In India, especially in Punjab, being dark complexioned and ordinary is often the norm but if one is dark and attractive it seems a peculiarity, even an anomaly to some. Everything else on this earth should be of different colours to provide variety but a person is considered beautiful, by many, only if the skin is fair . Nature created us humans like everything else in different shapes and shades. While acquiring material goods we even ignore the packing altogether at times if the contents inside are to our liking. But are kinked in our outlook for human beings especially women. Being black, brown, white or yellow skinned often tilts the happiness quotient for a person right from childhood. Children can often be very cruel and hurt the dark complexioned with remarks picked up from elders at home or because they themselves feel inferior or have been bullied by someone else.
My elder sister, ten years elder to me, was very fair, robust looking, had hazel eyes and long, thick black hair. In other words she was the ‘ultimate beauty’ by ‘Punjabi standards’. On the other hand I was dark (wheatish complexioned as most Indians choose to call it, probably to dilute the harshness of the word BLACK), skinny and very frail; being sickly I looked quite the opposite of my almost ‘Pathan’ looking sibling. Relatives and family friends did not refrain from commenting on the difference in our looks, often in my presence. Both our brothers were almost like me but for people they were ‘BOYS’. At times it would hurt me a bit but did not get disturbed for long because such matters had no importance for a small child. Being a quiet one, engrossed in studies and excelling at other activities as well, I would always be engaged in something. Thankfully times were such that children had no concept of beauty/ glitz and glamour or styles and fashion, like most grown ups too of those times. Beauty was measured by features, colour of the skin and health. My mother would dress me in pants and shirts to cover me up as much as possible because I was prone to coughs and colds and Dehra-Dun winters were rather harsh. I yearned to wear frocks and skirts, but no, my nobbly knees had to be covered. However, the love showered on me by my parents and siblings cocooned me in it’s warmth and only occasionally was I made aware by outsiders that I was not like my sister. She doted on me and the child in me was happy enough to enjoy that and was content to feel proud to have a ‘pretty’ sister. Probably those were the beginnings of living in denial. Some where in the subconscious things must have got stored to manifest as sicknesses in later life.
As I grew older I became conscious of the fact that a dark complexion was a deterrent at some levels. During plays or dance performances in school I would be given a male role because I was ‘tall, dark and handsome’, although I was a much better dancer than the ‘females’. I never put this feeling into words or acknowledged it to myself but the feeling of being lesser to some degree sunk deeper and deeper into my subconscious.
On joining Isabella Thoburn College, Lucknow, I had some college mates who were beauty queens of different states or daughters of actors even. They had glamorous looks and impressive backgrounds which nurtured and promoted physical beauty. Of course, there were many others, who like me, were ordinary looking and middle class. But during adolescence one is only focussed on oneself and it was no consolation that there were others like me, or lesser even in some ways. I neither had the knowledge nor resources to improve my looks. My mother often used to say,” Youth in itself is beautiful,” That made me feel beautiful and attractive. I would look for long in the mirror and try to observe what my best assets were and noticed that my eyes and hair were my best features. I learnt by chance from other’s remarks that I was attractive. A family friend once remarked, “She’s got lovely features, how much better would she have looked if she’d been fair.” Instead of feeling bad I was thrilled to hear that I had good features. I felt lively, chirpy and was a vivacious youngster. But it took me a little longer to realise that I was quite popular and endeared myself to most college mates and teachers as a person. It had nothing to do with looks. Some friends from those days are till today, very close to me. The colour of my skin has never been a hurdle in my having great friendships.
Malati was a senior at college when I was a fresher, who further inspired me to polish my persona and hone my assets. She was about, 5’7″, had a very dark and gorgeous smooth textured skin, large almond shaped black shining eyes and a figure like the Apsaras carved on the Khajuraho Temples. She wore a bright red kum-kum bindi, lined her eyes thickly as was the trend then and wore a natural lip gloss. Her raven black thick hair fell far below her hips in a thick, sensuous plait. When she walked down the long corridors in a plain white organdie sari and a long sleeved blouse she appeared like an angel from heaven , gracefully gliding like a swan with her head held high on her slender neck. All of us wore sleeveless clothes, being the style then, and hair done according to the fashion of the times. Those who are familiar with Lucknow know that our college was (at least in our times) the nursery for fashion shows and beauty pageants. All the outstandingly good looking ones dressed the same way and looked alike. She alone stood out with her individuality and carried the simple clothes she wore because of the beauty of her inner self . Her style was enhanced and individualised by of the colour of her beautiful complexion. Multifaceted and talented she was very popular and became a role model for me .
I was a gawky fifteen year old, fresh out of school. But my abilities on the stage and as a speaker won me many accolades. This boosted my self confidence and along with academic achievements I worked on grooming myself also. In our college days, saris were worn for classes also and I learnt to carry my cottons with flair having a perfect figure for it. Light coffee lipstick and long ‘bindis’ (fashions of the 60s) with a thick long plait snaking down my slender neck below my waist completed my ensemble while my large dreamy eyes lined perfectly, twinkled with mirth as I saw people attracted towards me. I would add a dash of glamour with chunky silver jewellery which offset my complexion. A spark inside me had been ignited. I excelled at studies, and was a winner at all extra-curricular activities. I soon developed a look and style quite individual and was admired by many for it and felt good when some expressed jealousy. The ‘ugly duckling’ had transformed into a swan.
Later in Medical College I was considered a fashion icon, for medicos then were dull and drab studious beings only. Being stylish was considered frivolous and a sign of not being serious about studies. Even though every year, I swept all the awards as the best drama artist and speaker, many of my teachers did not approve of me and even harassed and downgraded me. For me lesson learnt was—looks are not everything—-damned if you don’t have looks and damned even if you do!!
As an adult I learnt that I was loved and respected for the person I was, giving love and warmth. But also learnt that the first impression on a new person was because of my total personality and the way I conducted myself. Yes, looks did matter but very briefly and superficially for some superficial people.
When a woman is educated, independent and financially secure she commands respect and dignity that empowers her. With inner conviction and strength of character she develops a charm and unsurpassable charisma, not dependent on the colour of her skin but what lies beneath it. I am proud to be dark and beautiful and am secure in the knowledge of being an extraordinary human being.