I’ve seen many Indians grin at the phrase ‘Tall, dark and handsome’, which is a popular connotation referring to a man as desired by women. But if you thought that dark here means the colour of the skin, you are an Indian man and you’re wrong. It turns out that the dark refers to dark-haired men or guys with a mysterious air. Yes, that’s the sound of a mirror shattering.
But, why is a brown country like India so obsessed with fair skin? Why is it that a dark-skinned guy is so obsessed to marry a fair-skinned maiden, or a girl marrying a dark-skinned guy feels that she is settling down for something less? This is the obsession that has made ‘Fair & Lovely’ one of the most prosperous brands around. A very popular song ‘Hum kaale hai toh kya hua dil wale hain’ meaning What if I’m dark, I’m a good person at heart’ describes the brown colour as a drawback. It is considered to be a defect in a country where the two most desired men from mythology and two most revered Gods – Lord Ram and Lord Krishna were described as dark. Even Draupadi, who is believed to be so beautiful that she would put every living and breathing woman to shame, was dark-skinned.
It’s interesting how we went from considering dark-skinned as the colour beauty to deformity. It is said that our awe for light skin began with the invasion of Persian, Turks and other Asians who not just brought their culture, but also their olive-coloured skins. We Indians have a tendency to associate a person’s success with his/her physical attributes. We did the same with these foreigners who we didn’t just see as a threat but also looked up for attempting to reach beyond their territory, while we fought among ourselves. We looked at their might and associated it with their skin colour. Then came the lighter-skinned Portuguese, French and British – they successfully made us feel inferior about everything – our culture, language, built and skin colour. By giving them a colloquial name ‘gora’ (fair), we associated their richness to their colour and our subservient selves with our dark skins.
This was furthered with the emergence of caste system proclaiming Brahmins to be fairer of all and Vaishyas to be on the darker side. Fair skin became synonymous with prosperity and morality, while dark skin something to be ashamed of leading to a slew of creams and powders claiming to help us get rid of our ‘substandard’ colour. What is more surprising is we, Indians, being one of the most racist nations, don’t even realize the degree of social discrimination we put people through because of their skin colour. It’s no wonder that stellar actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui are limited to supporting roles, while mediocrity overtakes. The most saddening thing is dark-skinned people accepted their colour as their downside, while fair-skinned people think it’s a blessing to have been born with a lighter shade of brown.