Monday, April 16, 2012

Dark and Lovely....

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. Wish more people thought this way :-(

  2. Darkness is a State of Mind : not a complexion : so well said Gappa !!
    There are plenty of fair folks with dark minds and darker hearts - and women's magazines are so schizophrenic anyway !
    They talk of substance and whitening in the same breath :)