Carefree, beautiful and flighty, that's me in the above photo. In this photo, I don't care how many shades lighter my skin is than the black color of my lustrous mane. I don't even bother about my skin shade anymore.
I have had enough of it.
That evening, I was casually walking in the corridor of my company guest house in Bangalore when I met her: a lovely Italian woman who was in India on a business tour. We greeted each other as we walked past, and then we met again on our ways back. It was then that we struck a conversation.
The first thing she asked me about India was, "I was watching the TV and I saw so many advertisements of fair and lovely and similar things where they say that you apply the cream and you become fair. Do you in India want fair skin?"
I could have conveniently answered "no" to save my country from a tiny bit of embarrassment of being progressive economically but regressive individually, but I realized I couldn't say no.
How could I -- and why would I -- when I, a young 25-year-old woman, had always yearned for fair skin for as long as I could remember?
To reply to her question, I first smiled and then acted a little cool while adding that "yeah, Indians are obsessed with lighter skin tone and that fair is lovely and beautiful in my country."
She was amused and then she looked at me and asked, "Are you considered fair in India?"
"Ha ha.. no way! I am dark," I replied.
"But you are lovely and you are beautiful," she added before she bid me goodnight.
If there is one truth that is universal, I would say it is the age old adage, beauty lies in the eyes of beholder. Sadly the beholders in India -- Northern India especially -- believe beauty lies in fair or lighter skin tone.
Pick up any Indian matrimonial site, or the typical matrimonial ads that appear in the newspapers every Sunday, and you would find that they are rife with words like, "fair and tall," "fair and slim," etc.
These advertisers want an educated and working girl as well, but at the preset, they want a fair girl because a fair girl means a fair progeny.
I have grown up hearing such statements that come directly from insensitive people and indirectly from slightly sensible people. But more or less, almost everyone seems comfortable with implying it.
Of course, I do know a few gentle, kind-hearted and unconventional people, who have kept reassuring me that beauty is skin deep.
It took me more than a decade to overcome an inferiority complex I had developed due to my relatively darker complexion. To add to that, I had to deal with constant comparisons with my younger sister, who is relatively fair.
Thankfully, whether skin is fair or not, life is fair and equal to all.
I also experienced my moments of glory when I traveled to South India for work. I worked with an MNC (a multinational corporation), where I dealt with people who had traveled widely and who no longer believed in the fairness of skin. I was no more an ugly duckling there; I was pretty among the lot.
My confidence found wings and my inner beauty got radiance when I traveled outside India. My mostly European classmates in my international MBA program in Netherlands complimented on my skin tone and loved my long, silky, soft black hair. Unlike my own country men, they loved the dark color on me, in both my hair and my skin.
A dear classmate once gave me a warning, "Don't you ever complain about your skin color. Do you know how beautiful your skin is?"
Those who differentiate based on skin color are immature, ignorant and simply foolish.
It took me a decade of education so that I could become financially independent and thus confident. It took an experience of more than couple of years of living in South to learn that skin color is simply a fetish. And, finally, it took a trip outside India to finally come out of my cocoon and shine as if I was as white as a pearl.
Things have changed substantially in the last few years; Indian men have moved past the color of skin. Dark skin complexion is no more a bane, but rural India still has a long way to go.
I am not sure if this Indian obsession with fair skin emanates from the western white color superiority or what, but what I know for sure is that those who differentiate based on skin color are immature, ignorant and simply foolish.
India has yet to see the diminishing market of fairness creams, just like how America is yet to see the increase in black actors' nominations and wins at Oscars.
I am lucky to not be only able to overcome my complex and forget about the skin color totally, I am also lucky to be married to a good husband and live a good life, which is now an envy to many of my fair-skinned friends.
I now believe that dark skin color is a blessing, especially if you are in North India. It has proved to be a boon in my life.
I didn't have to cope with men who stalked me because I was fair and I looked pretty. I had the silent admirers who are still my friends and who keep telling me to "stay the way you are."
It is only due to my complexion that I met men who defied society's stereotypes and came forward to me with their proposals. I finally accepted one such proposal, and have found a great man as my husband who believes I am the most beautiful woman in the world because I have a rare, kind yet symmetrical face.
I now believe that dark skin color is a blessing.
I am dark and I am beautiful. I do not have much to worry about skin cancer, thanks to the natural pigmentation. I can shine bright because my skin absorbs the scars and the marks. Thanks to its dark shade, I also do not have to fret over sunburns or tanning.
I do not use a fairness cream or any skin whitening lotion. I am happy with the color I am born with. It is due to this color that I have a good life. And it is this good life that has made me confident to laugh like crazy as seen in the photo above and claim that I am dark and I am beautiful.