The chubby one beside you, about whom I thought to write my next story, is my niece.
Her name is Adrita (nicknamed Popo), meaning the adored one.
She is the daughter of my eldest cousin, whom I call "Bordibhai" ( meaning eldest sister).
Like all modern and educated folk in our society, Bordibhai and her husband knew each other before they got married and had a long period of courtship.
Being the eldest of all brothers and sisters, and brought up by my aunt on her own, Bordibhai was the most adored one during her childhood days. There was another reason behind such genuine adoration.
She was exceptionally fair ; a stunning complexion with a tinge of rosiness our family saw for the first time in its continuity. An attribute that can probably bowl over thousand criticisms about one's character in one clean sweep, even to this day. :)
She was named accordingly too - Moon.
Naturally, her decision to marry a man who wasn't exactly noted for his complexion, made the elders frown inevitably and plunge into deep seas of thought. Briefly.
However, the poor frowns had no other way but loosen up, as Bordibhai has always been a headstrong girl and tended to stick to her decisions.
Her marriage, I recall, was an extravagant affair.
A proper bengali Hindu wedding, complete with its rituals, customs, and procedures.
Popo was born at a gap of less than a year after their marriage.
Everybody was joyous at the news, and the sudden elevation in relation from the youngest sister to my kins to Mashi (maternal aunt) seemed different.
It seemed as if I had grown up virtually. Though, of course, I hadn't.
But in that din and bustle of happy chattering, I caught a few words which popped up unexpectedly. From my grandmother.
"She resembles her father, did you say? Let's hope she gets her mother's colour."
That unrestrained, almost spontaneous reference to skin.
I remember it made me flinch. I was suddenly conscious that I was never 'bestowed' with a fair complexion either.
Previously, it had never been a source of discomfort. Why would it be?
I was just a tiny shrimp huddled up in my own world of imagination, like numerous other kids of my age.
I didn't need to stop and think about facts.
But I did that time.
I wondered whether I too was looked down upon by my own family ; less loved, because I was dark.
The answer hasn't been clear to me till now. But then, I didn't take the trouble of searching for it as well.
Sometimes, when Popo comes to our place and livens up the drooping atmosphere with her bunny smile and half-decipherable speech, I wonder if she would have been as warmly welcomed in our hearts if her shades weren't beginning to transform from dark to fair.
Maybe she would have. People eventually get used to things they normally have a distaste for, and accept it simply because they don't have an alternative, although they don't mind spewing that distaste once in a blue moon.
Even now I hear rare, but wistful remarks about how Popo can never actually be as fair as her mum.
But then, she is fair. That's fair enough.
I really wonder at times, how my little niece would react, after she grows up, and learns to look at things for what they really are.
Would she be deeply disturbed about this too? Or maybe let it melt away into disappoinment like I've done?
Would it raise questions in her head?
However, engaging in a lot of useless speculation of may and may-nots never led anybody anywhere.
Growing up can be a trickier process than what you grow up to be, so one can never say for sure in which way our thoughts would be moulded. :)
Anyway, back to the photograph.
It was clicked one afternoon Popo visited our house.
Sitting in front of my dressing-table mirror, clutching my camera in one hand and holding her by the other AND trying to get a click of Popo that didn't get blurred was a herculean task.
She was constantly trying to get off my rather uncomfortable lap and run about the room with my badminton racket.
This click was rather an accidental one, considering there was a lot fidgeting, but came out just the way I wanted.
Clear. And honest.
This would probably be the best portrait I ever clicked of Popo.
'The Adored One.'