Hema Gopinathan Sah’s Heart Stirring Poem will Make You Rethink Indian Society’s Obsession with Fairness

hema gopinathan sah


If you are living in India, you must be quite familiar with the concept of loving ‘fair skin’!  If you are a girl having a beautiful dusky skin, you might be well aware of the comments like, “Don’t go out in the sun, your already dark skin will get tanned more”, “ Don’t wear this color as it will make you look darker” and “Have you tried the new fairness cream in the market to make you look a little fair?” Mumbai based blogger mum Hema Gopinathan Sah also heard all of the above comments while growing up in India. But what stirred her soul were the comments she saw on a  dark-skinned Facebook friend which encouraged  her to pen down a heart-felt poem, which is viral on social media.

PC: facebook.com

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Hema Gopinathan Sah was Born in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, India. She was brought up and has lived in Mumbai for the most part of her life. This confident 45-year-old blogger published her poem, ‘Kali’, on Facebook on April 10, 2018, which has been shared more than 5,000 times.

“They wouldn’t say things like ‘you’re ugly’. It was the insidious nature of the bias against dark skin that bothered me. There would be comments like ‘dark but beautiful’, ‘dusky beauty’ or ‘nice features’… as if a dark-skinned person cannot be just beautiful. Their colour needs to be taken into the equation,” Hema Gopinathan Sah

hema gopinathan sah

Hema’s poem says Hema explains “what was every day of her life” as she grew up in her dusky skin in India. Her poem ‘Kali’ chronicles the life of a girl child from the day she is born in India to when she grows up. It begins with people calling her ‘kali’ (dark) as a general loving term, her skin color brings guilt and shame for her mother, her internalizing the discrimination to dark skinned girls in the country, and questioning how her fair skinned husband finds her lovable. In the last lines, her poem beautifully juxtaposes these restrictions and remarks made on dark skin with the rawness and ferocity of revered Goddess Kali!

“When you are grown up, you become wiser, more self-assured. But when I was younger, I was also on a quest to become just two shades lighter, as if it would somehow make my life better,” Hema Gopinathan Sah

Hema’s poem went viral and reached people across the globe. She has been overwhelmed with the messages and emails she has been getting in response to her heart touching poem.


PC: facebook.com

“Most people who have written to me are from the subcontinent, even those settled in UK, Uganda and so on. One man wrote to me about how this melanin in our skin that we despise too much can become a boon too – someone he knows has a daughter with Vitiligo. Another woman wrote to me saying that it made her feel ashamed but she experienced relief when her daughters were born fair. She was thankful they wouldn’t have to go through what she did,” Hema says. “It’s almost as though we take colourism with us wherever we go,” she adds. “It’s as if we cannot change. My model, Cathrin, is 17. I am 45. It feels as though nothing has changed.”

Read Hema’s heart touching poem on dark complexion girls which was published along with the image of a beautiful dusky girl!

Hema Gopinathan Sah

PC: thebetterindia.com


It was my mother’s fault that she birthed

Me on the banks of Kaveri

For try, as they did they could not wash the black alluvial soil off my skin


Little piece of coal my mother’s brother calls me

As he pretends he can’t spot me in the darkened birthing chamber

It sounds very cute when said in Tamil

An endearment.


This one just got baked a little longer in the oven laughs my father when

My mother guiltily presents him with yet another daughter

One whose skin only a paddy farmer could love.


I am six when I am made to understand that

I who was proudly showing off my 99% in Maths was less than my classmate,

At least I’m fairer than you she says,

Sadly looking down at her own 73% marks


Raahat Ali hisses the epithet in class 3, that I would get familiar with through the years

Because I refuse to let him hold my hand


The shame I feel looking at my white face black neck makeup at my Arangetram

The shame

Is for the secret pleasure that even though I look like a clown, I am fair

For two hours


I burn my skin to a crisp with hydrogen peroxide, congratulations.

I now possess blonde sideburns to contrast my black skin.


The proud mother of a prospective groom, who insisted on a fair skinned bride

For her son who was ‘white as milk’

Amma told her off in no uncertain terms that her daughter

Is dark as decoction and only when you mix the two.

Do you get rich aromatic



The boy who said your skin shines

Like burnished copper.

I let him go, I thought he was lying.

Boris Becker declared that the only time

He noticed that his girlfriend was black

Was when he saw how beautiful her skin

Looked against his white sheets


Touching my husband’s peachy creamy skin when we make love

Wondering how he could find me desirable


Lakme has three shades white, off-white and peach

The joy I feel when I purchase my first compact

At Heera Panna smugglers market

At age 26

It is the mythical, never seen before MAC compact,

In the pre- Manmohan Singh era

And it is the exact shade of my skin,


They got me. They knew I existed.

I had a number.

I still have that compact. After 18 years.

But the shop assistant wants me to buy NC 44 Because it makes me look fairer.


I’m pushing my light-skinned daughter on the swings

Someone asks me where her mother is

I bristle that I’m the mother

The lady giggles apologetically,

Usually only maids are dark skinned no,

No offense meant ji


Stay indoors, don’t swim, don’t tan, it’s OK

That your Vit D levels drop to 4.75

Depression, stress fractures are a reasonable price for fair-er skin

Melanin is a disease, there are treatments for it


Stick to gold jewellery, silver makes you darker

Leave the diamonds to the porcelain Punjabis

Don’t wear white, don’t wear black,

don’t wear blue, don’t wear pink,

Don’t wear light colours, don’t wear dark

Don’t wear pastels, don’t wear warm colours, don’t wear cold either


She who stands naked

Wearing heads and blood

Suffering no one

Fangs are bared as are the talons

Fulsome, fearsome

Black of skin

Revered worshipped adored


Hema Gopinathan Sah
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Comments (13)

  • EscapeWriters 3 years ago Reply

    Yes, dark skin color is considered as a shameful. Her poem is exact replica, how our society thinks/reacts on a black girl. At younger age every girl , wish to have a lighter skin. Many of them feel socially reject and hence have very low confidence in entire life. Such a beautiful poem to let people know how it feel when you are a black skin girl.

    deekshatripathi 3 years ago Reply

    very true dear!

  • Nicole 3 years ago Reply

    Such a powerful poem – and such a statement about the tragedy of beauty that women face. It never seems to be enough to just be beautiful in our own right. Our skin is either too dark or too light and our hair is never the right colour and is too straight or too curly. Thank-you for sharing!

    deekshatripathi 3 years ago Reply

    right dear! thanks a lot!

  • Holli Shaw 3 years ago Reply

    Beautiful poem and an interesting read, I did not realize this was also such a problem in India.

    deekshatripathi 3 years ago Reply

    sadly its true in our country.

  • Jenn 3 years ago Reply

    This was well written and a great perspective on a beautiful poem.

    deekshatripathi 3 years ago Reply

    Thanks Jenn!

  • Jubilee D Meyer 3 years ago Reply

    This is so powerful. It is heartbreaking that she felt the desire to be lighter skinned. She is breathtaking.

    deekshatripathi 3 years ago Reply

    True Jubliee! Hema is truly inspiring figure for all of us.

  • Roger 3 years ago Reply

    Very interesting article. I enjoyed reading it, thank you so much for sharing. I always believe all beauty comes from the inside based on how you behave on the outside ?

    deekshatripathi 3 years ago Reply

    Thanks a lot Roger!

  • Jaya 3 years ago Reply


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