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.


  1. Very Opinionated Friend really likes your blog post. Best one you've written yet

  2. wow ,so intense, the reason for comming to ur blog bcz of u
    jagannath padhi
    hopefull some new idea , i lik this 1

  3. Rehna tu, hai jaisa tu... you are a very brave person. Its not easy to untangle, unravel your skeins and lay bare the truths about yourself. And skein is a word. check out gerald manley hopkins... anyways... i sense a book here somewhere... pls plan to write one if you haven't yet... don't procrastinate. your writings have reminded me of something i've read of poet william stafford long ago... i looked it up -- don't have a prodigious memory --

    Ask Me

    Some time when the river is ice ask me
    mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
    what I have done is my life. Others
    have come in their slow way into
    my thought, and some have tried to help
    or to hurt: ask me what difference
    their strongest love or hate has made.

    please look him up and read more of him. i have a feeling you might like him...