Friday, 14 June 2013

Complexion - a dark tale

Two of the worst things you can be born as in this country are being born a girl and being born dark-skinned. I inadvertently committed the crime of being born as both. One of my parents was devastated when said parent was told I was a girl, while the other was in tears when said other saw my skin tone—not the blushing cherubic little flower the parent was promised. I choose to not disclose which parent felt which emotion—one said parent reads this blog regularly, and the other one seemingly gets regular updates from it.

That India is obsessed with fair skin is a widely known, almost accepted fact. While advertising for alcohol and cigarettes is illegal, and the manufacturers of Rooh Afza are suing the makers of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani because their sentiments were hurt with some dialogue in the film, propagating fairness and suggesting that dark women have no confidence, cannot get ahead in their careers or will not get married, is perfectly acceptable and legal. Indians are known as brown-skinned all over the world and very fair skin is less common than dusky skin in the country, and yet, we all want to be fair.

I just read somewhere how even the words attached to each are so loaded with prejudice—fair (justice and equal) as opposed to dark (evil and twisty). I couldn’t agree more.

I grew up genuinely feeling bad about the skin colour I was born with—my mother and sister are both far fairer than I am. My mother, apparently, was as dark as I am, but once she moved to the US, the air and fruits of a foreign country turned her into the Cinderella version of fair. This was supposed to console me; that some day I, too, would be fair.

Relatives would always tell me, “Oh my God, why are you / have you become so dark?” Umm, you’ve seen me for years, when was the last time I was, err, fair? I still get it. Every time I go back home, some relative or neighbour will tell me how I’ve become darker. I’ve also been told how a photo of me with my very fair best friend looks like a black and white one.

My mother would return from weddings and give me a lowdown—what food was served, how the groom looked and most importantly, how pretty (or not) the bride was. And so very often I would get this: She was very pretty, rongta ektu chanpa (literally translated to her colour was a little covered / suppressed, ie. she was dark), but still, pretty. As if it’s a holy miracle that this girl with dark skin is pretty. How in God’s name did that happen? Must’ve been a fluke.

I don’t blame my mother. This is the country she grew up in, how progressive can she be? As I grew up, I developed and kind of, well, blossomed into my own, and started first accepting and then enjoying my ‘dusky’ skintone. People started complimenting me on my complexion, and first boys, and then men, started to get attracted to me largely because of the colour of my skin. I was initially surprised but once that faded, I revelled in it.

Today, I love my complexion. Often, I’ve tried to close my eyes and imagine what I’d look like fair, and frankly I cannot picture it. It just seems far too alien. My complexion, my hair and my eyes kinda grew on me, and everyone else.

Recently, I was on a weekend trip with my bunch, and the conversation veered to this very topic. My very opinionated friend seemed to take offence to the word ‘dusky’ as opposed to ‘dark’. She believes that by using dusky as a euphemism for dark, we’re further propagating this bias against the dark-skinned. Needless to say, she is not dark-skinned. While I wholeheartedly agree with her principle, I chose to sit this one out. Simply because she has not grown up with the kind of jibes and insults you have to hear when you’re of a certain colour. For those who have, and if they prefer to be dusky over dark, then so be it—whatever it takes to not hurt your feelings or pick at a raw wound. So I understand the preference of dusky over dark.

Frankly, I no longer give a shit about how my complexion is termed. That’s not to say that I didn’t grow up with a major complex, serious self-esteem issues (which, honestly, are not all gone), and just very hurt at the fact that my close ones thought me to be less beautiful than others because of something I was born with and that was completely out of my control. Which is also a reason I never use the word ugly, on principle. Or fat, for that matter, but these are for another post.

The entertainment industry the world-over today is flooded with ‘dusky’ women, and more are still sought out. I am dark, dusky, chanpa, whatever you’d like to call it—but yes, I don’t cringe when I look into a mirror, and that’s more than enough for my self-confidence.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


I’ve been meaning to write for a while now but have been at a loss for words. I know, that’s a first. ‘Lots’ has been going on and yet nothing. My mind is a mess and yet a blank slate.

I’m packing again. I’m packing up my entire life in Bombay in boxes and suitcases, just like I did three months ago and three months before that. It’s funny how your entire being comes down to just a few boxes and assets. Some you take with you and some you leave behind. Well, I suppose you leave behind far more.

I met a very special man last year who told me I’ll never settle in one place, and that I’ll probably be touring the whole world and be happy. I’m beginning to wonder—maybe he got this one wrong. Maybe he meant to say that I’ll never settle in one home; that the vagabond life, much as I hate it (since it’s within the same city) is the one for me; no choice there. Damn, that’s depressing.

Yes, I was in search of my happiness and for a while there, I found it. Rediscovered myself and all that. But once the rose-tinted glasses come off, you realise that the smile you’ve found is just temporary and perhaps just a way to put off dealing with real life, the way you’re whole life is about to change, as you know it. We all crave change and yet it’s scary to actually face it, isn’t it? When you, till a point in your life, were so convinced that it’s headed in a certain and then poof—in just a moment, it’s all gone.  

On top of all this, you have worry—not for yourself, because you know that no matter what, you’ll survive just about anything. Yes, it’s strength of sorts, but not out of strength of character so much as it is from lack of choice. Life doesn’t throw me lemons; it chucks melons at me.

But you’re worrying about those in your life, those close to you, or at least, those who were close to you at some point. What do you do when you can see someone you care about deeply heading down a dangerous path? You know it, the world can see it, hell, s/he knows it too—but will just not do anything about it. Paying heed to your worries is obviously not an option; you’d not be here if it was, to begin with. How do you tackle something that you can see slipping out of the person’s control, with helplessness setting in? Do you sit back and let that person destroy himself? Do you walk away because you can’t watch him doing so, well aware that he will, indeed, destroy himself? Or do you fight to save him, at the risk of your feelings, self-respect and perhaps any possibility of a relationship with the person, being destroyed along with him? These aren’t rhetorical questions; I’m genuinely throwing this out there, cos I’m helpless and clueless.

In the midst of all this, I think the universe is trying to send out a message. People have been dropping like flies—excuse the crudeness. This is odd, because people die everyday, but the nation and the world only cares when it’s someone famous, or even remotely famous. Did Jiah Khan make the right decision to end her life? Maybe not; but unless you’re in her shoes, maybe that comment should not be made. Committing suicide takes a whole load of guts (no, it’s not cowardly). Many of us have had the thought cross our minds as some point, but have subsequently chickened out. It’s only when life gets unbearable and that pain in your gut is so excruciating that you can’t breathe, that you take such an extreme step. I’m not condoning it nor am I condemning it. My only point in this would be—no matter how crappy your life is, there are still enough people who love you to bits; think about what would happen to them if you were suddenly gone.

I suddenly find myself a little dazed, a little confused and quite scared. I thought I was ready for something, but I find myself suddenly recoiling. I thought I was ready to take a certain step, but when I see it becoming even a little bit of a reality, I just want to find a rock and crawl under it. Damn, this rock has been mentioned too often—really is time to find it.