This conversation here reminded me of this first post i had written, it is one of the posts that is most regularly read for some odd reason, readers use the tag ‘dark indian girl’ to reach here, i wonder about it sometimes .
Not the Tamil God’s tribal consort, but just someone known to me. Valli, husband and young son arrived in Bangalore as migrants. What they sought? What they got? Interesting line of inquiry, but, here, I want only to share few stories that I heard from Valli.
Valli did not land in the usual receptacles meant for poor villagers fleeing drought and other nasties, i.e, the sprawling slums of Bangalore city. Instead, she got housing within the grounds of a regal bungalow owned by an elite Anglo-Indian family, thanks to husband’s green fingers. He was hired as the resident gardener. Valli, got into the bungalow routine. Thus, knew the tea-making, serving and other genteel stuff.
Valli as I remember her then, was in her late thirties, around 5′2, very dark skinned, not the blotchy kind, but the uniform shade, with even facial features. She wore thick rimmed glasses, giving her the appearance of a stern professor with an exotic hairstyle. Wish I could draw, for describing that style is difficult. Hair was tucked in a way that had the ends of her tresses framed around her head in a fan shaped arrangement. Her gait was proud and erect. Her form was slender.
Death of the aging patrons, brought Valli and family to the slums. A reluctant Valli started as housemaid and baby sitter to families in the neighborhood. She gained the reputation of being a loyal but fastidious worker. In the meantime, the extended family from the village kept coming into the city, in a steady stream. As the drought did not go away, the elections always got over, with it, promises of better rural life, while other nasties just got nastier. Valli kept track of the in coming clan members, doing her best to keep the men from succumbing to alcohol, and women from prostitution.
Valli and husband, could never do enough for their only son. The story of her becoming a mother after many years of marriage, was recounted in great detail, every moment of motherhood was magnified for Valli. Poor eyesight had always plagued her. She would tear up while recalling near total blindness, for the first three years of her son’s life. The way she traced her baby’s features and kept him safe from danger, always transfixed her listeners. Herbal medicines and glasses helped her regain her sight to some extent.
When it was time to find a bride for the beloved son, Valli was teased by other women, where will you find the perfect girl? Are you going to find him a fair one? No, was the prompt reply. “Amman pola”, meaning dark like the village goddess, she said. She was dead serious and would explain in her clear voice, that in her community pale skinned girls were not sought after. Beauty is dark. Period.
Take home messages for me from Valli’s anecdotes came in handy at different points.
It took me a long time to realize that girls like me in School were not part of any cultural activities (read on-stage), not because we lacked grace in our movements, or articulation in our voices, but simply because we had little too much melanin. Did not do too much harm to my psyche, though (I am dark and thick skinned, I guess).
A sometime Sunday activity by girls in my hostel, was reading aloud the Hindu matrimonial ads, each girl would pick her community section and read it out, to the sneering rest. We concluded, here within the pages of Hindu matrimonial ads was the sign that Indians were indeed unified. No matter what caste, profession, age, or whatever, they all sought a FAIR girl.
As I follow arguments all over the world about objectifying women’s bodies and its effects, the manner in which Valli objectified, her would be daughter-in-law, always amuses me. For the sheer counterpoint it brings to the prevailing notion of a Nation obsessed with light skin. Then again, Valli spoke about her community, probably there are more Indians out there who are not terrified of the ‘pigment’. Just that their voices are not in all the noise that gets heard.