash. After a long period of struggle, she has finally been able to alienate herself from the Barbie bag image. Given this new version of herself, she judges anyone behaving differently.
She is a college student now, embarking on a new journey. Her smile is charmless; nervousness soaring. Her circle expands as she meets new people. Some girls, some boys and some who identify as neither. She meets girls who wear pink; she meets boys who wear pink. She meets those who identify as neither that also wear pink.
Dealing with a whirlwind of emotions, she finds herself reflecting back to the events that transpired such a dislike of the colour. Is her current animosity justified, or is she still dancing to the tunes of societal impositions? Does this mean she is a part of the problem? Or is she a victim? Are her choices truly hers?
She spends her days trying to tear the box she was kept in, burning the label she was stamped with. Often taking long walks, she ponders about her part in the infinite game of labels and stereotypes.
On one such walk, she spots a new shop in the neighbourhood and enters as curiosity gets the best of her. The shop seems empty. She looks around, hoping to spot someone.
But something else catches her eye.
A bright pink blazer beaming at her from the corner.
Isha Sharma is a writer from Nepal.
Featured image credit: Chris Barbalis/Unsplash