Hume Kaale Hain to Kya Hua Dil Waale Hain

I remember this old song from a movie, whose name I dont know.

This is the song that came to mind immediately as I read this article.

Societal pressures have made women with whiter skins, higher up in the food chain than their darker cousins. Look at any ad in the matrimonial section of any rag, and you will see the word “fair” as the most wanted or advertised attribute in all ads.

I also remember this one time when a friend of mine told a girl who thought too much of her fair skin and beauty….” Goray to gadhe bhi hote hai !” (even donkeys have white skin). Needless to say all hell broke lose then.

For all those who watch this (yet another) soap opera, this would sound familiar

“It’s not that Saloni isn’t beautiful,” clarifies Thakur, a former model. “It’s that she’s dark. Because of her complexion, her family thinks no one will marry her.” At today’s shoot in the hills north of Bombay, Saloni seeks solace at a temple after another day of dusky humiliation, only to be lectured on the virtues of fairness by a fat, ivory-skinned 9-year-old boy

So now back to this article. It talks about

No one can say for certain where this fascination with white skin originated. Thakur and Goenka point to pale-faced conquerors from Britain and central Asia who forcefully instilled a reverence for whiteness. Cultural conservatives complain Hollywood is pushing aside Indian heroes in favor of Westerners all too ready to display their pale flesh. Some sociologists argue that in a country where most people still farm, dark skin is associated with lowly labor in the outdoors.

Cosmetic touch-up seems to be the name of the game. At any cost, and towards a better “color”…one would think.

Could You Please Make Me a Shade Lighter?

Up close, Rajashree Thakur makes a terrible ugly duckling. Her face is a flawless ocher, punctuated by ebony eyes and framed by jet black hair, and in the light of the setting sun, she glows. Thakur plays the lead in India’s new hit soap Saat Phere (“seven circles around the fire,” a Hindu marriage ritual), which, between riveting digressions into the lives, loves and secrets of a Rajasthani family, is the tragedy of Saloni, too unfortunate-looking for love. “It’s not that Saloni isn’t beautiful,” clarifies Thakur, a former model. “It’s that she’s dark. Because of her complexion, her family thinks no one will marry her.” At today’s shoot in the hills north of Bombay, Saloni seeks solace at a temple after another day of dusky humiliation, only to be lectured on the virtues of fairness by a fat, ivory-skinned 9-year-old boy. “Ah, Saloni,” grimaces Thakur. “She goes through hell.”

The notion that Thakur’s skin color could qualify her as unattractive is hard to fathom. Hers is a universal beauty, and in the West, despite concerns about the sun’s rays and skin cancer, people spend billions of dollars trying to duplicate her café au lait tone. But Asia, from its geishas to its Ganesha gods, has always prized the pale. And in India the desire is a national obsession. You see it in the personal ads, which range from the general (“Whitish girl invites match”) to the pinpoint specific (“Suitable alliance invited for … fair, smart, only daughter having advanced training in footwear molds designing”) but consistently mention the aspirant’s light skin. You see it in pharmacies selling Fair & Lovely lightening soaps and creams and–new this season–Fair and Handsome, for men. And you see it in commercials, in which India’s top two models, Katrina Kaif and Yana Gupta, are part English and part Czech, respectively. Lightness is big business. Fair and Handsome’s maker, Mohan Goenka of Calcutta-based Emami, says the fairness-cosmetics market has grown two-thirds in the past five years, to an annual $250 million. India’s 60,000 beauty salons do a roaring trade bleaching faces and blasting skin with tiny sand blowers.

No one can say for certain where this fascination with white skin originated. Thakur and Goenka point to pale-faced conquerors from Britain and central Asia who forcefully instilled a reverence for whiteness. Cultural conservatives complain Hollywood is pushing aside Indian heroes in favor of Westerners all too ready to display their pale flesh. Some sociologists argue that in a country where most people still farm, dark skin is associated with lowly labor in the outdoors.

Cory Wallia is Bollywood’s top makeup artist and a man whose cautionary–and perhaps apocryphal–tales on whitening include the time the mother of a bride insisted he slap on so much white foundation that the young girl somehow turned blue. (The punch line? The mother approved.) He believes the real reason for the fairness craze is more troubling than most care to admit. While no one suspects that Westerners seek tans to change their ethnicity, Indians, he says, are motivated essentially to do just that. “Indians are more racist with other Indians than any American ever was with his slaves,” Wallia says. “The desire for whiteness has very little to do with beauty.”But fashions–even cultures–can change. Although darkness is still akin to evil in rural India, Wallia says that in Bombay, reflecting its position as the capital of an increasingly cosmopolitan India, dusky is becoming a popular look. Thakur, as her character Saloni, may even be poised to become India’s first overtly dark-skinned icon. “People stop me everywhere and ask me, ‘Why are you crying so much on TV? It’s not fair.'” In fact, says Thakur, the climax of Saat Phere will break another Indian taboo. “Saloni eventually decides she’s not going to get married. She is educated, she can sing and dance very well, and she just doesn’t consider her complexion a problem.” And does the single, dark Saloni live happily ever after? Thakur laughs and says, “Of course. This is Indian TV. Not every rule was meant to be broken.”

5 Comments

  1. sunil November 29, 2005

    Vikrum Sequeira had an excellent post on the Indian fetish for fairness.

    One of my friends is from Africa, and her bro studied in India, in Delhi. He had some choice experiences and stories that were rather harrowing, and overtly racist….because of skin color.

  2. Sakshi November 29, 2005

    Now days..the ‘Dark skinned’ beauties are the in-thing in Bollywood….but you don’t see the same concept being adopted by the Indian society….I guess double standards will always dominate our culture….

    I have actually come across a family…where the boy himself is really dark skinned…but he rejected a brown skinned girl saying that she ‘dark’, they wanted a ‘fair’ girl…cause they want the grand children to be on the lighter color side.

  3. arZan November 29, 2005

    Sunil, I just checked out that post. Thanks for the tip.

    Sakshi…they guy should be given a kick in the balls.

    Also there is a saying that i’ve read somewhere…

    “Blond is beautiful, but black is sexy”

    So there !!

  4. Manisha March 2, 2006

    Hi, I was looking up makeup tips for my dark complexion, since in America it’s so hard to find makeup to match an Indian. I found your website and your article grabbed my attention. When I was little, I thought it was strange how my mother would buy foundation with really light shades thinking that they would make her look lighter. When I was a teenager, I would go outside a lot and play tennis. My mother didn’t like that, and begged me to stop because my skin color would become darker. Of course I didn’t stop playing because I thought she was being ridiculous. A couple years ago, my brother got married to a Gujurathi and she doesn’t have a fair skin complexion. When we went to India, the first thing my family pointed out about her was that she wasn’t fair. I am not fair, but I’m not very dark either, but sometimes I just want to become really really dark to rebel against everything.

  5. Rakesh March 12, 2006

    Rightly pointed out.
    This is common too among the Indian diaspora in Mauritius where the majority of them originate from Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and especially Bihar.

    That makes fair skinned girls hard to find but they are quite many here. I know one close friend of mine who’s fair and applies makeup to draw the attention of her companions (like me). She says her mum wants her to marry a rich and fair guy one day. So, I’m out (I’m bronze skinned, kind of)!

    The funny side is that not a single prince-charming has approched her. Only dark-skinned… I have a GF who happens to be fair-skinned too but I don’t keep gloating over it. She’s a nice person and never made any sort of remarks over dark-skinned Indians (her father’s brown and mother not so fair). After all, thanks here we don’t have India’s ultra-obsession with fair skin.

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