Tuesday, July 26, 2011


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?


  1. to me I would like a person with good qualities that matters most.there are people with dark skin and very good looking too..people have made mark in US by their qualities..like condoleeza rice ,serena willams, oprah winfrey and many more ..
    its jus the marketing dat makes people buy this stuff!

  2. Lol on your aunt.She is capable of 'fierce marketing'..

    The obsession to fairness I think is now another deep rooted superstition in our society,which we knowingly pass on to the generations..Hopeless..

    My daughter is only 6,not so fair.Last year she used to ask me when she is going to be fairer..I asked her why she is so worried about that.She replied that her friends from Norway and England, all are fairer and they have perfect white hair.haha..I laughed and she felt annoying.Now what I did was to completely explain how melanin works for her and all her fellow tropical beings..Since she is totally into logical explanations she could understand.Then the next few days,I started showing and talking about people like Condoleezza Rice,Winfrey and Obama is such powerful people and all (without mentioning any thing about melanin this time).When I told her the story of our own P.T Usha,she was so excited that she wanted to meet her..Now after that she is elaborating to others when they talk about fairness.It's not fairness but the substance that matters !

  3. fair and handsome are so contradicting ... isnt it?

    i guess people here want to be fair confusing it with glowing / flowless skin. may be this is caused by the fact that if one keeps the skin away from dirt (and mostly sun) it looks cleaner and smoother (and also fairer)! even for people who use fairness creams, it mostly gives some (very short term ofcourse) glow to face / skin, usually confused with fairness.

    lovely article.

  4. The subject was touched by some in the Blogs.

    I do not know the psyche that make people think fairness is charming and handsome. And get them run after these fantasy products to bleach their skin fair.

    If men use it to be handsome and charming they got it wrong, because at the end of it they may look sissy!

    If women use it could be because they love to be noticed as pretty. So being fair is pretty! (?)

    Some time ago there was this colour preference for stewardess selection in the Airline company. I think that was struck down by the Supreme Court. Ironically the fair or the pale skinned in the West prefer to be discoloured- tanned- .

    Its is funny matter.

    As for your dear father , lucky as you mentioned there was not consumer grievance cell, and fortunate for your aunty that she did not go "pale".

    Interesting matter!

    But , let me tell men, women I do not know if they will care, the most handsome, masculine, among men are dark skinned.

  5. Well, our fixation with fair complexion may be because the upper crust of society, men and women who need not step into the sun for work set the example of always seeking out fair complexioned brides.

    Most of the cloth colours available in the market look good on fair skin. We continue to be in awe of fair skinned foreigners and tend to look down upon those dark skinned people from Africa.

    Fair complexion is associated with high breeding and intelligence.

    For things to change, advertisers and film producers should make a concious effort to promote the typical Indian brown or black skin.

    Once we realise that 99% of Indians are dark, the craze for fair skin will end. But I doubt if we would see any such initiative in the near future

  6. i cannot help reading this piece as a lesson in the craft of good writing--graceful, humorous and well rounded, as all your good pieces are...

    i like that 'hai, handome' ad very much, girls dancing and going ga ga over that handsome wrestler. we must hand it to the ad people nowadays. there is more creativity going on in that field than anywhere else.

  7. a theory:...the coloured people are more beautiful but since grass always seems greener on the other side , blue eyes and fair skin stop us in our tracks... world renowned paintings are more of beautiful fair maidens and less of us dark folk... superficial lifestyles of the 'bold and the beautiful'in firangi white-peopled tv shows provide the anaesthesia we seek to block out the reality of ordinary life, and thereby get conditioned unconsciously to believe that fair is beautfiul... surrounded by media hype, we succumb to false propaganda that "handsome isn't as handsome does", and they slyly rephrase "tall, dark and handsome" as "tall ,fair and handsome!"... but i once saw in a movie, how africans who had never seen a fair skinned man believed him to be suffering from some serious disease ;)and kept away!:D... and when one is deprived of melanin pigment as in albinism or vitiligo then alone will one truly appreciate that colour is a gift and not a curse..


Dear visitors, dont run away without leaving behind something for me :-)
By the way, if your comment does not get posted at the first click, just click once more.