I am brown and I quite like it, it makes me, me. But it was not always so, there was a time, not long ago, I hated it. Just a wee bit clearer, just a little fairer would have helped, I thought. Being dark, in a country like ours and that too in the north is not a great feeling -- especially if you are a girl. People find ways to tell you that you would have been better off a few shades lighter and give you all possible tips to lighten your skin. Well wishers get worried about your matrimonial prospects and tell your mother to apply ubtan and haldi to ensure there are takers for her daughter.
Not so, if you grow up in a family like mine. I belong to a Kayastha family in UP where most of the people are on the darker side of the spectrum, none of them sees it as a challenge or a handicap and if someone tells their daughters otherwise, he/she is in for trouble.
So, for me, it was more of a self inflicted wound (like many others), when I started to see my darkness as ugliness. In school, all my friends were fair, I on the other hand was not only dark but also tanned by the virtue of cycling to school. All I thought of all day was how dark my hands and legs look and how ugly was my face. By college, I was totally into all possible natural methods to lighten my arms and face. I wore only certain shades of clothes and hated looking at the mirror. All this, despite no pressure of being fair by my family or friends.
Finally, I am happy with how I am. Honestly, it could also be because I actually am now a few shades lighter than I was as a teen, but I think even if that was not the case I would have been cool -- at least that is what I would like to believe.
What worries me today is that Mishti, my five year old, has taken after me in every aspect - colour included. The colour of her skin has no significance for us and it never did for her, not until we moved to Delhi from Bangalore. In Bangalore, everyone looked like her while in Delhi, she realised that most people are a few shades lighter than her.
All of four then, she walked up to me and asked me why was she brown when her best friend was pink. That day, I realised what my mother must have gone through every time I asked her this question. I used all my tact to explain the concept of skin color and that God makes everyone different but the damage was done. She would come back from school daily and tell me that she wants brown hair and pink skin.
That her younger sister too was pale and all visitors commented on how fair Pakhi was, must have added to her woes. I told her everyday that she was beautiful and that since her parents were brown she couldn't be pink. Well, the smart kid that she is, her next question was, how could Pakhi be pink then, after all, we were her parents too. I wanted to kill myself that day.
She is a little more settled with her colour now, I am not sure for how long though. Given the number of advertisements on whitening, brightening and lightening that appear on TV and magazines, I don't know when and how her little mind will be affected and if I will be able to undo the damage.
Meanwhile, in Chennai and Pondicherry, where I recently went, I saw some very beautiful dark women and strikingly handsome dark men. None of them seemed to be bothered by the colour of their skin. After all, if anything, brown adds so much character to a face.