Racially Fair and Lovely

My sister in law was supposed to be married and we were beginning the process of considering prospective grooms.
I was in charge of creating the “marriageable resume”; in English of course.
I thought I did a good job till the time my father in law (henceforth denoted as FIL) happened to review it.
My FIL went ballistic for the resume had a fatal flaw.
Following is the snapshot of the exchanges we had:

FIL (with a loud chuckle): What have you done? This is pathetic.

I (puzzled): What is wrong with it?

FIL: See you have put all statistics correct, except the complexion one.

I: Why? I have put “fair” as her complexion. (FYI, Rashmi, my sister in law, is quite fair for Indian standards)

FIL: You do not understand. Fair means, she is dusky and make up will make her fair.

I: Then do you want me to change it to “very fair”?

FIL (frustrated) : This is not an English grammar class, very fair and fair means the same. You write “gori” in the complexion.

I (flipping out) : “Gori”?

FIL (as if explaining elementary geometry to middle school kids) : Yes write “gori”. Fair, very fair, milky white these things do not convey the fact that she is fair. It is “gori” that would appeal to the imagination of people better.

I (speechless) : ???????

So, Rashmi’s marriage resume said her complexion was “gori”!
“Gori” when translated to English roughly means “Fair Caucasian female”.
Which means, without the façade of make up and beauty products’ induced effects, Rashmi is as fair as a Caucasian female.
Calling her fairness “fair” would be fairly unfair and would not fare well for the welfare of her marriageable prospects.

Alright, so why everyone seeking marriage alliances is looking for gori-s? Why it is a natural logic that “gora-pan” (fairness) is the panacea of all beauty? Isn’t it ironic that the country with one of the richest reserves of circulating black money, black market, black magic still holds everyone sway with its maniac quest of fairness in complexion? This deep, insightful, intelligent blog would uncover why. So sit back and enjoy the ride and for better understanding keep a tube of “Fair and Lovely” handy.

My thesis is very simple. We, the Indians are definitely a racist community as a whole. Therefore, we react to fairness of the skin in a nakedly racist manner. Whether the fascination of the fair skin is something we imbibed in a century of colonial rule or not is immaterial, what is for sure true that we have this fascination deeply etched into our culture. We are indeed racist.

I know we like to believe that Indians are not racist and we have always fought apartheid with passion, stood behind the nations suffering from racial discrimination, voiced our concern with fervor over ill treatments meted out to native settlers in the hands of imperialistic/colonialist iron fisted rules and blah blah…. I agree, when it comes to taking international stands, we have a reasonably respectable track record. But, when it comes to putting matters straight at home, we look the other way.

For generations, we have treated racism as a celebrated exponent of our culture. “Oh no, we just practice casteism, untouchability, communalism, marginalization, alienation….but when did we become racist?” This is what we say in our defense of not being racist. The truth is we are worse, as a society, than the ones adhering to apartheid. After all the color of the skin is on your face and you can distinguish between a fair skinned and a dark skinned. But the mass scale discrimination we show to each other as part our cultural excess baggage makes us the most racial community in the world. And, we have been quick to learn the apartheid as well.

I was married in Patna. The marriage venue was on a road which was called Gardener Road during the British Raj. It was an Indian free zone with markers erected that warned “Dogs and Indians” not allowed. The years of oppressive British rule left India its scars. Most important was the psychological scarring.

India was ruled by foreign forces in the past as well, but no community left an impact as lasting as the British. The Moghuls and Turks conquered by force and ruled by force. It never made the people have this awed image of Moghuls and Turks because they had nothing much to dazzle the natives except for their superior military might. British on the other hand, not only had that military might but captured the imagination because of their superlative administration, economics, advances in science and technology, education, governance and vision. Result was simple. The colonial India did believe that British were a better race. And then, as a by product of this inferior psyche germinated the fascination for the white skin.

So, today how big is this fascination?
According to latest reports the brand “Fair and Lovely” grossed some 500 crores (100 million USD) last year and the total Indian market for fairness products is nearly three times this value, which is a whopping 1500 crores (300 million USD). So, it is fair to assume that fairness is big buck business. So it is indeed a million dollar question!

The corporate India, which sells these “whitening” products have cashed in to this psychosis. In fact it has at times deliberately flamed it to sell more units and made more money.

So, as long as we are ready to accept “gori” brides only and dream of someday landing in the land of the “goras”, poor SRK will appear for Fair and Handsome and we continue to have this unreasonable fascination. If you ask me, it is not going to end soon as I believe that we are truly a racial community.

Let me end this blog with another real life experience.

One day, I got a call from an ex schoolmate of mine. I am not naming him so let’s call him A. Following is the excerpt of our call:

A: Hey Manasij. I am getting married.

I: Congrats A. That’s great news. So, what does the lucky one do?

A: She works in my office. So it is a love marriage.

I: Great. So where is she from?

A: She is a South Indian.

I: Great. I think you ………

A (cuts me in the middle hastily) : lekin wo kali nahi hai. (She is not dark).

I (speechless) : ??????

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15 Responses to “Racially Fair and Lovely”

  1. Adhir Says:

    beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.. such a pity after all everyone does want a pretty looking one for a life partner.. men especially… rest everything else is inferior trait… how shallow can one get..

    Nice seeing you put your thoughts out loud.

  2. Roshan Says:

    Mansij, Amen to that!

  3. ashishforusability Says:

    Ashish – This blog though not related with the song.. but made me remember a line “HOTEL MAIN KHATA HAIN KHANA”.:)Miss You !!!

  4. Maddy Says:

    Dude actually, we (the) people can discriminate on everything and anything. Color is just a derivative.

  5. Bibudh Says:

    “Calling her fairness “fair” would be fairly unfair and would not fare well for the welfare of her marriageable prospects.”…nice use of “fair” vs “fare” 🙂

    However, as we all know, the prejudice against dark complexion is not a monopoly of Indians. In the US, even as late as in the early 80s, the Ku Klux Klan have lynched African-Americans in the southern states like Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi (remember Gene Hackman’s “Mississippi Burning”?). In Montgomery, Alabama, even till mid-50s, the black people were not allowed to board a bus through the front door, which led to the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott campaign. I wonder since when men started believing that the color black represents everything bad and negative…this is evident in the English language too…the word “denigrate” (to attack the reputation of) has its root in the Latin word “nigrare”, which means “to blacken”. Probably the only difference between the Indian and the occidental attitudes is that in the latter society, black people do not try to “clean the dirt”, and hence there is no luck for the fairness cream manufacturers 🙂

  6. GoldenPearl Says:

    Since the fairness complex is so deeply entrenched in the Indian psyche, it is no surprise that profiles on popular Indian matrimonial website, such as Bharatmatrimony.com or Shaadi.com, almost uniformly paint women as fair – or, at the very least, “wheatish” in complexion. All want a partner who is very fair, fair, wheatish or wheatish medium – whatever that is! It is the rare individual who elects “doesn’t matter” when selecting the choice of complexion in a preferred partner.

    Still, almost no one admits to being dark.

    The color preference seems to cut across the country’s geography. Even South Indians, who are darker than North Indians, show a distinct bias toward fairness.
    It promises a fairer skin in days, and more than that, a perfect life: a sure-shot at a husband, a super job and instant acceptance.

    Yet one could also say it is a tube full of stereotypes, of racial undertones. Does one have to be fair to be successful or loved? The ads for the cream always depict a dark, unhappy and self-conscious woman, shut off from opportunities. The moment she starts applying the cream, she turns several shades lighter, gets the plum job and supreme self-confidence.

    So where did this fairness-fetish come from? It has most frequently been blamed on the British Raj and identification with the colonizers, but historians also trace the prejudice to Vedic times, when the ideals of feminine beauty included a fair skin.

    Given the surging demand, scores of imitators of Fair & Lovely have cropped up in India: Fair & Natural, Fair & Sweet, Famous & Beauty, Famous & Lovely, Face and Lovely, Fure & Beauty, Fair & Care, Fairy & Lovely, Fain & Lovely, Fresh Look, Fine Love. Hindustan Lever even offers Fair & Lovely Body Fairness Milk, which takes care of the entire body and “its gentle formulation gives fairness all year round.” No point in having a fair face if the rest of your body is dark.

    Indian youth seem far less prejudiced: “The new generation has been accepting of people of different colors and races, because we have been more in touch with people outside of our own color and race and I think people have started to realize that it’s more than just what’s on the outside and now that we have more interaction between male and female, it’s been understood that it’s more about the personality than what you see on the outside that defines the person, not your color.”

  7. Ankur Chandra Says:

    I agree that somehow we give too much weight to color of the skin.Products like Fare & Lovely are testimony to that. I am not sure about the reasons behind it. To be honest, people with fair skin look more beautiful to eyes somehow (or is it me only who feels that way?) Can that be the reason? Anyway, Racism is just one form of discrimination. Indian society in general practices discrimination in number of ways as you put in your blog.

  8. Abhishek Thakur Says:

    Gori simply means fair also- ‘mem’ is its second meaning.

    Fair skin, amongnst a lot of things, is also considered a benchmark for properity and upspoilt skin due to lack of menial labour.

    While westerners think tanned skin is sexy because it entails outdoor activity and consequently good health, we think that fair is good because it shows a lack of activity in the harsh sun! (This would nicely roll on to your previous post on Indian attitudes towards sports!)

  9. manasij Says:

    @Everyone: Guys, fabulous views. Absolutely loved your thoughts! Keep them coming…..

  10. ashishforusability Says:

    Ashish – This blog though not related with the song.. but made me remember a line “HOTEL MAIN KHATA HAIN KHANA”.:)Miss You !!!

  11. Jean Says:

    As someone from the Chinese-Canadian community, it’s less of an issue at least those acculturated in North America.

    But still a big deal in China… mixed race (part Asian-part white) models are used for the novelty value as well as the old cache that white is better or at least higher status.

    Am so glad I live in North America. Sometimes an old attitude can only be shaken off over time, by living elsewhere outside of the ancestral, mother country.

  12. Priyank Says:

    and now you have fail & handsome for men as well! what’s that for! beyond me.

  13. Dr. Diepiriye Kuku Says:

    I am an African-American who lived in Delhi for over 7 years. I am chocolate skinned and faced a great deal of gawking, to the extent that moving around in public was simply uncomfortable. Not unsafe for my body, but wholly unsafe for my mind, no matter how hard my parents’ generation has instilled pride in us. I also moved around Delhi with plenty of Europeans and saw how distinctly different they were welcomed versus how I, other Blacks from Africa and the Diaspora were regularly treated. It’s as if we all lived in different cities, so our experiences were, well, foreign to one another. Speaking about the issue among whites and many Indians felt like complaining, and few seemed to acknowledge the inherent social control of the gawking. Yet ask any women from Delhi and she’ll tell you that her dupatta is armor against these imposing glares. Add to the huge billboards of gori-gori models peddling any product, and the psychological damage meted out each SUnday when matrimonials arrive on the doorsteps and young people, especially girls, are taught the hierarchies of adulthood: Fair skin, western visas and elite MBS’s rank top, and dare one see a skin color described any darker than “wheatish.”. It’s sick and sad, and most horrible when we consider how knowledge of which is transmitted intergenerationally- kids scorned to stay out of the sun, lest they become unmarriagable. And certainly the threat of a proper marriage reigns over many young people’s heads. What I found most shocking, however, was the vehement opposition to the term “racism” to describe the intergenerational nexus of gender, caste and class. Worse, how many social scientist working in India even deal with this everday aspect of life in India? Could it be tha the Raj has still left it’s mark on the academy? That both elite Indians and Europeans working in India both have been so insulated from the reality of the color-caste that they genuinely do not see it? Having met Indians with chocolate or even charcoal colored skin who suffer grave inferiority complexes, it’s no longer sufficient to dismiss an “Negro” who raises these issues as a stupid foreigner concerned with his own lot. The fate of all our children rests in our collective ability to teach them to love themselves, and the fairness craze teaches hatred of the dark, native self. In fact, world peace itself is at stake here when India’s political and economic might cannot stand morally because of this deeply held inferiorization. When I speak about these things in India, often folks were quick to point out that it’s NOT just Indian’s who are guilty/victims of this internalized hatred of the native self. While that’s true, I was struck by how that fact was used to dismiss my advocacy of self-love, and rather used to exclude me, further alienate me as if a foreigner could never understand India. I am struck by the lack of empathy for the self and therefore a failure to recognize that quality in others. This was reiterated by the fact that while I could be dismissed as a foreigner (just see comments on my YouTube channel or the Outlook article I wrote on these issues), while random white people (men) are taken as an credible authority on any range of topics. Yet, because my people share this torrid history, I feel a deep sense of kinship with people in India learning to love themselves (the greatest love of all), and so I shall not keep quiet on these issues.

    • manasij Says:

      What an awesome comment…..Thanks a lot for sharing your views. And you are right, keeping quiet on these issues never resolve them.

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