Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

I believe I am fair. Fairly fair. Fair in my feelings and dealings, but not fair in the colour of my skin; not the way we complexion obsessed Indians look at it.

I have, what the matrimonial ads call, a ‘wheatish’ complexion, which as per the Oxford Living Dictionary means, ‘complexion of the pale golden colour of ripe wheat.’ I can’t imagine myself in any shade of golden, so I’ll settle for a darker shade of wheat. Or better still, let’s say I’m not wheatish, and certainly not rice-ish, so I’m more like honey-ish, though perhaps not half as sweet!

In my childhood, there was a cream called ‘Afghan Snow’. I never used it, but I did notice that a lot of the girls who applied a liberal dollop on their faces along with some talcum powder – in my humble and never expressed opinion – ended up looking like salted peanuts!


This picture is reportedly from a newspaper ad in the 1940s, received as a ‘nostalgic’ forward. Please notice that the promoters of this product were circumspect, and mentioned only complexion, unlike the later products, which brazenly promote ‘fairness’.

Unfair, I say!

Recently, the Wife was watching an awards show on TV while I sat around with my laptop. The show was sponsored by a fairness cream and the anchors, with layers of makeup, repeatedly mentioned that cream, subtly and sometimes not so subtly, while the intervening ads emphatically extolled the virtues of being fair.

It seemed to me that one couldn’t get a soul-mate, a job, a good education and even a few friends, without being fair. I walked out of that room, afraid that I would be depressed and driven to drink by the thought of having lived a loveless, jobless, friendless and ambitionless life, having failed to use a fairness cream on my face in fifty-six years of existence on this freaking planet.

Once, long ago, we went to visit a friend’s newborn baby. There were a few others there, and one lady, in her own usual, casual way, remarked, “Ah, the baby is so fair and beautiful!”

After she left, a pretty young lady with a remarkably radiant smile, and colour a bit like mine, asked indignantly, “Babies that are not fair, are not beautiful or what?”

I would like to ask this question to the makers and promoters and users of all those creams.

While Indian women were always under societal pressure to look fair, these days, I’m absolutely shocked by the ads promoting fairness creams even for men!

I am empathetic of the cricketers applying sunscreen lotions and I’m proud of the soldiers applying camouflage on their faces, but I am contemptuous of the so-called ‘cool-dudes’ applying bleaching creams to get fairer. Will that alone make them better? Or manlier?

I was a soldier and never used any cosmetics, except ‘After Shave’ lotions, till my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, gifted me a perfume. Since it was rather expensive, (and well before becoming a husband, I instinctively knew that I would have to pay back in kind) I rarely used it, saving it only for special occasions, till I found one day that it had suddenly evaporated because I had forgotten to close the fancy lid.

Alas, nothing lasts forever; not girlfriends, nor their perfumes – girlfriends turn into wives and perfumes into vapour!

Wikipedia describes ‘Money Laundering’ as the process of making illegally-gained proceeds, called ‘dirty money’, appear ‘legal and clean’. The phrase is literally taken from the word ‘launder’ which means to wash and clean. In Indian parlance, untaxed gains are called ‘black money’, which requires to be converted to appear legal, which makes it ‘white money’. There are, I’m told, several ingenious ways of doing that in India, though none involves using a fairness cream on a wad of currency notes. The point is, even in money, it is whiteness we seek.

While the folks in the West are trying to get a tan, we Indians are dying to get a lighter skin by using chemicals, and I can’t understand why! There are many theories to explain that, from anthropological to historical to psychological; some of them are logical and some comical, so we’ll not go into that.

“Since we are all going to turn to ashes and dust and beauty is only skin deep, why this lust for whiteness, my friends?” This used to be my cry to my colour crazy countrymen and women, until I saw a news item and exclaimed, “At least we Indians are bleaching only our faces!”


© Avinash Chikte


8 thoughts on “Who’s the Fairest of Them All?”

  1. Vd. Prajakta Deval

    Thank you Chikate saheb, he article post kelya baddal. It will definitely help me to be kinder to my child and not force him into stereotypes.
    You have enlightened and encouraged me, a new parent. Thank you very much.

  2. After several smiles during reading ‘fair and lovely ‘ it wouldn’t be fair if i dont LOL in the end.

  3. What a ‘fair’ blog !! Expressing aptly ‘fair’ feelings of generally labelled ‘unfair’ by the so called fair public around. Hope this turns into vapour. Yes ‘internal me’ should get more focussed than ‘external me’, and no cream is needed for this.Thanks for the blog Avinash.

  4. Md Anwarul Haque Sardar

    …”Not girlfriends, nor their perfumes – girlfriends turn into wives and perfumes into vapour!”….hahahahah…that was wonderfully entertaining to read, but Avi…..you can buy another perfume or get a gift, but not The Wife… And to your question, “While Indian women were always under societal pressure to look fair, these days?” it is a ‘continuity’ in all women and also in men !!! Lastly about, “…While the folks in the West are trying to get a tan…” it is matter of balancing the imbalances. And finally the crux of the matter is…Ones outward beauty should mirror the inward beauty…that is it…and it is safer to be WISE HUSBAND.

  5. The ‘nothing lasts forever’ part was very insightful. And the last line was hilarious. Enjoyed this one thoroughly sir!

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