Friday, October 10, 2008

Digitally Dark and Lovely......बदलतीचे रंग, मनातले रंग.....

If you play the word association game with the words "dark and lovely", specifically amongst folks from India (possibly my age, though I am unsure about the newer IT generation), I am willing to wager anything, that nine out of ten folks will quote the poem by Robert Frost, that every Indian knows was the late PM Jawaharlal Nehru's favourite :

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,

and miles to go before I sleep.

If the game participants were to be international, the associations would be drastically different. Besides the woods, there are lots of other things that are dark and lovely. People. Women. Etc.

But for some companies , the phrase is almost persona non grata.

"Fair and lovely" is a complexion cream marketed by Unilever in the Indian market. The ads show various girls turning lighter, around several shades in , say 7 days, and going on to become air hostesses, actresses and so on, teaching a lesson to folks who initially rejected them.

Another facial bleach cream shows a darkish lady sitting in economy class in a plane , whereupon, the oxygen mask falls only in front of her. (her face is dark, the bleach has oxygen and she turns fair on applying the bleach. Voila ! No oxygen mask, and her neighbor smiles at her........)

Notwithstanding the crass stupidity in these ads, it is very clear, that the majority of the Indians have an obsession with fairness. As in complexion. (And we wont say anything about matrimonial ads. Everyone looks for "fair and homely".... as if "dark and homely" are mutually exclusive)

This then, doesn't remain "fair" at all , to those, who are, are melanin empowered, so to speak.

And so we come to the story of a girl, who was destined to be part of a family, where her only sibling was very fair. (Actually, fair here is being used as an attitudinal description; it is beside the point that he was also very fair complexioned; that most of India would see it as a "white", is a given).

When she was little, she oozed confidence. Least bothered with eye-crossed visitors who tried to figure out the complexion difference in siblings, she simply thrived and enjoyed being at home, playing, school,friends, grandparents, eating, teasing, being teased, fighting..exploring.... everything.

School was a bit different. For one thing her brother went there. She was an adopted child, and some of the teachers, to the consternation of her folks, actually came up them, in a pssst kind of way, to complain about something , and ended up saying, "after all, her culture is different from her brother's....! Some worldly smart(!) types even asked her parents why they didnt "get" a fairer child !
In this narrow and unenlightened environment it wasn't long before nosey classmates and other girls queried her about her inborn inability to match her brother in complexion, no doubt after hearing some elders talk.

Her melanin empowered skin was building up resistance power in more ways than one. Tormentors were labelled yellow and green by a little girl who refused to give up. She swam a lot. And suffered the least trauma , amidst a bevy of girls, who went into a depression over a 10% change
,in their complexion,for the darker, over the summer in the pool.

Teenage happened. Days of doubts. Obsessions with various types of organic facials made from fruits and grains. Awareness of pseudo utopian images in leading Indian women's magazines , that existed only for advertisers. By and by , all that swimming, good diet and those homemade natural cleansing agents, started showing results.

She didn't become "fair" in the Indian sense, but her skin and hair had a great glow, and she became a confident young woman, comfortable in her own skin.

Such is the obsession with fairness in India, that her parents were cautioned, by highly educated (!) neighbors, about sending her for swimming "lest she turned "black""......and television now had a daily serial where a bunch of sisters, one very fair and one dark, went through life, the fair one sailing through everything and the dark one having to fight....

Family and well meaning folks had been telling her, since she was a child, that darkness was a state of mind, not a complexion. There were plenty of "fair" folks with very dark minds. And vice versa. And as she grew up, she started believing that.

And so she doesn't really worry about her color any more.

She has grown up, in more ways, besides calendar years....

She is learning graphic design and animation now as she completes her college graduation on the side. They are learning some Adobe Software and she often has assignments.

Yesterday I saw her fooling around with Photoshop, and I heard her chortling away.

I went to investigate.

"You know, you can change people's complexion in Photoshop".


And she did some choosing of tools from a menu, and swishing around of the mouse, as her own childhood photo got modified into a "fair version". Everytime she created, a still fairer version, she would crack up, into peals of laughter....

The whole thing was so entertaining to her. She changed complexions till she would have probably given a Punjabi Kudi or Marilyn Monroe a complex.

Then she changed things back.

Looked up at me. Wrinkled her nose.

Nodded approvingly, and said " I think I like it as is , the original is the best....... don't you think so ?"

That's what called, Being Digitally Dark and Lovely.

Being strong and mature enough, to keep yourself digitally unchanged.

I bet Adobe chaps never thought of this psychological use of Photoshop. Maturing by Photoshop.

And Dark and Lovely isn't about Robert Frost, and folks trudging through woods , counting their miles before they sleep.

Its about this Dark and Lovely girl, going from strength to strength....

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with


  1. Wow, what a great story! Now I'm really curious as to who the girl is!!

  2. The obsession with fairness here seems to skin deep. Not an inch further !! A fair soul, anybody ?

    Often times, such discussion has been punctuated with examples from matrimonial ads seeking 'wheat complexioned, fair girls' or boys for that matter !

    Being dark complexioned myself it took me a while to just accept myself as myself ! And from there on, it has been a journey in pride !

    But you raise an important point. this is where we are as a society. Perhaps as citizens of the world !

    There are but a few people who wear themselves on their sleeves ! All of them ! And for the others, there is photoshop !!

    But this is fodder for thought. Will write about it..

    BTW, this was sent to me by a very close friend. She says that this was a poem nominated to be the best poem by the UN & written by an African kid...

    When I born, I black
    When I grow up, I black
    When I go in Sun, I black
    When I scared, I black
    When I sick, I black
    And when I die, I still black

    And you white fellow
    When you born, you pink
    When you grow up, you white
    When you go in sun, you red
    When you cold, you blue
    When you scared, you yellow
    When you sick, you green
    And when you die, you gray

    And you calling me colored?


    We have borders and enough divides. Must colour continue to be one ?!? Can we view everything with a sepia tone !?!

  3. Kiti sundar likhaan ahe tujha . Faar Faar awadla. Ata sagla sampurna blog vachun kadhe paryanta swastha nahi basavnar.


  4. Hello Suranga
    Today I heard an informative programme on our Australian Broadcasting Commission Radio National about women who make a difference throughout the world. The programme called Encounter included discussion of some Indian deities. (MP3 file downloadable on
    Way over here I now understand a little more about your icon …
    Good to visit again – and I think you have, and will, make a difference.
    Your latest post is a case in point, for you are good at encouraging people to think.

  5. i always felt it is so unfair that the supposedly well meaning adults always do the opposite..they make the child feel so inferior...

    this was a beautiful story and its also perhaps because the girl had wonderful supportive parents as her emotional anchors...

  6. RajkThank you. If you ever come to Mumbai, send me an email and I will take you to meet this girl......

    KaviThank you for that wonderful poem.... You know , what really bothers me is the hold"fairness" has over so called educated minds....what they do in their own lives is not my concern, but to inflict their colored opinions shamelessly, on other young minds is simply not done. When will we learn ?

    Vinita (Galawar bote, papnya khali, agobai ! kascha kascha....)....tujhya abhipraya baddal khoop abhaar. Rojchya anubhavaatoon kahitari shikayla milta. Zarasa raag ala ki blog suchto...

    June Thank you for your comments and the link to the audio program. I have read some of the writings of the lady who spoke about the broom. She is a editor of a wonderful magazine dedicated to womens social issues. Isnt technology great ? You hear about this on Australian Radio, continents away, just after reading a few of my blogs, and you send me the link on email, which I just heard .....

    Suma We are afflicted by erroneous regional conditioning, presumably right from birth. Those who use education as it should be used, try and emerge from it. If only the older folks kept quiet instead of making these offensive comments in daily life....But you are right. Families need to draw on huge stores of strength to counter this kind of stuff..... Thank you for your kind words.

  7. There is so much bias against complexion in India... a fair girl is cosidered more intelligent, good and even beauiful without considering anything else,her grooming,styling nothing.In my childhood elders in the society used to have this talk with the young boys----who will u marry?
    bring 2 girls one fairwhom u can take to movies and out and one dark who will do all the work.
    I used to feel so bad, that I said, nobody will put hese biases in my son's mind.
    and i always said...if u can like ur mother maasi so much when they are dark, why look for a fai complexion in a wife.
    I have seen many dark complexioned women with their dark sons looking for a fair bride.
    These ads must be banned, like they showed in Traffic poor young boy uses the cream and then gets so dissappointed when nothing changes.

  8. Your blog covers a very sensitive issue. In a program on Gender bias we discussed how advertisements for jobs are worded cleverly to convey that 'fair complexioned' are preferred.

    What matters in personality and not complexion. Thanks for writing on this issue so well and insightfully.

  9. I think because the girl's parents instilled in her that she was beautiful and she should accept herself as God made her, she is now a well rounded beautiful person and happy within her own skin. What a beautiful story.

  10. It is funny I am "white" (red/blue/yellow...) and I always hated that colour which I associated with chicken skin from my teenage years. When I went to South India, I kept looking with envy at all those beautiful "black" women, so proud and glamourous.

    Who said that the grass always look greener in the neighbours fields ? :o)

    I came to your blog though "Million little stitches" and I really love your stories.

  11. Hi, Suranga ? I follow June Saville's and June in Kentucky's blogs and when I saw your name I decided to have a look at your blog ...I hope you don't mind but I just read the poem on the comments system and I liked it very much, it so appealed to me that I have copied it , Would it be alright to place the poem on my side-bar ? Please let me know if you have any objections.... My blog is 'Shambles Manor' and My name is Kate. Look forward to hearing from you - Cheers ...

  12. Renu I too have observed what you wrote. At the back of it all is the freedom everyone thinks they have to publicly audibly comment on someones looks. Its so ingrained, that when you admonish someone, they think you are in the wrong ! Like everything else, I think this will change when the western world throws it back to us as "acceptable".

    Vivek Patwardhan Zo paryanta "gori gori paan, fula sarkhi chchaan," badlat nahi, to paryanta he asach....; but thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    Judy I think it shows that parents have to understand and handle the thing with some finesse. Things change slowly, but they certainly do change....and an honest heartfelt effort is always rewarded by Someone Up There.

    Hélène H Merci beaucoup. Je suis tres hereuse parce que vous venez ici ..... ( Most delighted to hear from you and thank you. I did French in college 42 years ago, and havent forgotten some of it. Dont know how to do the acute accents etc here, but I hope you excuse my mistakes :-)

    By the way I still cant figure out how you came here from the Million Stitches Blog . Hmm.

    Kate I have sent you email.

  13. Dear Madam,

    I know I'm replying a bit late to this post still.....

    Isn't it funny that children rarely know the difference between skin colours, religion, caste, creed and keep playing with others irrespective of these differences.

    We, the adults are one that teach them to differentiate as they grow up. I include myself in that 'WE' because as adults all of are prejudiced about one thing or the other no matter how trivial it may be. The problems that plague the Indian society in general can be solved only if adults act responsibly. But that does not look likely in the near future unless all of us make an conscious effort.

    Life is too short for all of us to go about alienating people on basis of caste, creed, colour, religion, wealth.....

    People should enjoy life as it is with out creating complications in the mind.

  14. Wow, you write very good French, bravo ! :o)

  15. Your daughter is very lucky and matured ! I wish i could see you and your daughter as well ! I am less than half your age and I don't know if i can say this but "God Bless" you and your family ... You are in a way spreading love and understanding around in the society...I don't know about others but I would certainly have no second thoughts about adoption in future !
    Even I am not "Fair" by Indian or any other standards but i am proud of who I am and that is what matters at the end of the day !

  16. radhika,

    I appreciate your comments. You are most welcome to see us, and send us an email next time you are in Mumbai.

    Growing up is an on going process, not only at my daughter's age, but even at my age, and there is much one continues to learn. And unlearn. But the main thing never to stop learning.

    I thank you for your good wishes for me and my family and also wish you the best in your life and work.

  17. Loved reading this one too ... I too have once touched upon this obsession with fair and lovely, not just for women, even for men.

    I can only guess we have been ruled by the lighter skinned Mughals and the British,, they were the elite and the ruling classes, so we kind of looked upto them, and wanted to be like them ...

    Before that, our mythology has mention of Krishna, Rama, Shiva and Draupadi as good looking and dark. Not good looking BUT dark.