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When Brown Is Beautiful

22/01/2015 8:40 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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Photography by Ryan Lobo Pratham Books is a not-for-profit trust that seeks to publish high-quality books for children at a affordable cost in multiple Indian languages. Pratham Books is trying to create a shift in the paradigm for publishing childrens books in India. The low cost model proves that childrens literature can be attractive and affordable and therefore more accessible. www.prathambooks.org

I am brown and I quite like it. It makes me, me. But it was not always so, there was a time, not long ago, I hated it. Just a wee bit clearer, just a little fairer would have helped, I thought. Being dark, in a country like ours and that too in the North is not a great feeling--especially if you are a girl. People find ways to tell you that you would have been better off a few shades lighter and give you all possible tips to lighten your skin. Well-wishers get worried about your matrimonial prospects and tell your mother to apply ubtan and haldi to ensure there are takers for her daughter.

Not so, if you grow up in a family like mine. I belong to a Kayastha family in UP where most of the people are on the darker side of the spectrum, none of them see it as a challenge or a handicap and if someone tells their daughters otherwise, he/she is in for trouble.

So, for me, it was more of a self-inflicted wound when I started to see my darkness as ugliness. In school, all my friends were fair; I, on the other hand, was not only dark but also tanned by the virtue of cycling to school. All I thought of all day was how dark my hands and legs look and how ugly was my face. By college, I was totally into all possible natural methods to lighten my arms and face. I wore only certain shades of clothes and hated looking at the mirror. All this despite there being no pressure of being fair--or lovely.

Finally at thirty-five, I am happy being how I am. Although, it could also be because I actually am a few shades lighter now than I was as a teen. But I think even if that was not the case I would have been comfortable--or that is what I would like to believe.

What worries me today is that my five-year-old, who has taken after me in every aspect--colour included. The colour of her skin has had no significance for us and it never did for her, until we moved to Delhi from Bangalore. In Bangalore, everyone looked like her, while in Delhi she realised that most people are a few shades lighter than her.

All of four then, she walked up to me and asked me why was she brown when her best friend was pink. That day, I realised what my mother must have gone through every time I asked her this question. I used all my tact to explain the concept of skin colour and that God makes everyone different but the damage was done. She would come back from school daily and tell me that she wants brown hair and pink skin.

That her younger sister too was pale and all visitors commented on how fair she was, and this must have added to her woes. I told her every day that she was beautiful and that since her parents were brown she couldn't be pink. Well, the smart kid that she is, her next question was, how could her sister be pink then? We we are her parents too, after all.

She is a little more settled with her colour now, I am not sure for how long though. Given the number of advertisements on whitening, brightening and lightening that appear on TV and magazines, I don't know when and how her little mind will be affected and if I will be able to undo the damage.

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