A Dark Man’s Dream For A Fairer World

Like most 80’s born kids, I witnessed the transformation of colours and visuals, from dots, stripes, to black n white, colour, cable and then NO cable during exams. Readers from my generation will surely remember advertisements that trapped our consumption between colour tv viewing binges — Nirma which turned your clothes to a color as good as new, Complan a scientifically proven formula which made kids grow inches taller by gulping down the foul tasting drink (yuck! how I detested drinking it) and Fair and Lovely endorsed by fair young women, inspiring Indian women to take upto fairness formulas, to marry successful men, or secure well paying sophisticated jobs. These ads gave us ultimate life goals — to wear white clothes, grow tall and stay fair.

My dad who passed away a year back was quite worried about having a girl child before I was born. He was a dark man (unlike my mom, who is quite fair and lovely) anxious about how a dark daughter would survive in the big bad biased Indian world. When I, a girl was born to my parent’s as their second child, my father was relieved to see a fair and lovely girl child in his arms. To his skepticism, I began amassing more melanin while growing up, eventually my skin turned brown. While my mother was not at home, he would bring me a tube of fair and lovely cream (read as ointment), squeeze some and rub it on my face. I could see no difference, he believed it stalled my skin tone from getting as dark as his.

Keeping just that aside, my father always believed I was a very pretty and smart girl. I knew he loved me, but to avoid more applications of the itching ointment, I’d hide declarations made by my neighbours’ and relatives — that they were convinced I did not resemble my mother at all and how they thought it was pity for a fair and lovely child to turn so brown, much like the father.

Years after, on one not so fine day, in a trifling attempt to be a funny teenager, I callously called my mother out for not passing her share of fair skin genes to me, involuntarily turning towards dad to share a giggle. At the far end of the room I saw my old man immensely hurt, almost about to tear up. Accustomed to being judged and brushed off for being dark, I’d come to accept the norm — “not fair ain’t pretty”. The very thought of my acceptance of the stereo type scared me a little more than I felt guilty of what I had said.

Over years my father’s hatreds, prejudices, hurts and failures got the better of him, he died a bitter man (will save that story for another sunny day). Months after he passed away, I happened to discuss my father’s childhood with my aunt (his own sister, also quite brown). “Your dad and me were treated quite differently” she said about being dealt with animosity for being the darkest amongst 7 children. They both were made to perform more manual work at home and gardens, even denied eduction after high school unlike their other fair siblings who became highly qualified doctors, scientists and professionals. My aunt continued to see the silver lining and loved her family for the bright side, while my father developed very deep insecurities and hatred. She narrated how as a child, he would visit his elderly neighbour (he confided in) and begged her to give him a potion that could make him fairer, so he could be loved more.

Quite recently I was keeping things aside to give away from my dad’s room, pressed clothes, perfumes, watches, books, when I accidentally ran my hands on a tube of fair & handsome ointment in a corner of his closet. Till his end of time and the age of 73, the man gave up on jobs, people and family, but hadn’t yielded on his dream to be fairer. An adage says “life isn’t fair”. How I wish we’d tell the same about people’s skin. I’ve never wished more to go back in time to let my father know he did not need an ointment and there was nothing wrong; to convince him he was beautiful and worthy of the best things, in all his darkness. But then I guess life would be too fair.

-Smriti

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