Friday, September 05, 2008

Black Coffee and Milk - The Nazrani Obsession with Colour

I have always hesitated to write on the colour issue. But a comment from Silverine to my last post emboldened me. These youngsters, they are very courageous and often point out to you the road to be taken!

It was in the early seventies. I was, once, waiting for my friend in the parlour of a college hostel. Three ladies – all above fifty – came in and asked for Susan.
“Which Susan?” asked the parlour maid.
“A fair girl. Very fair”
The parlour maid nodded and disappeared.
One of the ladies recognized me.
“Aren’t you so & so’s daughter”
“What course are you doing?”
I told her. All of them got excited.
“Hey! Susan also is doing the same course, same year. Do you know her?’
They looked at each other, and then all of them, in unison. moved forward to the edges of their chairs and, in a conspiratorial tone, one asked. ”Is Susan beautiful?”
I remained silent. ‘Cos Susan was not my idea of beautiful.
“But I heard that she is very, very fair?”
“Yes. She’s milk white. That’s what we were told”. That in an accusing tone.
“Yes. She is milk white”, I agreed.
All of them looked relieved.
“So she must be beautiful”. Just then, in walked Susan and I saw all the three faces of the visitors go radiant with joy. Apparently they had come to take a peek at the girl proposed for a relative's son.

This Nazrani obsession with colour is inexplicable, particularly since there are some very very dark Nazranis too. And the similes used to describe colour are uniform across the tribe -”as dark as ebony” for the very dark, ‘milk white’ for the extremely fair. A husband wife team with one extremely fair & the other very dark is referred to as “black coffee and milk”. In the Trichur region, beauty is equated with skin colour. You can have a snub nose, thick oversized lips, buck teeth, mere slits for eyes but yet be beautiful if you are milk white. On the other hand, you can have finely chiseled features of a classic beauty and yet be “not really desirable for my son”.

In the seventies, when I was branded as belonging to the “incorrigible younger generation”, my group of friends (we considered ourselves modern & more enlightened than the rest of mankind) rebelled – in our private debates - against this colour obsession. The very fair was derogatively called ‘vella paatta” (white cockroach). Our relatives from Trichur, in their typical blunt manner dismissed this as a “sour grapes” approach.

I don’t think things have changed much even today. Each time parents inform us about the marriage of their sons, the first information is about the colour. And a light skinned girl always lends a lilt to the voice of the prospective in-laws. We often hear such statements as “she is so fair, yet they are demanding a fat dowry –and that too for that karamban”!

A couple of years back, I attended a social function in Trichur. I was caught in a group which was very excitedly discussing the effectiveness of Chakolas Fairness cream. How serious they were!
”You know Champaka? I saw her yesterday. She has changed a lot. Become soooooooo beautiful (read fair). I asked her what she did to herself. She is using Chackolas fairness cream”
“Really (four voices in unison-high pitched with excitement)
“Yeeeees. Pearl. Why don’t you ask your daughter to use it? After all she is of the marriageable age”
“As if my daughter isn’t fair enough”. Pearl indignantly.
“Don’t get me wrong Pearl. Of Course your daughter diamond is fair (Pearl smiles), but if she uses Chakola fairness cream, she will become fairer. If it has made Champaka fairer, it'll do miracles with Diamond?

Pearl looks happy. “Shall write to her immediately – Actually Bangalore has darkened her complexion - and these young girls, they are so careless about their colour. They are always in the sun. I ask her to carry an umbrella. She won’t. She says her friends will call her a mallu and tease her. But I have sent a sunscreen with 60%SPF and remind her every day to use it when she goes out. She is coming next week. Wonder (looks anxious) if she has become dark”.
“Yes, yes. These youngsters. They don’t realize that if they become dark, everything is over for them”.

That was when I realized that I better move out of that group before they ask me to try out Chakola’s Fairness Cream.

Shall conclude with a chota episode about my efforts to lighten my complexion. Succumbing to pressure from my dear ones, I went to a beauty parlour to get a facial done on the day before I was to attend a wedding in Trichur. I took my 5 year old son along as there was no one at home to baby sit. Not wanting to leave him alone in the lobby of the parlour, I took him along inside. Before the facial began, I talked to the beautician at length about the safety of using bleach on the face. She was a good talker and convinced me that bleaching is a must and will not harm my facial skin.

The next day, during the reception, I was making light conversation in the company of a large number of relatives when out of the blue, with no provocation whatsoever, my son announced loud and clear, for all the world to hear, that I'd put bleaching powder on my face the day before. Numb with horror, I kept mum. “Bleaching powder?” someone asked. “Yes, bleaching powder. I saw it, I saw it, I saw it, I saw her do it”. Then, angry that someone should question the veracity of his statement, he turned to me, and pointing his index finger at me, asked “Isn’t it true, amma? Am I not speaking the truth?”


  1. Hahaha 5-year olds are the best.
    My bro when he was below 5 and seemingly busy playing with his toys while Amma and Grandpa were talking about a relative who was having some domestic problems, suddenly announced
    "Kalyanam kazhichu garbineem ayi, ineepo paranjitu enthu kaaryam" and went back to playing. Amma and Grandpa were > LOL!

  2. Hello!

    Very interesting and enjoyable post!

    I think it is not only the Nazrani's who are obsessed with colour but the whole of India. It is my presumption that this is because there is a tendency to think that fairness is associated with Aryans who are supposed to be a surperior race compared to darker skinned Dravidians.

    Chilren are innocent and one should expect them to blurt out things like this. At times it is embarrasing for the parents but very often there is great humour. I had a good laugh at the joke.

    Thank for sharing this great post!

    Best wishes!

  3. to hell with nazranis and their obsessions .idiot indian christians ..who cares if they are white or black as in hindu india they dont have a place and in west they are brown indian converts ..what a bunch of pathetic loosers

  4. Reg the anecdote about a family we learned very quickly that one has to be extremely careful with kids. We baby sit quite a few so are acutely aware that all that happens in the house will be regurgitated faithfully to their parents and relatives at odd times. So we all walk on egg shells when they are around. :p

    What you have written is so true here. Even now, when I go to Kerala, my aunts get worried that I will get dark. Over the years I have managed to convince them that a tan wears off. But childhood was a pain with them trying to keep me indoors and me trying my best to stay outdoors. The family complexion is like the family wealth. Guarded like Fort Knox. And things haven't changed a bit, judging from the demand for girls from my family for marriage. People are even willing to forgo dowry or take less for it. I know families that are dark complexioned trying to lighten the next gen by marrying fair girls. I pity girls who marry such twits!!

  5. Forgot to wish you...

    sHAPPYl pONAM!!


  6. @silverine;
    'The family complexion is like the family wealth' - A QUOTABLE QUOTE.
    eithu shapp? kallu shappo, govt. outlets o, big bazaaro? evidey chennalum thirakkayirickyum- Onamokke allayo?

    @ annonymous
    hey, i know who u r - that unmistakable style!

    @ joseph Pulikotil
    yes, you are right. indians are obsessed with colour. but i live the inside reality of the Nazranis-hence can write with some confidence on their obsession.

    your brother- must be a precocius child!

    @ all
    too early to wish u happy onam- doing it nevertheless.
    HAPPY ONAM! podi podikyu ellavarum!

  7. lol!!! The greeting has been cleverly rearranged to show the reality i.e the Q's outside kallu shaapu's on Onam day! :)) So this is the new greeting now!! Wish you a kalakkan Onam too!!

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  9. awesome post!
    You sounded like a youngster in your comments :-D

    @silverine - the Q's are always outside the "wine shops" :-) Shaappil sthalam undaakum..

    Best wishes of the season!

  10. Hehe good post!!!! Some of these Malayalam ads esp on beauty products are a joke.
    LOL abt ur son letting out ur fairness secrets:-D

  11. wow...nice enjoyable one...

    But are Nazranis the only ones obsessed by colour?

  12. @ scropiogenius
    guess all indians r obsessed with colour. In North , certain communities simply look thru u if u r not fair.
    but, i know only the underbelly of my community
    @ deepak
    how do nonyoungsters sound?:-)
    @ reflection

  13. :-D

    I'm stumped..
    but i really meant that..maybe its because that was the first time I saw you write in manglish!! :-)

    PS: "i know only the underbelly of my community"..
    That defines your blog .. while most of us are subject matter experts in all regions and provide insights mostly in your own community..

    Which is why we all love you!:-)

    But that you already know!


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