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.
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’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.
“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!
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
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
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
Black of skin
Revered worshipped adored