I’m from a village background and my parents aren’t educated. For them, it was important that their daughters get married. Naturally, the concept of looking good became important and an equally important part of that was fairness. When I was young, everyone would tease me a lot, calling me ‘black’ in Kannada. Whenever my sisters and I would fight, they would use that word and it would really hurt. They didn’t mean anything bad, but it was considered quite normal to win an argument at that time.
For some time, I did try to become fair. I applied haldi and even the popular fairness cream of the time. Afterwards, I can’t say when it stopped mattering to me. Somewhere down the line, I stopped worrying about my skin colour, so much so that today I don’t use any creams. Of course, when I stopped applying the fairness cream, my mom panicked. (laughs)
Now, I see that my son and daughter have started becoming conscious about their complexions. We don’t have a TV so fairness cream ads aren’t the culprits in this case. It is what they hear from their friends and read in stories. My son is 10 and is very aware of his complexion. I asked him how much his skin colour and others’ skin colour affected him. He said, “Others skin colour doesn’t matter but I want to be fair.” Believe it or not, he doesn’t like going out into the sun and playing any sports for fear that he’ll get tanned.
He shared with me the exact incident which made him conscious of his skin colour. Apparently one of his aunts played a game of ‘who’s fairer’ with him and that’s the first time that he realized he was dark.
I can only share my experience and knowledge with him. Even today, in my village when a child is born, the women who are the first to hold the baby try to predict what colour the child’s skin will be. To do this, they generally look at the child’s ears and based on that they’ll say “This child is going to be fair” or “This child will be dark”.
I read stories to my children about these topics that convey the idea much better than I can. I also ensure that I make it clear to them that I don’t treat people differently or discriminate because of skin colour. In the end, though, I can’t force them to think the way that I want them to.