A brahmin’s daughter wants to be a model. She’s pretty but dark. At the agency, she is humiliated by the receptionist because of her blackness. Her father takes it upon himself to find a ‘cure’ for it. He digs deep into history and finds a papyrus scroll filled with the writings of Charaka and Shushruta, where they have already found the secret recipe for becoming “Fair & Lovely”. Yay! With her new-found self-respect, the daughter discards her saree for an off-shoulder dress (a pink one) and waltzes into the agency again. No auditions needed. Let us fly her off to Paris. And she lived happily ever after.
To be successful in life, what does one need? Talent? Money? None of these. According to a “leading cosmetic brand” one need only be fair. And by fair, I do not mean treating everyone as equals. I mean fair, light-skinned, rosy cheeks, milky white i.e. an ISP (Indian Standard Pretty).
I’m from the other end of the colour rainbow. I was never uncomfortable with my colour nor will I ever be. I love it. But sadly, other people were and many still are. From drivers to school bullies, everyone had a word or two about my colour. Words like blacky, black, kaalia (Hindi for black), monkey filled my ears with the insensitivity and ignorance of these bullies.
- There was a rhyme that was written especially to emphasize my blackness. This by a coward who was darker than me. He was supposedly defending the narrow-mindedness of his then-girlfriend, also a bully.
- A friend’s brother once told me he wouldn’t want to be my brother because then he would also have to be ‘dark like me’. This kid was 10 years old.
- A random guy on the street called me Blacky and just walked away as though that was something I needed to hear.
- A monk in a very famous temple in Bangalore called me ‘African’ and kept laughing at me.
Unfortunately kids learn discrimination from society. Mythology depicts evil as dark and good as fair. Demons and Asuras and Rakshasas are all dark, fanged and hideous, whereas Devas and Deities are all fair and righteous. Such portrayals taint young minds and program them to think that dark people are bad. It is here that black becomes synonymous with ugly and fair with beautiful.
Dusky is what we, politically correct Indians use for people who are not as fair as Kareena Kapoor or Katrina Kaif. The dusky beauties are Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Kajol, Chitrangada Singh etc. These pretty girls are probably tired of the dusky tag so they jump on the fairness cream endorsement bandwagon. Only, they never use the word fair. They disguise it in ‘flawless’, ‘spotless’, bright’, ‘light’, ‘glow’ and some go as far as saying ‘healthy’. Therefore, these role models are not telling us to get fair, they are telling us to remove ugly spots that make our skin dark.
Now, even men are joining the fairness race. Everyone wants to look good. Good looks lead to good positions, high salaries, trophy spouses and a comfortable life. And the key to looking good is, first and foremost, being fair. The pressure is greater on girls because being dark means parents have to pay a hefty dowry to a likely groom. Women drinking saffron milk during pregnancy for a fair baby, scrubbing the newborn with homemade fairness pastes is a common sight here. I’ve seen a lot beautiful girls who are not fair, yet they are resigned to feel insecure because of how society perceives them.
In the end, we’ll always be a nation that judges the book by its cover.