It began with that circle of teachers outside the mess hall. As a Malayalee in an Ooty school, I had the bad luck privilege to eavesdrop on the school’s hot gossip mangled in my mother tongue due to the excessive amounts of Keralite teachers and staff. This particular day, they were talking about an upcoming program and the various performances they were planning for it. I was in third grade- very naive, way too ambitious and excessively, overly confident. I was in the middle for the grand majority of our dances. I sang almost everywhere. An unbeatable streak of first ranks and a prefect badge on my shoulder- I was invincible… or so I thought. Thus, it was with blatant shock that I reacted to a teacher suggesting another girl’s name for a much coveted performance- a chance to sing AND dance. The other teacher agreed and commented on how fair her skin is. That’s all I remember. It could be that she was chosen for her voice, her skill and grace but all they said and all I understood was the color of her skin.
Soon, the practices began for this show. I was in the choir, my cream-gold dress was being sewn and the matching gold choker was bought. I hadn’t seen Her performance until the day before, at the final dress rehearsal. She was two years older than me and her deep brown hair ended at her knees. She was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, and held a wooden stick as her fake microphone. I don’t remember the song or the dance or the things she did. All I remember is the way she looked. That’s all that made an impression on my young mind.
The next day, I sat among neat rows of uniformed child soldiers. The guests among the audience stared at us, the munchkins in a striped tie, gray slacks, and a deep gray blazer to boot, and smiled at each of our over-excited, random, fidgety outbursts. The auditorium exploded with verve. It was beginning. A man – a teacher, an administrator, an older student perhaps- announced the next program. She walked on to stage, with a silver-glittery top and shiny black pants with glitter in her long hair and fairness in her skin. The girl who sat next to me whispered something about how amazing the song was. I half-smiled. Yes, I was jealous.
I soon learned that I wasn’t the only one entangled in thoughts of single-digit differences in the hex codes of my skin. Because of the cold weather in Ooty and the general dryness of the air in our campus, most students’ skins had dry patches. To combat this problem, the Chechis- maids, mothers, sisters and confidantes- would grab squirmy kids and aggressively rub their dried-out cheeks with oil. Until it looked like we all wore bright pink blush (with lots of extra shine of course). Soon, some parents began to complain about how their precious, beautiful child was darkening, becoming “ugly” to be true to those days of fairytale-language, and attributed this to the candid bottles of oil. So someone came up with a new solution, the oil was mixed with a whitening cream and then applied to our faces. As though the two would somehow cancel each other out and leave the poor innocuous children with colors somewhat “normal” (and acceptable in their oh-so-respectable families). This cream was provided by another student. A foreign cream from a foreign classmate, who always had nice things. A big doll with blonde braids and pink ribbons, a small dog that barked, purple combs with glitter and a large green container full of this cream. The precious possessions of my cupboard- my dolls from Maldives and my family photo with a yellow floral headband around it (though my Chechi told me that you only put flowers around dead people, I left it there. It looked pretty!) did not compare to hers.
So one fine day, my class teacher send me back to the dorm for some errand during the middle of class. I was always the one sent for errands… prefect, class leader and gosh, oh-so-perfect! And I loved doing it simply because it made me feel important… true narcissistic tendencies of course start from the day of conception. Nevertheless, picture my jolly old young self, skipping along to the dorm (walking steadily with my hands behind my back) and being welcomed by rows and rows of open cupboards, sparkling clean. The Chechis were folding the laungry in the other room. The residence hall was completely uninhabited. And there it was. A deep green circular jar… of the most magicalest cream ever. Sitting right in the front of her wide-open cupboard.
I didn’t even think. Or maybe I did think a few thoughts and they just don’t hold a place in my memories. I don’t know. All I can remember is quietly opening the white lid of that jar, taking a scoop of the cream with my two fingers and inaugurating my career as a notorious, world-famous criminal… just kidding! The career ended right there (I promise!). I applied it on my face, grabbed the papers I was supposed to and right before leaving the dorm, took one glance at the mirror. Well… I didn’t exactly look like that girl. Well actually, I looked like a clown with white paint on my face! I used my sweater sleeve to wipe it off. Pious tension and malevolent care. All for nothing indeed!
Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot more of these skin-color things. That’s why I thought I’d share my story, my epiphany about how criminalistic I truly am (muhahaha) and my path in becoming totally comfortable with the shade of my skin. I mean really, who are we to have this idea of “fair and lovely”? We’re Indian for God’s sake! This is about OUR national identity. Must we still be shackled under the power of British skin? Or if you want to argue that anglophilia has nothing to do with our concepts on beauty, I just have one question- why must we continue to limit ourselves? I was eight years old and already feeling belittled by the color of my skin. Why do we treat our children so? Oh, get fair skin, the ads say, and you’ll have the best job, the best car and the best spouse. Have fair skin and your boss will promote you, your wages will go up, the guy who’s two streets away will FOLLOW you. Welcome to India. Forget brown power. This is all about being white.
Because being “wheatish” does not compare to being “milkish”, “soupish”, “riceish” or “tandoorichickenish.”
I always wondered why those creams sold so well in India. “Dusky” beauties in Bollywood are actually really.. light. I mean, if Konkona Sharma is “dark chocolate” according to those anchors, what do you call my “darker” friends? Black dates? Midnight beauty? I mean, really, do we have to have a useless, nonsensical adjective before the word “beauty”?
Life updates: (1) Gosh, I have a story!! Well actually, I won’t post the story but I will post a reaction. But I really want it to be in Malayalam. Therefore, it’ll take me mad long to write, proofread and post it… so by the time I do, the story won’t be hot anymore but… anyways (2) My phone fell in a cup of milk and stopped working. I put it in a bowl of rice because Google told me so=]… hopefully, this works! (3) I’M DONE WITH MY COLLEGE APPS!…. yay! no more essays for undergrad. Now, I’ll have to apply for financial aid and scholarships (meaning=more essays). And then four years. And then MCATS, more essays, more apps. And then another 4 years. Then essays, more apps. Residency for 4-5 years. Gosh, this never ends. (4) I’m so glad I’ve been blogging since I was like 11. It definitely helped with my essays because I used a lot of blog entries that I altered for my apps. (5) This is a question. Well, say one person tells you to do something and another person tells you to do something that’s exactly the opposite. And you respect both of them. And you really don’t know what’s right or wrong by yourself… what do you do? (Yes, I’m asking for opinions on real life problems online!) (6) Does anyone from GSIS remember who it was that had this cream? If you do, message me please. I feel like I remember her name but I’m not sure.