Thursday, August 19, 2010

We discriminate. Period.

I really hate to say it, but it's really ingrained into our thinking.
Fair is Lovely.
I always believed that I was someone who would never support this view. I was one of those people who would tend to get indignant at fairness cream advertising that showed success and happiness being achieved by a woman's skin becoming a few (many) shades lighter.
But recent events have made me realize that in all this discussion, there's less black and white and more shades of grey. And some amount of hypocricy too.
A couple of years ago, when I was on a consumer visit with some young girl's family in Mumbai - This family was not a very well off one at all, and I was quite interested to spend the day with them and observe how they lived. At one point, the young girl's little sister came home from school, took one look at me and said (in Marathi, translated for me a minute later) 'This lady is very fair - she must know good english'.
Not that I am 'very fair' in any case, but I was truly surprised at her reaction, attributing knowledge of english and presumably many other things to my physical appearance. It only reinforced my belief that we need to somehow stop this discrimination.
But then Pickle and Papad came along.
Pickle, the one who has been through much with serious jaundice, prolonged periods in phototherapy in the nursery and many, many injections for the first few days of his life. Pickle is the dark one. The black sheep.
Papad, not only looks like a tiny Peanut and therefore has always been easier to relate to, is also the fairer one.
I looked at the two of them and felt bad - they are supposed to be identical twins! So why this difference, anyway? Pickle would always be compared to Papad and remarks would always be made about it.
I found myself wishing that they were more alike, at least in terms of skin colour - they may grow to be more alike as the months pass, everyone knows that babies look very different at different ages. I thought, why doesn't Papad just become darker with the passage of time! That will solve things.
And then, he did! For a few days in the middle, Papad turned quite dark and his colour was actually identical to Pickle's. This didn't last though, and now he's back to being the 'fairer one'.
But the thing was, when he turned darker, I looked at the two of them and found myself actually wishing that Pickle had become fairer instead of Papad becoming darker. Isn't that just sad? But it's the truth.
Sometimes the truth doesn't make you feel good at all.
The thing is, I relate a lot more to Pickle. He's the 'middle child' like me - older by one minute than his younger, smaller, fairer brother! He's been through so much. I actually feel very connected to him. He's somehow different from the others. He's resilient, he's a fighter. Despite his poor start, he's actually gained more weight than his brother, and become very round and cute very quickly. He's more difficult, sure, appears to also have colic, but in general, I can tell he's going to be the tough one.
Yesterday, a very wise and well-meaning close relative looked at him and said 'Bahut pyaara hai. But Papad is cuter, because he is fairer'.
I was quite shocked to hear this from him. The words were right out there, hanging in the air between us. I laughed incredulously and said 'You can't really have just said that. That's so discriminatory'.
He laughed, too but didn't really take it back. He just added 'Papad is also the smaller, younger one. You somehow feel more for the younger one'.
I said 'Not me. I feel for the middle child. It's tough'.

We left it at that. But while I feel very blessed to have such beautiful little baby boys, this is one thing I am not looking forward to - and I do hope they start to actually have close-to-identical skin colour. Even if they don't, that's okay. Pickle can be the tall, dark and handsome one - like his father.

In the meantime, we lovingly refer to him as our Gulab Jamun, Papad as our Rasgulla.

And Peanut as the Rasmalai.

Yummy little ones.


  1. Loved the honesty in this post but why do you want close-to-identical skin color? Because you somehow expected them to be totally identical and therefore are now disappointed that people will be able to tell them apart based on skin tone or because you are dreading the discrimination pickle might face and don't want to deal with that?

    I'm confused because I think if anything you would be relieved that with this subtle difference they will actually have their own identity. People will be able to tell them apart ensuring they also occupy a separate "space" of their own.

    I have identical twin cousins. Also boys like P & P and since one could really never tell them apart unless one got a peek at a mole somewhere in the nether regions of one of them they hated being clubbed together and wished they had some physical characteristic that distinguished them. Sad part is most times even their wives have a hard time unless the go real close and warn them to wear different colors if they are going to be at a function together.


  2. Hi Deepa,

    Thanks for the comment - no, I definitely do want them to have their own identities. Would just rather it didn't come at the cost of 'Oh, he's the darker one'. Somehow 'slightly shorter', 'bigger', 'with the mole on the right ear', ' with the curlier hair' seem less of an issue at this point of time.Wouldn't want any complex on the basis of skin color to arise.

    But then again, I suppose it's up to us to make sure it doesn't happen even if they do grow up with distinctly different skin colors. It's just that I kind of dislike seeing him already being labelled the 'less cute' one on the basis of this one silly difference. Yag!

  3. Y,
    Patience lady. Patience. I am sure they will be the same/similar color.

    When my twins were born Angel, being the one whose water had leaked and was eager to just come out and so had stopped growing in utero and was rather priming was a couple shades darker than Apple. Apple kept growing unaware that she is going to be yanked out soon and so had 3-4 oz more baby fat looked very fair. I fretted about it just like you are bcoz we are a fair lot in general and thankfully at that time I was in the US, so was spared the actual discrimination thing, but it kept going on in my mind.

    Slowly over a period of time (before they were one) Angel's complexion improved and now she is a shade lighter than Apple.

    So wait patiently because there is still plenty of scope for the ball to swing your way :) - Phew longest comment I ever left.

  4. Hmm in my part of the world there have been two ways of handling it. An uncle was nicknamed Tor Khan (where Tor means Black) which on a good day was shortened to Tor-ia (as most Pathans like "feminizing" all monikers)...Tor Khan grew up to join the army, most of the elders forgot his real name leading to situations when the operator was asked to connect to Col Tor Khan.
    I for a good part of my life have been referred to as Katai (not a variation of Katie which I would have loved) but Heifer as growing up they always thought I had a pretty big head compared to other kids and round eyes. There are a host of Daboos and other spins on being dark, green eyed or too short or too tall (leading me to believe that the Quranic verses that one should name one's young after something nice and meaningful was directed towards my family alone). But Y this lead us all to grow up not taking our looks (or anyone else's) too seriously and becoming super achievers (so you thought I was only a Cat? take that!!). Arhaan is called the Bengali (though no Bengalis were used in the making) and I hope he can live with it.
    Compare that to " well meaning" visitors when he was born (who continue to quiz me even now) Dont you mind that he is nothing like you (and yours). bilkul bhee tum logo ki tarah nahee hai na? Mind tau karti hogi your family? or 'dont you feel bad carrying a baby for 9 months and he doesnt look at ALL like you' .But as my mom says thank the Lord he is WHOLE (its a Pushto word and somehow loses the meaning in translation). So count your blessings Y (which I know you do) and rather the darker one than oh the one who is corrupt, or the one who is mean to his parents.
    big hug, a

  5. Kitney meethey,pyaarey bacchey hain! I love their names. Aneela has said it all. Take care. I hope your little sweeties are letting you guys sleep a wee bit more now.

  6. Oh I so get this. As the odd one out in a family of light skinned and green/blue eyed members and married to another from a light skinned family the biggest concern all through my pregnancy was my unborn childs skin color. And I m not even dark skinned just sun kissed. My boy ended up looking like a total firang doing justice to his lineage. Everytime we met anyone from the family there was a collective sigh that he skipped my recessive gene. And I hated it. I wanted him to share my skin color dammit. But when he tanned a bit through summer I missed him as he was and I had a moment where I wondered if I was just as biased as the rest as I slathered on the sunscreen. He s back to being his rosy self again so I havent had a chance to explore that further yet.Now that I ve finished harping abt me I guess what I want to say is that its ok. Its just a preference/sentiment in the end. As for the comparisons the world will keep spouting, your kids I m sure will find a smart and humourous way to tell them to take a flying f***. And so will you

  7. i agree with u ...(ashamed to admit it tho)..being fairer makes it easier fr kids in India...relatives are nicer to u...u make friends easily..tho obvsly ur personality can easily set u apart wither way...(but yes, indeed colour makes it easier...across the world actually)...

    but the light therapy makes them darker baby was dark till abt 3 mnths...5th mnth started losing his 'fake tan' as i called it...i felt extremely defensive when ppl used to say..'oh he has gone aftr u..not his dad (who is fairer than me!'....but u knw wot...have u heard ...''kala shah kala...goreyan no dafa karo''!!

  8. I think you needn't worry about the complex part. I'm darker than my sister, always have been, and have had to listen endlessly to "Oh, she's cute, but she's so much fairer". Somehow, it never really affected me much because my family (and my enormous ego of course) made me believe I was very pretty, comparisons be damned.

    And from what little you've said of Pickle being a fighter, I'm sure he'll not let such comments from distant relatives and random strangers actually give him a complex.

  9. i so know what you mean. sometimes i feel ashamed when i worry about what if 2B gets his/her colour from me instead of the obviously fairer father?
    and its odd because i have been so beligerent and sure to ignore comments on my colour as a young girl...


  10. o man! this was so honest and true! my 2 years old daughter turned darker in her 3rd and 4th months....and i was really worried...:( and I keep saying all the time that kaale gore se kuch nahi hota!! but the truth is that the fact that fair is better is somehow too deeply ingrained in our physche (whatever the spelling is!)...she is fairer now...but i am a hypocrite and I know it now...


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