Tuesday, May 22, 2012

For all those who sell fairness creams....know what you are fuelling

"Anand I think you should come to Mumbai immediately. Vandana requires some urgent attention", told my uncle Appa to my father on the phone one evening or night of 2001 (or was it 2002). I was living in Hindu Colony Dadar, Mumbai as a paying guest in Lane 2. My maternal uncle lived in Lane 1.

My father had just retired and moved to Karnataka. He wondered what might have happened that made Uncle call him like that. On probing he found out the following-

I had stopped going to office all of a sudden. I had stopped eating. I had stopped talking to people. I didn't come out of my room for a few days but for the daily ablutions. This worried my landlord. To avoid any questions I had requested my Uncle to let me stay with them for a few days. He and aunty had heartily obliged. But a few days in their house and they noticed my aloofness. I was scared of the mirrors. I would almost let out a protest every time a reflective surface came my way. One night, I woke up in my sleep and was knocking on the cupboard door loudly, asking someone to open it and said, "I don't want to live here....let me in". They were the doors to heaven in my sleep and I was begging them to take me in.

That is when the call was made and within 12 hours my parents had hired a taxi, covered a distance of 600 kms and stood at Uncle's doorstep to collect their daughter who was in a pitiable state.

They asked me what had happened.

I was too naive to hide anything from them. I told them how I had met someone on an internet marriage site and gone to meet him and his parents. The parents found me unsuitable for their son and told him in no uncertain terms that he should have at least made sure that he had selected a pretty girl.

My father knew the whole routine the moment I told him this. It had happened a couple of times whenever we went to meet a prospective groom. I was of marriageable age and in the past few months we had made a few trips to different houses in Mumbai, Pune, Hubli where he was told bluntly that they didn't want a dark girl in their family. They would be rude to my father and often were angry at him for not having told them on the phone that his daughter was dark, thus wasting their precious time. Their sons were here for 10 days from the US to select a girl and we had wasted one full evening of their's. This happened many times in a row. It was taking a toll on me and my parents who couldn't fathom what was wrong with the world.They stopped looking for a match for me in our community which wanted only the fairest of fair to be their daughter in law.

He decided to meet the parents of the boy I had mentioned. They met. The boy's father stood pointing to their family photograph and said, "I have three children. The other two are married. My only unmarried son has a line of people who are willing to pay upto 1 crore in dowry but I only want my son's happiness. I would have said yes to this alliance if only your daughter was beautiful. Look at this photograph. Not a single one of my children or grandkids are dark in colour. How can I have an aberration in the family." Thus spoke the well educated father of a boy who woked with an MNC in Dubai. In fact he accused my father of 'having a daughter who lured his innocent boy by sending a misleading photograph where they couldn't make out how dark I was'.

My father got up and left their house. Came to Dadar. Asked me to pack my bags to go to Hubli. We left in the same Taxi. I stayed in Hubli for 15 days. That was the end of the road for any arranged marriage for me.

Irony of the above story - I don't even remember that guy's name today.

These were the times of the IT boom when most parents who had a son working abroad acted like the holder of a blank bearer cheque. They thought we were 'foreign crazy women who wanted boys with a green card to marry' at any cost. And they didn't mind berating young intelligent women who did not conform to the same.

It took me many years to get out of the inferiority complex. Even longer to believe that there are people in this world who don't care about how you look, let alone if you are fair or dark. You have no idea how it feels inside when you believe that people are doing you a favour by even talking to you because they have to bear looking at your ugly face for that amount of time.

To be friends with the mirror back again is a task. One snap judgement on the colour of your skin (especially when you are young and impressionable) can take you years back in terms of regression of self confidence and belief.

In 2003 when I went for my first trip abroad, I couldn't believe that people crave for a honey brown even complexion. I thought they were making fun of me. Only when Sumira (my senior) told me that 'tans' are something people have to work for did I realise that those were actually compliments and not mockery.

Dark n ugly....bahhh....those idiots!!
Thank God for my work, friends, family, husband and passage of time which has made the tables turn around. Next time you make a comment about a child being dark, please know it takes a very long time to erase the memory of pain those words have caused. I am lucky. Many are not. They cave in.

I no longer turn my snaps into black & white so that people can't comment on how dark I am. Special efforts on photoshop to increase brighness and contrast have also become a thing of the past.

I am no longer afraid of untouched coloured photographs.

(The power of constant brainwashing can mke a perfectly fine person feel extremely inferior. This fact is something which you will believe/understand only if you have been that person or have met one. On the surface it comes across as a harmless taunt but on the inside it has ruined many a lives.)


  1. When my younger sister was of "marriageable age", my Mom, Shashi and I went to see aboy who had been recommended by her teacher at the MCA course she had just completed. The boy was short, but we played along for a while. Then I saw my mother signalling me and we left in a bit of a hurry. She told me later that the boy's aunt had asked, "Tumchya dusrya muli ch varna hya muli sarkhach ahe ka? Amhala agdi gori mulgi havi." Shashi still teases me 25 years later. But my Mom was furious.

    1. I can imagine. And they are so rude.'Gori gori paan, phula sarkhi chhan, Dada mala ek vahini aan'....that's fine if they wish that but they don't have to be derogatory about the person sitting in front. Ours was opposite...dad was fair so they would think I look like him and expected one gori-ghari :D

  2. we call english and ausses racist...i thing india has the most number of racist in the world. it's as almost as bad as what the Americans had for the blacks decades ago....
    i guess it's a legacy of the white/whitish people of the west who ruled us....sad...

    nice post...

    1. I guess these prejudices are deep seated in us. Difficult to point out the kind of racism we Indians follow but yes the colour of your skin is a big one of them.

    2. I think even before the Whites came to India, Gori was an appreciated and sought-after colour of a bride. Especially upper castes/Aryans have fairer colour of the skin and they wanted to maintain the 'purity' of their "good genes". I consider such a thought criminal and vulgar.

    3. When I ask a new mother on the phone "How's the baby"....I expect to hear 'healthy', ' so many pounds in weight', ' looks just like so and so', 'has a lot of hair on the head' etc etc etc....but most of the time the first thing I hear is 'the baby is gora/gori'.

  3. Vandana, You are beautiful! Color of skin, aga fair color asla tar 'garvishtha' catageroyit ghaltat. Sometimes, I think, no matter what....Arrange marriage asel tar kititari "anubhav" jama hotat khatayat, mulacnhe and tahnchya parentsche. Glad that you came out of inferiority complex.

  4. khara aahe....arranged marriages bring you experiences which make you laugh and cry at the same time coz people are so blunt about their expectations.

  5. This is so typically indian mentality that you described above.I just don't get it.It feels like they are to buy a thing from shop and all should be according to their wishes and moreover after the thing is given they even want money(read dowry).
    That is really good to know that you came out of it and seriously you are not at all ugly or dark.You look beautiful :)

  6. yes that's a strange mentality. having a wish and choosing as per your pre-requisites if still ok but to outrightly degrade the person sitting in front is uncalled for. these holders of blank bearer's cheques sometimes stink and can go to any length in insulting people who otherwise are considered prety fine by the world.

  7. Oh my! Those people were so rude! Such a shame you and your parents had to hear such nonsense for no mistake of yours.
    I'm honey-brown (sounds like a cookie!) and so is my youngest sister; my younger sister however is very fair like my mom. When we were kids a lot of my relatives used to point out the difference in our complexions. My mom never entertained such comments and used to bluntly ask "So, what are you trying to tell?" Thankfully our home had no place for Fair and Lovely either. We grew up thinking we're very special and deeply loved for who we are. And for that I'm so grateful to my parents. :)

  8. Yes even I found it strange that someone so educated can get so downrightly crass. But they are like that :) Never mind. Seriously, thank God for our parents and the upbringing. Else it is next to impossible to come out of the whirlpool of complexes.

  9. Are u still single?

  10. Am married. Will be four years now :)
    I have mentioned it in the third last para of the post.


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