Amrita Das – The Pigment Predicament

The tomb opens. A white hand is followed by a black arm. The creature drags itself out of the earth. Its body is a patchwork of black and white seamlessly knitted into each other. It leaks a slime each time it moves. I recoil. The smell is overwhelming. It calls out to me, “Show me your arm.” I put out my arm, pulling my sleeve up to expose my rapidly developing white spots. It gurgles a sinister laughter, “You are turning white, you sorry son of a bitch, you are turning white.” I pull back my arm disgusted. It leaves ash stains where it has held me. I rigorously wipe them away.

The marks started a week back with one small spot. A tiny white dot on my elbow. In two days, it spread like the map of a growing kingdom, spreading its borders, eating into my blackness. The medic had not seen a case like this before, so he brought me here to the Aghori to fix it. You see, white people can’t rule. The whites, are mlechchas, the inferior ones, they are language-less, resorting to grunts and growls to express themselves. I am not that. I come from the long line of the ruling Kanishka clan, heir to the throne, dark as the night, black like Krishna. I am not the pale skinned. I cannot be. But, slowly, like fever, it has been spreading. The medic spoke of curses, he brought me here.

The Aghori is tossing fistfuls of dust, turning every surface into grey, “Grind the green stone from the Vyang Mountain, find it under the red earth atop, drink it with milk, you will be cured, you filthy animal,” he is screaming till my ears ring. The medic thanks him. I nod, horrified as his body contorts, arms, legs, black mixing with white. We leave gifts at the foot of the tomb. My stomach twists into a knot. I regurgitate on my way back to the palace.

The guards are dispatched immediately to bring the stone. I pace the corridors of the palace, unsettled, losing my color, my melted self, crying to remain saturated. The stone shines, bouncing emerald rays. Ground to dust, olive powder, stirred with milk, I drink till its last drop is inside me, I wait. The white spreads, enlarging and engorging, I reassure myself, it will get worse before it gets better. I can hear the walls shake with gurgling laughter. Louder and louder. I shut my eyes tight. The world swims inside my lids, dancing stars, swirling lines, and then all black. I cling to the hue. Begging.

My mother stares at me. Her horror obvious. I look at my hands. They are white. My feet are white. I am white. I am being banished. Sent away from where I have lived all my life, my whiteness stains the corridors. My subjects turn their face away shuddering at my unpigmented tone. The mlechchas are waiting, to welcome their new brother. I see their pristine shade, white like snow. “You are us, one of us,” they exclaim, “Welcome home,” a warm red and blue heart is placed in the palm of my hand. I squeeze it. The blood leaks between my fingers, trickling down my ivory arms. I eat it.

Months have passed, I have gathered all my brothers together. The day has come. We will be marching to the palace a unified mass of alabaster. It is time our women covered their breasts, our children wore shoes, our men did not have their fingers amputated for each mistake. My body quakes with the anticipation of taking back what was mine, is mine. We fight. Heads roll. The roar of a million mlechcha throats vibrates the mountain. We brandish our axes, cutting, chopping, till the dark rulers are down on their knees. Begging. A thousand pieces of my father is in some cloth bag dripping rubies, what the verdant tint took, the carmine returned.

I sit on the throne now crowned, the jewel on my head. The ebony skinned cower; their shade now relegated to the unlit rooms of the prison, slaved to build enclaves, till earth, and eat throbbing hearts. Many perish. Several are unable to bear the change and unravel. As a mlechcha king I rule with tight fist, my courtiers and ministers are astute. My prime minister has suggested that I take a wife, start my own line. A new dynasty has to be formed, the state needs to be governed. My past hunger, desperation, has indeed been satiated, but I did not share with him what weighs my mind.

A few days ago, I noticed a small black dot appear near my elbow. It seems to have increased in size. The sable shadow thriving. Today, it is the shape of a raven. The quintessential stigma of my mlechcha betrayal, the blackness, eating into my pallid being.

I am sitting here watching the Aghori slither. Its limbs oozing. “You scum, you think the green stone will help you hold on to your chalky tone,” a forked tongue licks its lips. It hisses. Grey residue clings to its underbelly, the whites of its eyes are inked with red tributaries. The dreadlocks on its head slaps its cheeks. It nibbles on the dry bone it has been holding looking at me, inviting me with a half-slanted smile. It gurgles with laughter, and creeps back to the tomb.

I sent the guards to gather the stone. The glass stands before me.