Stay unfair, stay beautiful, says Nandita Das in her campaign against the fairness fetish that is sweeping India like an epidemic. Till some time back, the fetish unfairly (pun intended) applied only to girls, but now boys have also been bitten by this bug. Fairness, the great leveller, you could say.
While I was definitely not fair, my sister was darker than me. Thankfully, Mom was not the type to overly criticise us for our looks, and my sister was the lazy kind who couldn't be bothered to use all those potions- be they traditional or modern- to enhance fairness. So Dad's wallet remained intact. All we knew of fairness creams were the ads. (Vicco Turmeric was the more prevalent one. Fair & Lovely was yet to topple Vicco off the pedestal ) Till the time came for my sister to be 'seen' by prospective suitors. No one specifically mentioned colour as a reason, but of the stream of suitors continued over 2 years. . . ! Finally, my BIL materialised right out of our backyard, so to say. Our families knew each other well, he'd taught her in college, and finally the match was arranged. But then, colour became a REAL issue! He was milk n roses fair while she was dark. The beauty regime started- haldi, curd, athu ( husk of some plant), punnakku ( to make skin smooth . . . But the genes stuck to their stand, my sister was her dad's daughter alright! The pair got married. And in due time, were expecting an addition to the family. Started the pressure again- Everyone in your husband's family is FAIR, the baby has to be fair too, Drink saffron in milk, drink lots of fruit juices, eat that, drink this. . . advice poured in from all quarters.
When I fell in love with the Acha, his looks had nothing to do with it. He was thin as a rake, and dark as a cloud. We used to link hands together and laugh at the fact that our fingers looked like zebra stripes. But he has a smile (still) that is literally like the sun breaking through the clouds. And he has a sense of humour ( still) that can brighten up any day, no matter how bleak it may be . Relatives brought in his skin colour, but fortunately or unfortunately, they had a whole lot of other issues to think of, so I escaped the fair-dark angle. And when Sonny boy was on the way, I puked from the second month all the way to the operation theatre, so there was nothing much anyone could advise me to take for the baby's fair skin.
Sonny boy has his Acha's skin. Dry and dark. But though dry skin is an issue at home, and I take lots of effort to make his skin less dry, I'm least bothered about the colour of his skin, which is why, it came as a shock to me when in one of his rare confidences, he said- I wish I was as fair as you. This was some months back, but this memory sprang up just now. I remember asking him why he said that. He shrugged and said- Just like that... everybody in my class is fairer than me. The Acha told him that Krishna was dark, and yet he was so popular and loved by everyone. But Sonny boy was not entirely convinced. Or if he was, I think he wished to be not as special as Krishna.
And I wondered at what went on in class/school. . . At how prejudices were sown in such a young age. . .
I can understand that it will take time in India for the fair equals beautiful syndrome to be overthrown, as far as women are concerned. It is too deep rooted a belief. But when on earth did our men catch this fetish for fair skin?? I think Shahrukh and Shahid look pathetic in their ads advocating the use of a fairness cream. Handsome is as handsome does, is an adage that seems to be getting whittled away by Fair and Lovely. Unless we take a stand at least now.
A sparkle in your eye, a smile on your lips, a glow on your face, a spring in your steps- these are what the young men and women of today need to strive for. And these are things that emanate from within, from being a confident, happy, healthy person. Which is all you need to be. The colour of your skin is- should be- immaterial.