My father was one of the earliest people in Kerala to manufacture soap. He had a soap factory in Thevara. My mother used to go into fits of laughter each time she related the story of my aunt’s – my father’s doting sister – effort at marketing her dear brother’s product.
My aunt was doing her graduation in St. Teresa’s college. She had a friend - let’s call her Theyyamma- who was deeply distressed 'cos she was not fair – and therefore not lovely.
‘My brother is manufacturing soap’, said my aunt to Theyyamma
’Soap? What’s soap?’
‘It’s a cake like thing which lathers. If you wash your face and body with it, it’ll remove all dirt. More still. If you leave the lather on your face overnight, and wash it off in the morning, you’ll be several shades fairer.’
Theyyamma went home in a high state of excitement.
But she did not come to college the next day – and the next, and the next - - - .
When my aunt came back home from college on the third day of Theyyamma’s absence, she found Theyyamma’s mother at home, looking worried, and my mother who was with her looking tense.
‘What happened to Theyyamma? ‘, my aunt asked T’s mother. She hasn’t been coming to college for three days now?’
“Theyyamma has become FAIR’ said my mother sharply. 'Her skin has come off her face!”
Fortunately for my father, those were not days when people rushed to the consumer court.
And fortunately for Theyyamma, my father apparently hadn’t USED too caustic stuff in the soap – for her skin came back without any damage, thereby not adding one more illustration to the repository of examples of the Malayalam proverb VELUKKAAN THECHATHU PAANDDAYI (what was applied to become fair caused permanent discolouration).
This happened in the late 1940s.
Today, five decades later, women continue to try out home remedies and multinational products to lighten their complexions.
And the ads for these fairness creams are so idiotic that one cannot but marvel at how anyone – from models to script writers – can have any involvement with them. i recently saw one in which the dhoti clad pundit complete with the mark of Vishnu on his forehead stride to the tune of Vedic chants to dig out ancients wisdom from antique books handed down to him to find the formula for fairness – all because his daughter was denied a job on account of her colour. Of course, the wisdom of the forefathers did not let him down. The result – herbs crushed and made into paste to create the ayurvedic Fair and Lovely cream!
Of course, the daughter is selected for the same job after a week’s application of Fair and Lovely!
And now, the fairness bug has bitten the male species too. I belong to the generation where the more idealistic believed that handsome is what handsome does, and less idealistic ones believed that handsome is tall and dark. Now all that’s changed. Now handsome is fair! And so we have fairness creams for men, and equally ridiculous ads selling them!
How does one explain this obsession with fairness? No dearth of theories, i know, but can i have yours?