One of the many things that I fail to understand about India and my fellow Indians is our obsession with acquiring a fair skin tone. Right from Bollywood songs, in which a beautiful girl is referred to as ‘gori’ (Hindi word to denote fair skin), down to the innumerable products that guarantee a ghostly pallor. Even the television seems to be filled with adverts for “Fair and lovely”, “Fairever”, “Fair and Handsome” prancing across the screen. At social events, it is not uncommon to see young women with thirty different shades of foundation liberally applied on their otherwise pretty faces. Even in an age where dusky beauties such as Deepika Padukone are gracing covers of international magazines, we still believe that the Michael Jackson skin color is ideal. While the rest of the world is cashing in on bronzers and tanning salons, India is still vying for ‘bedaag gorapan’ (unblemished whiteness).
It can be stated that such a mindset is one of the sad remnants of the colonial rule, starkly reminiscent of a ‘colonial hangover’, wherein the bulk of the country’s populace still believes that a fair skin colour is a mark of class and superiority. It is certainly odd that in a country that claims to be making progress in so many spheres, this outlandishly archaic mindset still prevails.
However, before I pass any hasty moral judgments, I must address those of the readers who know me personally (who at this moment must be rolling their eyes and calling me a hypocrite).You see, I am one of the ‘blessed’ few; I was born with a pale Kashmiri skin tone. I have always had fair skin, but having grown up in Ooty (a hill station in Tamil Nadu – where most of my classmates were dark skinned), I was always painfully aware of the fact that I was different. Every year, during the days in which the class photos would be taken, my classmates would show up at school with powder (talcum!) caked on their faces in vain attempts appear pale in the pictures, however, year after year, their attempts would be foiled, because there, in the corner of the picture with the worst lighting would be me, shining away like a lighthouse.
Being children, my classmates were bound to grow resentful — they would tease me mercilessly – “Is that a ghost? No silly! It’s Rayman”. Ha ha, creativity at its best! I would valiantly try to laugh it off, but I would come home and curse my parents for giving me such horrendous genes. I once made the mistake of tying to retaliate, I yelled out at one of my friends, “Oye Darky, its hard to tell where your face ends and your hair begins!” (More creativity).
Shortly after which, I was taken to the principal’s office and was given a couple of quick whacks on my palm with the dreaded wooden cane (corporal punishment used to be in great vogue in convent schools). All I could think of was how unfair life was. How come no one was ever punished for poking fun at my whiteness? Just because I was provoked into calling a dark girl dark, the principal was making mincemeat of my palm! Damn this need for diplomacy!
I was soon to learn that life is not very nice to fair skinned Indians. Not only are we not allowed to retaliate when people make light of our pallor (since we HAVE to be politically correct), we also have to suffer Mother Nature’s wrath. Since I am fair skinned, every time I get a pimple, it is like walking around with giant neon arrows on my head that point out the pimple to people standing even miles away. Whenever I get embarrassed, my face sports an assortment of different colors, ranging from purple to bright crimson. If I miss a night’s sleep, I bear an uncanny resemblance to a panda. And if I have a cold or have been crying, my face turns splotchy and pink in the most bizarre way. However, the worst is undoubtedly when in the winter months, the tip of my nose turns florescent red (so much so, that you would think that I was Rudolph’s reincarnate). Why anyone would actually buy “Fair and Lovely” products to undergo such torture is honestly beyond me.
There used to be a time (in my early teens), when I would walk down to the Ooty lake during the summer months and stand in the sun for hours on end, hoping that I would get a tan. Unfortunately, all I would get were a bunch of freckles and a bad case of heatstroke. However, as time passed, I grew up a little more; my skin colour stopped being the bane of my existence. I began to focus on the other aspects of my appearance and built on those. I learnt which colours in clothes suited me and which didn’t. In a nutshell, I became more confident about my looks. I am still fair, but people don’t notice it as much as they used to; in fact, they don’t notice it at all until I point it out to them (living in a more cosmopolitan city has its perks!). My old friends still tease me, but I don’t let it affect me anymore. I have come to terms with the colour of my skin, and life is so much better now.
Having lived through the perils of ‘coveted fairness’, I firmly believe that in order to be satisfied with our lot, we need to learn to live with and love every aspect of ourselves. There are certain things about us that can be changed (for example, weight).
There are also certain things that no amount of cosmetics and medicines can change. Skin colour is one of them. Instead of focusing on these unchangeable aspects of our physical appearance, fretting over them, and developing poor self esteem, we should try to work on our inner beauty. Being fair skinned isn’t a bed of roses, nor does it provide opportunities unavailable to dark skinned women, because believe me, no amount of “Fair and Lovely” will ensure you a good husband, turn your life around, or get you that coveted job of an airhostess.