“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fair Skins, Dark Souls

" Last month two guys had come to see me, Balan Uncle, and both said no. I am too dark for their taste, it seems." She laughed mirthlessly over the phone. "Guess I should have fallen in love or something, found someone on my own."

I am silent and depressed. I ponder over the nature of men ( and women) of my country who shamelessly proclaim their preference of the 'fair, wheat-complexioned' of their would-be bride.

X is the daughter of a close friend. She is a postgraduate, speaks fluent English ( now, that is another criterion), very intelligent, pretty, charming, an excellent cook, well-read, has a good job. She is around 23/24. Possessed with an attractive physique and sparkling wit, she can charm the grumpiest of men and women. I would have been proud to be her father - her real father is no more. I know her so well, I can vouch for her character and integrity.

"Anyway I have decided that I won't do this anymore, this parading of myself before suitors. I am nothing less than a whore if I do it." I agree.

One has to only browse the matrimonial classifieds across the newspapers of the country to discover how specific are the 'Bride wanted ' boxes about the 'Fair skin' of the female. I don't know if anybody has done a study about it, but I think this phenomenon is unique to India. We Indians are neither fair like the White nor dark like the Black ( forgive me for my political incorrectness). Is it because in our hearts we are still awed by the white rulers of the past? Why is black/brown ugly? This preference of fair skin is not intra-religion or intra-culture. Whether you are a Hindu or Christian or Muslim or Sikh, hey you gotta be 'wheat-complexioned'.

Do we Indians think /hope that a fair skin conceals a fair mind? Or is it that we cannot stand the darkness of our own souls? Is that why we continue to abuse, scorn, smirk and spit upon the lesser privileged? Is that why the upper castes loathe the Dalits? But then our Christians and other communities are no less behind in their deprecation of the dark-skinned (X is a X'ian). The unfairness is perplexing.

Now, I don't know if our women also prefer fair-skinned men! Looking at the pictures of the hunks that appear in undergarment ads in 'Vanitha' ( THE most popular womens' magazine in Malayalam) that display their six-packs and the outline of  genitals , I guess dark skin could be sexy too. Don't ask me what men's 'undies' have to do with women's magazines.  Read the line - 'Who are you inside?'   Tickling, isn't it?

As I have mentioned before in my posts on Alleppey, for a connoisseur of feminine beauty, Alleppey offers its bounty of dusky skinned women. How smooth, how alive, how healthy and soft is their skin! From a glance at their figure, you look up to meet dark, khol-ed big eyes, defiant and  inviting. There is this stirring deep inside, but one smiles ( and sighs!) and looks away. :-)

The obsession with fair skin is amply exploited and fanned by the cosmetic industry and the media. Look at the fashion models - how many dark-skinned girls do you see on the ramp or in the advertisements?

The adage that beauty is skin-deep - I think we Indians have taken it for the solemn, literal truth! Along with 'fair skin' come the question of dowry, caste. If you think casteism is the bane of Hinduism only, you are mistaken. A perusal of the matrimonial classifieds would reveal the dozens of denominations in Christianity. It is laughable that many of the Christians in Kerala still trace their genealogy back to Nambuthiri Brahmins or Nairs and denigrate others as Scheduled caste convert or Ezhava convert. One cannot imagine a RC or Orthodox hobnobbing with a Pentacostal or Salvation Army.

I doubt if there is a one time solution for these ills of the society. Sometimes I wonder what is this 'modern' society. We seem to be as barbaric as our prehistoric ancestors! As individuals we can fight to some extent, but the marriage market of the country will remain the same. The cosmetic industry, the film, advertisements, and other media - all thrive on this absurd, petty nature of the Indian character. To expect the society to transform is just an impossible fantasy.

PS: You can find a 'scientific' study on this subject, written by a dermatologist(!) here. And couple of other sites, if you are interested


Balachandran V, Alleppey, 05-12-2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Secondhand Wisdom

Time and again, I have written about the simple pleasure in hunting - for books. In the last few years, most of my pickings have been second-hand/used books. It suits me because, the longer the hunt, greater is the pleasure - both in the hunting and in the sudden discovery of a gem among the trash.

One of the blessings of my posting at Alleppey is that I have to go to Eranakulam on official business at least a couple of times in a month. As soon as the work is over, I grab a snack and then dive into Kerala Books, the secondhand bookseller ( at Warriam Road and Chittoor Road) and spend the next couple of hours happily. Oh, you may not recognise me, if you know me only as the Banker; I undergo a metamorphosis, I become a different person just as I do when I touch down in the Himalayas.

Every visit to the shops end up in spending an average of 600-700 bucks, nearly the extra diem allowance I get officially. So I splurge with no qualms!

I generally am not keen on pep books, the motivational, the how-to-win-friends-and-influence-people, the chicken soups and the like. I am yet to learn of anyone who could turn a new leaf by reading these so-called self-help books. As far as I know, it made Dale Carnegie a billionaire - and didn't he kill himself? But then, among the heaps of unbelievable trashy works of fiction, I chance upon this book - ' Touchstones Daily Meditations for Men'. It is a collection of 365 quotations - I was about to put it back, but something caught my eye - Sit loosely in the saddle of life - R L Stevenson. Every quote is followed by an explanatory, motivating text.

In my younger days at Mavelikkara, there were professional readers of the Ramayana. If there is an ailing member in the house, usually old and near death, we would hire one of these readers. After the puja and other ceremonies, he would reverently open the Ramayana at a random page and read from there. It is usually believed that the verse in the opened page will have some significance as to the dying person or the family.

The 'Daily Meditations' - I found it different from the usual books of quotations. The quotations have been chosen with care. The book, I gathered, is meant for those who are withdrawing from drug/alcohol addiction.

Strangely, I am stirred whenever I open this book at a random page and read the quote:
Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life - Herbert Otto. Hmm, I think. Herbert could be talking about me.

We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin. - Andre Berthiaume

I have never for one instant seen clearly within myself. How then would you have me judge the deed of others? - Maurice Materlink.

In my friend, I find a second self. - Isabel Norton.

Quite thought provoking, quite reflective. Yet, these are opinions of individuals like ourselves; it is the essence of their life experiences. They could be right - or wrong. Yet we all say things with a certain finality, with a firmness that what we say is correct and inviolable. Whether it is a view of life or of another person, we believe that our perspective or judgement to be absolute. We assume we know life. We assume we know the other person. Yet do we realize that life as we see it is tainted by our vision? In whatever we see, hear, smell, touch or say, there is always the I behind it. To look at a mountain and say that I love it requires the prerequisite of love for mountains inside us. One has to have an ear for music to love it. One has to have a liking for the fragrance of a rose and a dislike for that of a rotting corpse, to like or dislike it. One has to have the love for children to love the softness of their cheeks.

But then - we can outgrow our senses. Only then we can look at and understand life, sans bias, sans judgement. In that state of mind we can be aware of and love everything, without our personal bias. 

Like the last line in Richard Bach's 'Illusions', Everthing in this book maybe wrong. It may be right too.
*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 02.12.2012