I was 10 years old when my aunt had her first born. The entire 9 months of pregnancy, she consumed herbs and spices, some of which were shipped from Kashmir ( it looked like popped corn, but dissolved in warm milk) and Iran ( pure saffron), so her unborn child will have ‘fair’ complexion. My aunt is well educated, but nothing stopped her from trying for a child whose skin colour would be her most redeeming quality. ( unfortunately, genetics had the upper hand !)
My room mate, the daughter of two senior doctors used fair and lovely every single day. She hated her dark complexion and was desperate to become fair, so when it was time to find a suitable partner, she could fit the criteria of the required “fair complexioned” girl. (How many of you remember the ad that was often at the back page of all popular magazines in the 80’s and 90’s that showed about 14 photos of the same person whose skin toned lightened from very dark to very fair after using fair and lovely? I have often wondered if India ever had an advertising standard that companies had to follow.)
But the best was my mother. As soon as I gave birth to Yaya, the first thing Amma checked was the baby’s earlobes and she walked quickly to my bed (still in the labour room getting the stitches) and told me “Karambi aa” ( she is a darkie)
Yaya came after 5 years of wait, my first born and Amma’s first grand child, but somehow her skin colour was more important. When I held my darling new born baby for the first time, the only thought I had was ” She is perfect” . I don’t deny that I was not worried after hearing Amma’s comment, for I felt my baby will be judged for the rest of her life because of her skin tone.
Yaya and baby are the opposite when it comes to their skin tone. Yaya is moderately dark and baby is extremely fair and I am glad I don’t live in India. Imagine all the taunts Yaya would have received and how much she would have been compared to her sister’s fair skin and mocked. I have always been mindful of the barbs Malayalees are known to inflict on the dark skinned and have ensured that no one ever calls Yaya ‘Karambi’. I also made it a point to tell Yaya from the time she was little that she is beautiful ( She really is) and have the best complexion in the world, for she can wear almost any colour clothes ( it is true) and that she won’t suffer as much as her sister does every time they go out in the sun ( no freckles, no sun burn etc).
When I saw the news article about Ms Nina Davuluri winning the Ms. America 2013, I was so happy. I hope her victory will give hope and confidence to all those who feel they are judged for their skin tone.