Victims of a vicious mindset.
She had only a few strands of hair when I saw her for the first time. Her skin was in lumps. And her eyes, as beautiful as they were, were totally indifferent to her surroundings. Gullible reticence and a visible resemblance to old people gave her the name “Boori”, meaning “Old Woman.”Her mother (our maidservant) has vitiligo. Boori could be born with it too, we thought. She wasn’t. She was immaculate: an angel. It was a testament to nature’s ability. At least to a young Mahir she was.As her mother resumed work, Boori became a familiar face. She didn’t cry often. She only slept. I hesitated to hold her at first. I was scared that I might hurt her fragile body. Eventually, I held her to pat her to sleep and then looked for a place to put her down. Her mother insisted I put her on the floor, on some bed sheets. Although it’s okay for adults to sleep on the floor, I felt uneasy to put a baby against the unrelenting rigidity of a cement floor. But, I couldn’t express myself. It was too much for a 12-year-old to put into words; I was too shy to explain how bad I felt to see her laying with barely any cushion. So, I patrolled around where she slept to make sure she was okay and checked for insects. One day, dad walked in while she was asleep and said she should be on the bed. It was probably out of parental impulse. Regardless, I was glad that Boori could finally sleep on something soft.Slowly, she grew up and became a part of our family. Or did she?Sometimes, she would come in hungry and crying. I felt really bad. Mom would give her leftovers, but the bad feeling never seemed to go away. Even though she was being fed, she wasn’t allowed to sit on the same table, eat on the same plates or drink with the same glasses. And as far as the food is concerned, would I be okay with “leftovers”? There was always something about how my family would treat her: kind, but not quite. It hurt to see how their kindness was incomplete, half-hearted. I then realized it wasn’t just them, it was everyone. Educated, sensible, smart- didn’t matter. Too many were living by the medieval doctrines of socio-economic superiority. I thought about it, but my thoughts soon struck a wall that said: “Life is unfair.” What has Boori done to deserve this? Why can’t she play what I play or eat what I eat? These questions ensued considerable guilt. Not because I took so many privileges for granted, but because I couldn’t somehow offset the skewness of privilege that is clearly behind all this incomplete compassion.So, I took it upon myself to be there for Boori. When mom served food, I saved some. When Boori came over, I took her to my room and fed her. I never liked milk. So I would let her drink all of it. It was fulfilling to watch her eat something other than rice and dal. I thought I was doing it for her but, I was actually doing it for myself.Mom found out eventually and told me not to give her all this food because she would “start expecting” more. But, I mean, she’s just a kid. So I kept giving her the food, but now with secrecy. Mom found out again and this time things got rough enough for dad to intervene to tell me not to do it again. They eventually changed when Boori came over so I would either be studying or be busy. That’s when I realized that my parents were, indeed, the victims of a vicious mindset. Suddenly, the sleeping on the floor, the leftovers, the difference in treatment seemed like gestures. Consciously or not, these were gestures to cue superiority. Even if they were directed at a child that didn’t understand any of it.And me? I was just some guy trying to rock the boat. Their tone didn’t change but neither did mine. Whenever cousins came over, most of them the age of Boori, mom used to tell me not to focus on Boori alone or “your relatives will speak badly of you.” But when I saw her, alone, with everyone calling her with a “tui” ( a condescending “you” ) instead of a “tumi” ( “you” ), I knew who I had to be with.My parents aren’t bad people. In fact, there are far worse instances of unkindness in our culture, unfortunately. I am happy, and lucky, that my family isn’t on the wrong end of the kindness spectrum. Yet, sometimes, their empathy seems so sporadic.There is a presumption in many that we are superior to people we employ simply because we employ them. It has to change.Boori is in her home-town attending kindergarten, as we speak. I asked her if her teachers treat her poorly. She said they don’t and that she’s having fun. I hope she is. Her mom still works with us. So, Boori visits us on holidays. My parents have now realized that Boori is special for me. I feel, by treating her well, I am mitigating those archaic doctrines. By treating her well, I am comforting all the other kids that face discrimination of this kind day in, day out. They face it because they were born to families that might as well have been ours.