Excuse me, your privilege is showing

You and I flush it down the toilet many times a day
But it crawls out wrecking our just-mopped floors.
Reeking. ‘Bloody hell!’, we shout in lingua franca.
‘What’s that sickening smell, like burning plastic?’
It’s the privilege in the air we breathe.
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.

You and I never got into trouble at school,
Never singled out for our non-veg tiffins.
We loved our grandfather’s epic stories
Even more so when they became our textbooks.

For projects we’d search in our home library
Or spend evenings with parents helping us out.
Excuse me, your privilege is showing. 
Adolescent questions on love, life and sex appeared
Confusing yes, inconceivable no.
We never second-guessed our bodies,
And never saw a stranger in our mirrors
Or failed to find an aspirational love story.
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.    

On to college where professors loved us,
For you and I knew all their myths
And subscribed to their history. Unquestioning.
You and I studied further, higher and higher.
Education. Well, because you and I could.
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.    

When you and I landed that well-paying job,
We never stopped to think.
Us, straight and english-speaking
With the right names and common friends.
A perfect little checkbox.
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.  

Now, let’s talk reservation.
I know we don’t ‘believe’ in caste.
How come our matrimonial accounts say
‘Looking for fair, Nair boy working in MNC’
If we come from a ‘modern, liberal family’
Why do horoscopes need to be matched?
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.  

No, it’s not wrong to be born into privilege.
But it’s a sin not to recognise it.
A sin for which we could drown
in the fiery, foaming lakes of Bellandur.
Or worse, float.
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.  

This is where we say,
‘Don’t bring caste into this.
Why are poor people so tacky?
Why are gay people so loud?
Why are feminists so angry?
I am only trying to help.’
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.  

Beyond the confines of our thick skulls—
And air-conditioned offices,
Lay the real world of persecution.
Rapes and casual rape threats because he can;
in cities that won’t rent to s/he/them.
Let’s electrocute her out of her identity;
lynch him for the unholy smells from his kitchen
Or for the surnames of their lovers.
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.  

There’s a whole world of people—
Beyond our boss’ intermittent-fasting discourse
while avoiding veg restaurants that smell of garlic.
Beyond the hushed mention of m-u-s-l-i-m-s in ‘safe spaces’
within our like-minded social circle at the club.
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.  

An entire world of tyranny—
Behind the maid we ‘employ’ for a pittance
A family without health insurance.
The hijra at the traffic signal whose eyes we never meet
has lived through atrocities that’ll turn our insides out.
University toppers turned mother-of-two homemakers
because our women don’t need to work.
False cries for inclusion and diversity in workplaces
With an all-male leadership who don’t need maternity leaves.  
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.  

This dystopia isn’t fiction; it includes us.
Look for it and you’ll find it. Don’t watch too closely.
There will be consequences. As there always are.
Would we join ‘those others’ storming the fort
Ruffle some feathers upon our disgraceful fall
or enjoy our keto meals while we still can?
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.  

We are the rule. We’ve been the rule forever.
Let’s become the exception. Become aware of our privilege.
Excuse me, your privilege is showing.


James McNeill Whistler, Cremorne Gardens, No. 2, ca. 1870–80
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Anjana Balakrishnan

Anjana Balakrishnan is a writer and editor based in Bangalore where she shares her home with a geek and a grumpy old puppy. Anjana spent her twenties gaining content management experience by day and ignoring the writer’s itch by night. She enjoys fiction that picks up her tangled thoughts and arranges them in perfect words on a page. Anjana's stories have appeared in Helter Skelter’s Anthology of New Writing VI and in Kitaab’s The Best Asian Short Stories 2018. Anjana wrote a children’s story Zayne’s Day With the Sun, which is now a part of Cambridge University English curriculum. Anjana blogs at www.fictionhead.in.