Diary of a Little Woman | You lose because you’re not fair? That’s not fair!

share this article

Young Nila comes to learn that the colour of one’s skin is unfortunately used as an excuse to discriminate. She learns how fair complexion came historically to be associated with desirability, and embarks on a plan to .

Of course it’s good to discriminate between light and dark. But not when it comes to skin colour!

October 18


Dear Diary,

What is it with people and complexion? In what way does being fair-skinned make you a better or more beautiful person? Seriously, these adults are THE most foolish lot in the world. I’m sure cats and dogs don’t go about comparing colours of each other’s babies. Maybe if humans came in all colours like pink, red and green — then we wouldn’t make such a big fuss about this whole stupid issue.

Sorry Diary. I know I’m complaining a lot these days. But that’s only to you. So please bear with me. I’ll tell you one good joke in the end so that you go to sleep happy.

Anyhow, Annual Day is coming up. Kalpana Ma’am was conducting auditions for the school play. Poo and Rads were auditioning for the female lead. Sandy and I bunked all auditions and sneaked off to the terrace. We sat on the water tank silently holding hands for almost two hours. It’s so good to have a friend you can be quiet with. After some time when our palms got sweaty, we leaned back-to-back. I took out my dog-eared copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He took out his sketch pad. Made a cute little comic about our first date. So lucky I am to have a friend like Sandy.

When we came down, Poo was sobbing quietly in a corner of the classroom and Rads was trying to console her. We ran up to them. Sandy cracked stupid Sandy-jokes and cheered up Poo. Then Rads told us what had happened. So basically, during auditions Poo performed really, really well but when they had to pick the lead, Kalpana Ma’am chose Rads because Poo was a little too dark-skinned. (Rupa overheard Ma’am saying so to Music Sir).

We cheered up Poo somehow, took her to the terrace and conducted a spit-a-thon, which is basically spitting on unsuspecting people walking below. Unfortunately, Kalpana Ma’am wasn’t walking about. Would have felt good to spit on her.

When we reached home, Najju Paati told us that Amma-Appa went on a sudden trip to Coimbatore. Some Thaathaa had passed away. Night stay at Najju Paati’s house. Dinner was pizza. Paati hates to cook. When guests come home, she only gives them chai-biscuts — no matter who they are. “They have come to TALK to me. If they want to EAT, they should go to a restaurant,” she says. Pizza she orders only for special people like Shanky and me :)

I told Paati about the theatre auditions. Paati sighed. She usually cracks jokes no matter how serious the topic is, but this time, she just seemed tired. I wondered if it was because she is also slightly dark and it brought back some bad memories. I was right.

Paati told us that when her parents were trying to get her married off, she was rejected by 3-4 guys just because she was dark-skinned. “That’s when I put my foot down. I didn’t want some idiot guy to marry me just because I was fair and lovely. That was 50 years ago but even now, you see how many matrimonial advertisements in newspapers ask for a fair bride. It’s so frustrating how shallow people can be!’

I didn’t understand what she meant by shallow. “Only pools can be shallow, no Paati?” I asked.

“Yes kanna, and all of us are like pools. Most of us have limited thoughts and hence are shallow. But some have deep beautiful souls. These are the people you should surround yourself with, Nila.”

She’s right. Varun Anna and Poonguzhali Akka are bottomless pools. Najju Paati too, obviously.

“Anyway. My complexion was actually a blessing in disguise,” Paati continued. “After those four rejections, I made a big fuss at home, moved to the city, got a job at a school, and began a whole new life where the beauty of my soul mattered more than the colour of my skin.”

Shanky pulled out his hand and compared it with Paati’s. His was a few shades lighter. He pulled my arm. My skin was even lighter. “But what’s so special about being fair, Paati?” he asked.

“My dear boy, the right term is fair-skinned. Being fair means having a good sense of justice. If you differentiate people on the basis of complexion, then you’re not being fair,” she said. “Wait, I’ll tell you the history of things. That’ll give you a better picture.” And she began.

Diary, I really wish Najju Paati was still a teacher. And that she taught ALL the subjects in our school.

Complexion-Obsession. That was our class.

Well, you know about how India was ruled by SOOOOO many people in the past, right! The Aryans, Mughals, British — all white-skinned. This meant that native Indians began to associate a fair complexion with power and success. If you were dark-skinned, then you would suffer like them. Since all grown-ups seek power, white skin (the symbol of power) is what they want for themselves and their children. And this has being continuing for generations.

Paati shared stories of how she was bullied at school for the colour of her skin. At weddings, her aunts and uncles would randomly console her even when she wasn’t upset, saying, “So what if you’re dark, Najju. You are very intelligent.”

I asked her whether things got better in the city. “No, Nila kutti. But at least I lived by myself. I got to be around people I liked. And if anyone commented on my dark skin, I would smile sweetly, glide my fingers on the back of my hand and say, ‘It’s so black and beautiful, no! Thank you so much. Even your complexion is nice.’

“I realised later that I was mocking them. Bad habit of mine. Nila, you must remember all people have pure souls. Just that it gets muddy at times and they say and do things that might hurt you. So instead of feeling bad about what they say, think about how you can change it.”

“But how can we change the way people speak, Paati?” I asked frustrated-ly. “Some problems have no solutions.”

She snorted.

“Ok. Sunday. Round Table Meeting of the Children of Heaven,” she announced, standing up and speaking into an imaginary mic.

We blinked dimly.

“That means you both come for tea, bring Poo, Rads and Sandy also. I’ll call Poonguzhali and Varun. We’ll sit around a table and come up with solutions for this Complexion-Obsession. Deal?”

Shanky jumped. “How can adults join the Children of Heaven club?”

Najju Paati smiled. “My dear boy, all of us were born children of God. The minute we call ourselves grown-ups, we stop learning, So at 72, I’m a child. And you can call me Najju Paapa if that makes it better for you.”

We giggled and giggled and high-fived Najju Paapa.

(Ah there’s the joke I promised.)

Finally, I feel slightly better. Slightly hopeful. Though I do wonder why Najju Paapa called people shallow pools and then spoke about everyone being pure souls. Must ask this at the Round Table.

Yours waiting-for-Sunday-ly,



I told Poo and Rads about the Round Table Meeting of the Children of Heaven. Poo was still upset I think, because she said, “What’s the use, you and Rads will never know what I feel.” At first I felt bad about what she said. But she’s right. We’ll never fully know. Hopefully the Round Table will help.

share this article
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.