Once, someone had told me, “You look so much like your grandmother.”
I didn’t pay heed because I was used to hearing that all the time. It was like how everyone would look at Harry Potter and sigh, wistfully, “Oh, you have your mother’s eyes!”
Be it my eyes or my cheekbones or the shape of my mouth, so many people thought I looked way more like my Ammamma than I looked like my parents. And my resemblance to my grandmother was something which even I could notice faintly from her vintage 80’s photographs.
This was why I didn’t pay a lot of attention, and I went, “Hmm…” all absent-mindedly.
Yet, the next sentence that this particular someone uttered was what I remember clearly, to date.
“It’s such a shame that you’re not as fair as her.”
Generally, I’m quite neutral about my Parle G color skin tone.
Sure, I have encountered people who talk about how I should go for removing the daags or ‘marks’ of a zit that pop right around the time I’d get my period. Sure, my friends and my mother keep lamenting over the fact that I don’t apply make up at all.
Barring one scare, where my change in diet reflected on my skin color, and I became a lot weaker, health-wise, I don’t crib about my duskiness. My grandmother (the fair-and-lovely one I take after minus the skin color) and I joke about my duskiness a lot! We also make sarcastic jibes at the narrow-minded outlook of our society.
Yet, there are times like the incident I described above when I felt…
I don’t know…
Ashamed of being brown-skinned.
And you know what? I shouldn’t have felt this that way.
I like to think (or delude myself into thinking, so that my harsh inner critic would stop yammering like a banshee from a B-grade Bollywood horror flick), that I look okay, even if I don’t ascribe to the conventional standards of beauty. I like to think (of this, I am a lot more certain) that I am reasonably smart enough to hold conversations without my fellow conversationalist feeling threatened by the fact that my sentences would kill their brain cells to oblivion.
Yet, here I was, feeling horrible about how dark I was.
I remember another incident vividly when a guy had called me ‘kaali’ behind my back, and I was whining to my friends from college about it.
“I am not kaali!” I cried to them. “I’m saavli. I’m dusky. There’s a difference!”
“You know, Chitra,” My friend looked at me in the eye directly. “You wouldn’t have been bothered if that guy would have called you ‘gori’.”
That, my dear reader, shut me up big time.
And that also got me thinking.
Had I also subconsciously imbibed the narrow-minded mentality?
I mean, on an objective note, I shouldn’t have made that distinction at all. More importantly, I shouldn’t have implied that being ‘kali’ is inferior and that my color is better.
Yet, I – the oh-so-cool, Parle G colored lookalike of my maternal grandmother – had done just that.
And the funny bit is? I’d seen this subtle preference for ‘fairer skin’ being exhibited by so many people, even the ones who I felt were rational beings with a strong moral compass.
You’d think, in today’s day and age, everyone would be okay with skin colors in a country like India, which predominantly comprises of brown-skinned people.
But you couldn’t be farther from the truth.
To date, you have so many ads talking about how being fair equals being super lucky and how the darkness of your skin is a dark blot to your identity.
You have people discriminating based on color ALL THE DAMN TIME. I have seen people discriminate between siblings and wax on about how the fairer sibling is so pretty and so smart, while the darker one is the human personification of the word ‘meh’!
On a far more personal level, you have many people who continuously belittle themselves for being darker than their natural skin color. I’ve had some of my closest friends, talk about how awful they feel for being dark and how they’ve faced so much slack for being that color.
(And if I’m honest here, these are people who are much, much fairer than I am. Some of them could give Yami Gautam’s fairness in the fair and lovely ads a run for their money!)
It is so frustratingly silly! Yet, this entire issue is so deeply entrenched in our mentality that it’s not even funny.
New age actors like Namaste Sara Ali Khan said, “Oh, just stay confident about your skin, and it won’t matter.”
(Please note, this is me paraphrasing her quote from an interview with Barkha Dutt)
It’s easy to say that. Who wouldn’t want to ignore what the haters say and sashay about as if they are way above it all?
The sad part is?
The advice is too simplistic for an issue as insidious as this.
You can’t just stay confident and be above the discrimination when deep down, you’re conditioned to that discrimination yourself. And even if you grow to accept yourself for who you are, it’s going to be a lot tougher to change the mindset of the thousands of people who seem to revel in it.
P.S. If I did something to offend anyone of any skin color, I’m really, really sorry. I didn’t mean to sound like a jackass.
Featured Image Credits: Peakpx