Mirror, mirror, on the wall

Blue Lotus, the blogger with an exotic name writes with intensity about simple day-to-day events as seen through the eyes of a young girl/woman. What makes her posts endearing is the dash of humour in them.  I  had requested for guest posts from my blogger friends about a childhood incident that has stayed with them. Delhizen came up with her Little Drummer and now Blue Lotus, the sweetheart that she is, has sent me  just the one!


For someone growing up in India, the first and foremost criterion for being called beautiful is being fair. So what if Rekha is successful actor,” She is black, like a horse. It’s all makeup, shake up and camera tricks.” Oops, nobody mentions her beautiful eyes, glorious skin and luscious pouts. Acting prowess? Excuse me. Who cares?

Growing up is not always fun. Especially when some your relatives tell, “She is dark; not like her mother. Her mother is fair; beautiful. You should see her hair, long and black.”* They continue after much ooh-aahs,Look at her curls. OMG. Like a bird’s nest.”

With a retinue of cousins, fair as moon and charming as Cinderella, I was stumped. I thought I am the ugly duckling and secretly wished I would one day turn into a swan.

It is on vacations when one meets the rest of the brood. These dreaded vacations reminded me most of ugliness. They tell you how tall you have grown.

How you were so tiny and sallow and you look healthy. How your hair has grown. Moreover, in my case, sadly, how dark I have become.

[My mental picture showed a pink ball growing into a brown coconut.]

“Ask your mother to mix turmeric and coconut oil and apply everyday. It helps.”

Add to this, the inane comment, within my earshot, “Oh well, the girl is a replica of her dad, no wonder. Girls from our family have always been fair.” So what if I was a topper in class and could do mental math like Shakuntala Devi?

I hated my brown skin and my wild curls. I applied layers of Cuticura talcum powder in a futile attempt to lighten my skin. I tried tying my hair tight in order to tame my curls. All in vain. Much to my annoyance, I looked like a house done with Birla white wall care putty and hair very similar to a dog’s tail — curled. Then came my valiant attempts with turmeric powder. A few skin-burning nights later, I quit on this enterprising alternative.

I spent hours, staring at the mirror. “Would fair and lovely work?”

Amma retorted, unable to gauge my desperation, “Why do not you try holding an umbrella? And stop running around in the sun?”

Amma could never assimilate the situation. She was beyond the realm of worldly pleasures or dilemmas of little mortals.

”Drink your bournvita. It is getting cold. Stop making those faces and DO NOT WASTE FOOD in THIS house.” She bellows.

I was dark and ugly; the last person who seemed to care was Amma. She never supported any skin regimes I wanted to take up. “A total waste of time that is what this is all about. Spoils your skin as well. Daivame,Ethu engine oru mandi aayallo ** ?”

[I hated her for not having passed her skin and hair to me.]

Dejected, I reached out for my dad. On an evening towards the end of my summer vacation, I posed a question.”Acha, Am I pretty?”

His nose delved deep into machine drawings, replied without looking up,

“You are the prettiest thing in the world. Now where does this pipeline come from? Hmmm.”

“Acha, I meant am I really pretty? Not just for you?”

He looked up momentarily, “Did someone tell you other wise?”

I sat up straight and solemnly replied,” I am not fair like Amma.And they all say I am dark. So does that make me ugly?”

I try hard not to cry. Trust me trying to act brave is very difficult. He closed his files and thought for a moment; “Being dark or fair does not make a person beautiful or ugly. Having a beautiful mind is more important. Being polite, truthful and respectful makes you a beautiful person. Having a perfect face and a wicked mind is not the concept of beauty. The beauty you are talking about is only skin-deep. It will fade with time. Real beauty comes from within. It reflects in every action you make and every word you say. This is much more endearing. Be intelligent. Take care of your skin. However, do not be vain. Learn to recognize people with beautiful minds and not just pretty faces.” He added, smiling at his innocent ten year old daughter, “…and that way you are beautiful.”

Well that day, that lecture did me little good. Before he went back to his pipeline and power plant world, I was in the bathroom experimenting with sandalwood and turmeric. Ammomma tells me sandalwood will cool the burning sensation of turmeric and help lighten the skin.

I did reflect upon his words years later. What defines your beauty is not just your face. The character and attitude makes one charming. Having a pretty face is God given but being a beautiful human being is our choice. And I choose to be one, a beautiful human being. Being a dusky girl with a mop of curly hair doesn’t make me a diva, who cares? If you are fair and beautiful, I will not envy you. You are blessed. You are blessed even more if you have a lovable heart. That lovely heart would endear you to me than the zillion divas of this world.

PS: I still got to parlours. The difference is I want a healthy skin. My mind as you all know is very beautiful. I call it a package deal, beautiful mind and healthy body.

* The mime of touching their buttocks to show the length of Amma’s hair follows this. I glow in pride for Amma, momentarily forgetting my humiliations.

** God! This thing is such a half-wit.

 

Acha-Dad,Amma-Mom,Ammoomma-Maternal Grandmother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

41 comments

  1. You have raised some very relevant questions and issues that parents should be aware of – ignoring comments from relatives may be quiet harmful to child psyche. With years of subjugation by white men of the africas and asia, this white mania has gone deep into our psyche. The good news is that its on wane across the world what with brown and darker shades of brown being looked upon as new faces of beauty.

    Farsa (white in bengali) is an oft heard in my extended family too! I got to do something about it for sure.

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  2. Women have to revel in inner beauty rather than skin colour or perfect figures..mums play an imp role….The society is changing though…

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    1. Agree Alka.Totally.Lets not torture our children atleast.

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  3. In my case, I was always compared to my sis who was fair, talkative and smart. But my family always ensured that I never felt inferior. But u know these comparisons continue, on ur wedding day ppl will compare or say things like, isn’t she fat, or she doesn’t have thick hair etcetras. Now have learnt not to care about anything, just be happy with myself, rest of the world can blabber

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    1. That’s my girl.There things beyond fair skin.And believe for any marriage people would have snide remarks to make.Even when Aishwarya Rai got married people had to talk.After all we are mere mortals compared to the diva.

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    2. There’s an old Hindi song that goes like “Kuch tho log kahenge, logon ka kaam hain kehna.”. People talk, they’re made that way. And we can’t change that. Some people just make it their duty to make comparisons and make you feel bad. If it’s not the colour, it’ll be your height. If not your height, then your job. My suggestion is, when they’re talking, tune out and start humming a song inside your head. It helps! 🙂

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  4. Ah.. we’ve all been through this phase, I guess. If you’re in India and you’re a girl, the ‘dark=ugly’ syndrome is bound to affect you.
    Even I’ve been through it [and also written about it here(http://divyathemostuseful.blogspot.com/2011/02/aint-no-matter-if-youre-black-o-white.html). *Shameless pimping of my blog* :p. Pardon me, Blue Lotus.] My mom and sister were fair, I was dark like my dad.. And I obsessed over it for years, till I realised that it’s not fair skin that matters, but good skin. So many of my fair friends had to deal with bad skin, that I stopped envying them and began to see my own positives (not to mention a small amount of vanity that had crept in. Very little. Just a smidgeon. Every girl is allowed a quota, isn’t she?) So now I’m happily dusky. To hell with those who want “Fair white beautiful” brides. They just don’t know what they’re missing, right? 😉

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    1. I’m have friends who are fair,beautiful and brainy.And I love them.After all who are we to judge the body God has given?

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      1. Exactly.. Who are we to judge anyone? To each his own. My friends never discriminated against me because I was not fair, and I never grudged them what had been God-given to them.. I guess we all were a little loony till we got out of our teens. 🙂 But I’m glad I went through that phase. It definitely made me a lot wiser (Ahem..) about what really matters about a person.
        And yes, even I have friends who are fair and beautiful, and I love them, more so what the beautiful human beings they are. :).

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    2. Yes Girl,We can be vain.A little.Just a smidgeon. :).We are not saints.I am not.

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  5. Indians have been always obsessed with fair skin ! It’s little wonder that “Fairness cream” industry is booming! The advertisements for these creams make me sick ! I wish they could be banned !
    But I think it’s the Indian mentality of passing personal comments ! It could be seemingly innocuous statements on ones weight gain, looking thin ‘n haggard, losing hair(read: going bald)so it ain’t just about complexion ! And like Blue Lotus mentions….people don’t just leave it at that, they volunteer unsolicited advice/suggestions to help correct your impediment !

    A lovely post that !

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    1. We are in a perfection obsessed world.For Indians it seems to be fairness.Why can’t we be just healthy? A kid can be thin or fat or fair or dark.But as long as he/she is smart,active and cheerful it should be fine.

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  6. Blue lotus – hi five! And thanks to Cybernag, I am slowly becoming a fan of this blog and I found out another blogger to be followed 🙂 From this blog post I can’t see if you are dark or you have curly hair like birds nest, but trust me what I can see is that you really have a beautiful mind.
    Amma parayana polla thaan mandi alla do 🙂

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    1. Hi Five Anto!Please tell that to my Amma.Beauty of the mind never fades,it is enhanced by age.

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    2. Oh thanks Anto for beginning to like my blog 🙂 Hope it is not only because of the guest posts though 😀

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  7. Well written…
    Its funny if you think about it, that it is in countries with majority of dark complexion, that a fair skin is given more importance. Maybe it is because of the engraved thought that the fair skins are the elite race.
    I said this on another blog and I re-quote myself “Beauty is skin deep for most. And that is where the problem starts.”
    I think being a good human being is of more importance than being a beauty queen. Personally, I would hang myself from a ceiling fan if my girl friend had the looks of Aphrodite but the wit and brain of a rabid raccoon.

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    1. Is it the vestiges of the colonial era?The thought that fairer skin automatically credits you with superiority and aristocracy?

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      1. Yes. Last decade my father was posted to Somalia during the UNSOM mission. It is the same thing there. The white man is shown respect.
        Dad tells this incident. They were at a bar. A European lady came and ordered something. Dad asked the bartender (who was black), the name of the drink the lady was drinking. The reply he got was, “You wouldn’t be able to afford it” He asked again, but the same reply.
        Well, he asked the bartender to make the drink. Paid for it, asked him the name of the drink. And then told him to drink it himself, because he had no inclination to have another drink.
        But this small anecdote tells you that most of the darker skinned people have quite a low self esteem and think of the fairer counterparts as better and elite.

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        1. The white skinned being shown respect can be seen in South India too, especially in the tourist spots. The north Indians, leave alone foreigners get preference because of their lighter skin in comparison to the others. They suffer from massive doses of low self esteem. Kudos to your father for going through the entire charade to make his point. Wonder if the bartender got it, though 🙂

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  8. Wow! Looks like beauty is the topic of the season! Read one on Purba’s blog just now 🙂
    And dark skin seems quite the curse, especially for those strategically situated in South India 😦
    Although I don’t care about my skin colour, it really gets to you when you see matrimonial ads wanting “fair, slim and beautiful” brides. And those creeps forgot to look at the mirror themselves! 😛

    Funnily enough, I had written a blogpost 4 years ago (!!!!) with the same title! IF you have the time (and the inclination), you can find it here:
    http://vini4u.blogspot.com/2007/05/mirror-mirror-on-wall.html

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    1. I had read those ads when I was ten and thought I’d never get married.I did read your post,whoa! 26 plastic surgeries in 3 years.We Indians have more brain than that.Don’t you agree?

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      1. Yeah. Hopefully Indians haven’t reached there! And that’s one milestone I hope no one reaches!

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        1. 😀 :D..Lets be optimistic.Right?

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  9. This is surely a ‘Beautiful’ post, indeed shows the true picture of whats happening around us!
    Its a pity people only are interested in the external looks and ignore the real part of it!!

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    1. We ought to concentrate on how smart,respectful and well mannered a child is.

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    2. I agree! and I got to know that recently after reading Palace of Illusions 🙂

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      1. Palace of Illusions is an amazing book.We’ll discuss that on my blog/your blog on day.

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        1. Why not on this blog? 🙂

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          1. I don’t mind.If you have not read the book Zephyr,we your guest bloggers urge you to.It is an amazing book on Mahabharata from the point of view of Draupadi.It also tells talks about her little nok-joks with her mother in law.I am at loss words as to how much I enjoyed the book.I always thought Draupadi was a little too indulged by her husbands and after reading that book I changed my views about her.

            In case you are not able to get that book,let us know. 😀

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        2. Pratibha · · Reply

          Please let me know the author & publisher of Palace of Illusions. Speaking of Draupadi, there is this book titled ‘Draupadi’ by Pratibha Rai, written in Oriya. I have read its Hindi translation. Probably, it is translated in English too. You may also read ‘Yugant’ by Irawati Karve. Both the books gave me new insight of the characters of Mahabharat.

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          1. Hi Pratibha,
            http://www.hindustantimes.com/The-Palace-of-Illusions-tops-bestseller-list/Article1-501468.aspx
            Here us the link on details..
            If there is an English Version of Draupadi,I’ll read it.

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  10. This is a wonderful post. I had similar experiences, coming from a family of pretty & fair faces and me being the darkest. So one day I got frustrated and asked my mom the same ques and she sang this song for me

    Yashomati maiya se bole Nandalala:
    Radha kyu gori? Mai kyu kala?
    Boli musakati maiya, lalana ko bataya:
    kali adhiyari adhi-rata me tu aya.

    From then on whenever I had doubts I thought of this song and felt happy… I still make her sing this for me… 🙂

    Its color of Krishna!!

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    1. That is lovely Delhizen..Loved the poem..Just for the sake of argument.
      It was not just Lord Krishna who was dusky,the most beautiful character Draupadi was also dusky.

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  11. The day a child is born, people start comparing it to be like mother or father , specially the complexion!

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    1. Comparing is fine.But not to a point it hurts the child.

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  12. Now I believe it should be more about healthy skin,I’m sure you agree too.Dad is all about experimenting his wisdom through/on me.

    Good to know you like my post and my nick name.I’m an ardent fan of Tintin,hence the name.

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  13. Fair and handsome for men! Good that it was not in market during my teen days 😛 or I would have gone berserk with it. Nor am I fair, nor am i tall. Dark ? Yes. Handsome? Eh? Hmmm atleast my mom would think so and hey my wife married me out of her choice so some chance that she thinks too 😛 When I look at mirror, I love my reflection, when I look deep into me, I love my nature , So am a prince charming indeed 😉

    Now now now , what am I ranting? :O

    Blue lotus (nice nick name btw) loved your post and yes loved the papa’s words!

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  14. I could so relate to this story. To be a dark kid and the meddlesome aunts make it sound like sacrilege. It doesn’t help if your Mom is so pretty.

    I wish women would show more sensitivity…..

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    1. It’s quite unfortunate adults don’t realize than kids do understand most of the undertones,quite well.

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  15. “Fair and Handsome” for men.And we thought Tall,Dark and Handsome was the in thing.Thank you Cyber Nag for giving me this chance to be a guest blogger for you.

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  16. That was a very poignant post, Blue Lotus. The tragedy of our country is that we are obsessed with white skin and would die for it. The cosmetic industry capitalises on this and now we have fairness creams for men too! And yes, a beautiful mind is more important than ‘white skin’.

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