Celebrate colours, not colourism

Fast forward to circa 2022, much blood has since flowed under the bridge in the name of colour across the world, forcing cosmetics companies to drop the whitening label and rebrand themselves as society-conscious


Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 7 Apr 2022, 7:22 PM

There was this fat baby among us who visited an upmarket restaurant at Tulsiani Chambers at Mumbai’s Nariman Point during breaks from our editing job in the eighties. He wore round, gold-rimmed goggles which rested on his fair skin as a compliment to his overall colour scheme and demeanour. There was a touch of acquired aristocracy in the way he conducted the business of life. Wrestling a serving of sweet kachoris with a knife and fork, he explained how all South Indians aren’t dark-skinned Dravidians.

“We Brahmins in South India are descendants of fair-skinned Aryans who fanned out to different parts of India,” he’d say in between nibbles. He uncannily — and shamelessly — pushed the Aryan Migration Theory that his forefathers migrated peacefully to India and most of the so-called Dravidians of the Indus civilisation moved south. I didn’t realise his agenda, but he invariably pushed his fair skin, as white as glazed newsprint, as forensic evidence. The Aryan advocate was soon pushed into the PR world by us, the Dravidian invaders, of journalism.

Two decades later, the colour debate made a comeback to my life when my son was placed in an American school in Singapore, which had just two brown-skinned kids. Luckily for the other boy, his American upbringing compensated for his swarthy shade.

That’s when whitening or lightening creams made it to our beauty bucket list. Being the only blackspot in a sea of white visages, Krishna grew so despondent, he stealthily slipped in bottles of skincare products into the shopping cart. We feigned ignorance. After an elaborate coconut oil bath every evening, he painstakingly rubbed the creams into every cell in the visible part of his body.

“Amma, Amma, ain’t I looking fairer? See my forearms,” he’d ask, eyes glowing with hope, during his weekend detox breaks. We nodded in silence, caught in the dilemma of whether to enlighten him on the facts and fallacies of the lightening creams, or to lighten his heart with a positive response. Age and years of medical studies helped him later reminisce and joke about the white skin craze in his salad days.

Fast forward to circa 2022, when Unilever no more sells its flagship beauty product as Fair & Lovely. Much blood has since flowed under the bridge in the name of colour across the world, forcing cosmetics companies to drop the whitening label and rebrand themselves as society-conscious.

Seems like corporates have changed but not the consumer mindset. In the past week, I have been taking a relative, a young lady doctor on visit, on a Dubai tour. Navigating the colourful alleys of the Bur Dubai Old Souq, I took the girl who calls me dad on an Abra to the other side of the Dubai Creek, where our first stop was the Deira Spice Souq. Exploring the dimly-lit alleys thick with the heady penchant of a cocktail of spices, I told her: “I had brought your sister here on her last visit.”

“Yeah, she had bought me a stack of saffron from here,” the doc said. “They are on a mission to make me fair.”

My heart missed a beat at that. My vision was cloudy as if someone threw a melange of spices into my eyes. I have been photographing her for the past two weeks. She looked as gorgeous as an insanely beautiful coloured woman from Hollywood. Why would someone embark on a mission to make an effervescent, educated girl fair? Are we still stuck on the wrong side of the make-believe Aryan-Dravidian divide? It reveals the dark side of our beauty consciousness.

Why do Indian parents rue the complexion of their girl children? It all boils down to marriage marketability. When parents abet colourism in the name of marriage, they are partners-in-crime with cosmetics giants. Leave the business of marriage to the girls. In all fairness, they will do a better job than the parents.


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