LAKSHMI

A/N: Please tell me what you think of this story by submitting a review. Thank you! ^_^

Lakshmi is sitting in the tram. She prefers the seats right at the back because if she does not sit at the back people stare at her. Old people, middle-aged people, young people, kids. Lakshmi is an eighth world-wonder after all, with her black hair, dark eyes and skin and spectacles like many Indians. She is eighteen but manages to look four years younger. How they stare at her. With ill-concealed hostility. In this country, they stare a lot. Lakshmi's dark-brown eyes stare back. One by one, the stares are switched off. The attention is now entirely devoted to the fascinating view outside the windows. When Lakshmi gets out, her hat pulled over her head, her muffler over her chin, her coat settled, she feels more stares. A series of Evil Eyes. They don't stare like that at other people. White-skinned people. Funny. And in summer they'll go and lie in the sun in order go get brown. They return looking as red and raw as lobsters. In winter they'll go to a solarium. It's in the skin. In the genes. Lakshmi remembers the time she had Gym with her new class. The others didn't know her, and she didn't know them. She was sixteen. So were the others.

The instructor claps her hands.

"We have to form groups for the basketball-teams. You, you and you (choosing three girls): Please choose anyone."

Girls rise from the bench as their names are called up, one after the other. In the end Lakshmi is sitting all alone on the bench, her eyes resigned.

She had hoped...No, it was not to be. The teacher had not said a thing and had put Lakshmi in a group of girls who ignored her after grumbling among themselves.

Lakshmi's eyes narrow. She enters the building out and into which students are pouring. She moves towards the stairs; crowds are making their way downwards. Lakshmi joins the queue going up the stairs on the right side. The people on the left, as they troop down, stare at Lakshmi. They stare, and they stare. Lakshmi gazes straight ahead of her. She knows that if she turns her head to the left she will see them staring at her. She's up, at last. Leaving the crowd, she passes into the rather empty corridor, her pace swift, holding her head high, her eyes still focused straight ahead of her. An instructor she knows greets her. She is embarrassed as she returns the greeting. She is so intent on not looking to the right or to the left that she missed him. She sits down on a bench. She is alone. No more stares. These folks don't like foreigners, especially if they're dark-skinned or dressed in a foreign manner. They think that foreigners have no education. If they are mistaken, the foreigners turning out to be highly educated, black looks are hurled at them. They are jealous. And they think that people who indeed are not highly educated can't work and push themselves upwards.

Skin. Dark skin is not a pure, angelic colour; unlike white (which gets dirty so easily and reflects the sunlight, nearly blinding your eyes at times). Clothes. Foreign clothes are not modern. Language. Foreign languages are ugly. The concept, Lakshmi muses, is in their very blood, in their very genes, in their very skin. From where do you get mangoes and kiwis and computer technology experts? Lakshmi's smile is cynical. They make you cynical. They make you sullen if you don't fight. They make you bored. And when you're bored, you stare. They make you one of them if you're weak. Lakshmi's sense of dignity scorns this kind of integration.

The students are more open. But still, they stare. Or should it be: The students stare. But still, they are more open? Most of them are, at least. That is something.

On the way home Lakshmi is forced to sit somewhere in the middle of the tram. The stares crackle around her, and she stares back, until the eyes are averted. At one stop, an obviously foreign woman hoists her perambulator inside the tram with great difficulties. The others notice. They don't do anything. It is Lakshmi who helps the woman. A few minutes later, an old lady loaded with shopping bags slowly and stiffly searches for a free place. No one bothers to stand up and offer her a seat. Lakshmi does so, however. She was brought up to do that. And that is when she gets the surprise of her life. She is thanked warmly-a rarity-and a middle-aged woman who followed the old woman inside the tram pauses at Lakshmi's side; she says: "It is rare that young people have such good manners and make place for people who are no longer young and strong."

She passes her with a small smile.

Lakshmi has to get out. She descends from the tram, a final ensemble of stares following her.

Lakshmi goes home.

FIN

Well, what do you think of this story? It is not meant to be discriminating in any sense; nor does it wish to generalise things; it is supposed to be merely critical. It is rather autobiographical.