This morning was different than other mornings. The random noises of relatives and utensils were comparatively more aggravating than ever. She tried to cover her head inside the blanket thinking she could barricade the sound for some more time and could complete her sleep, but it was never to be happened as her mother entered the room howling.
“Get up you sloth. And go to the beauty parlor with your cousin.”
“It is only 8 am mom. No parlor would be open and I have been going to the parlor almost every day from last week.”
“Don’t you dare to say this. I have already requested the parlor owner to open the parlor early today. Moreover, you would be saved from the barging sunlight if you go now and your black, sickening skin may look good for a while.”
Her mom rushed out of the room crushing the sentiments and sleep of her daughter, ‘Sunaina’. She was 28 now and her father was trying to get her married from last 3 years. Despite of having an attractive figure and height she lacked something which Indian people cherish about, the fair complexion. Irrespective of the fact that Indians have been complaining about the racist attacks on them, this community is known as one of the most racist in the entire world. No matter what, color matters…at least in India.
It wasn’t the first time that she was hearing something nasty and devastating. Still, her big and beautiful eyes were filled with tears. She slowly stood up from the bed and stared her face in the mirror.
Starting from the school days, she had tolerated the spears of hatred and biased words. Her friends, classmates, cousins and co-workers everyone had suggested her to use ‘n’ number of creams to make her skin fairer but she wondered why people could not love her the way she was…dark and beautiful.
It was ok until her own parents started impugning her for her complexion. She was made to remember every time that she was dark and hence, ugly. For them, only fair could be beautiful. As retaliation, she wanted to hate herself and peel out the dark skin from her body but she neither had that cruelty nor courage. Old sentences echoed in her brain…
‘Kali Kaluti, Bengan looti’ (a racist line in ‘Hindi’ to address people with darker complexion).
Sunaina came out of her room. A distinct smell of refined oil and unknown dishes distressed her nose. She covered her nose with her ‘duppata’. The house was looking chaotic. Everyone was busy in arranging and rearranging the things, and making eatables for the special guests. It was the first time when a groom’s family had accepted their invitation to visit their home and ‘see’ her. Otherwise, the photograph of her was all what it normally took other families to decide that she was a misfit for their son. No matter what the color of the ‘to be groom’ was…they all wanted fairer brides…all of them.
She stood there for some time robotized thinking about nothing but destiny of her and girls like her. Women are supposed to sacrifice and love all. They are somewhat like ‘camphor’. They burn from within and give light and fragrance to others. They are untainted but still are often devalued by society and underrated than others. But this wasn’t the end of the suffering for the ladies with darker complexion. They are humiliated, insulted and ill-treated by the so called ‘fair society’ of their own brothers, sisters, uncles and parents. They were nothing but black camphor.
The clock was ticking fast. She went to the parlor where she was treated like some dirty cloth. She was ‘cleansed’ and ‘bleached’ with different creams; so that the menace of darker complexion could go away or at least fade a little. She sat restlessly without responding to scratching and burning she endured on her skin. She knew that the lady working there was only completing the formality. She wanted to justify the money she was getting…nothing else.
She had been undergoing such a treatment for a week now. She had seen other beautiful ladies winking to each other after seeing her. She had heard their voiceless cynicism. She had felt as a victim of their malice thinking. She had been ignored, segregated and ill-treated in this parlor. And in riposte she had wondered about the beauty of this beautiful parlor.
“Didi…there is a little dry patch here.” Her cousin tried to attract the attention of the girl working in the salon.
“It doesn’t matter” The lady answered without even looking at Sunaina.
There was a silence after that. No, it doesn’t matter how her skin looked because no cream could make it better than it already was.
She entered her room silently after returning from the parlor. There was a huddle discussion already going on with her mother and aunties as participants. As soon as she entered the room, they stopped talking. Her mom looked at her and shook her head in abhorrence and grief. Aunties started whispering about the outcome of the parlor quest.
“Try to apply some extra powder…your dad had worked hard for this…don’t ruin it.”
“Try Pond’s talcum powder…it works well with people of your skin color.” One of the aunties suggested.
“But it is not natural. ‘Vicco’ would be better…it is natural and works well.”
“What are you talking…look at her…no cream will work effectively.”
Sunaina stood there with her gaze towards ground witnessing the rape of her self-respect and dignity. Her voice lurked under her own conscience to gather some power of protest but all she found was misery and inability to decline on all creams and powder curriculum. She looked at her mother from the corner of her eyes hoping to get some support. She too was gazing downwards, as if, ashamed to give birth to an unfair girl. Drops of briny water swam across her cornea and after some struggle paved their way to wash out her makeup. Her mother quickly pinched her and her eyes with increased circumference suggested not to cry as the tears may completely wash out the makeup.
Soon she was left alone to stare the mirror and curse her dark complexion. She poured some water into the glass and drank it. The water appeased her stress and anger to a certain level. She wiped her lips and kept the glass on the table. There was not much time left. She looked at the dress which was chosen by her mom and aunties. The light blue Salwar suit with golden and colored embroidery was looking decent. She had a close look. The embroidery was actually a picture of several pigeon. The light colored pigeons were flying and the black ones were eating something sitting on a golden ground which looked like a net. She thought it was like her life. Her cousins who were fairer than her were allowed to go anywhere, wear anything and eat anything. But she was always restricted to certain colors, edibles and places. She was a black pigeon.
She looked at the mirror. Her heart skipped couple of beats in horror. She had wiped her semi-pink lipstick color while drinking water. She felt the hot rush of blood as she heard someone’s footstep near her room’s door. She quickly took out the pink lipstick and applied on her lips as professionally as she could. It was not perfect but neither was the earlier one.
“Are you dressed?” Her mother entered her room.
“Just finishing with the make-up”
“Apply some powder too.”
Sunaina looked at her mother with thousands of questions in her eyes.
“We are your parents Sunaina. We want the best for you. I want you to look a bit fairer if not like a princess.”
“Mother, is it not enough which I have done”
“Look at other girls. They look better than you even without makeup. I am so nervous. I will have to keep away all the girls. I don’t want ‘them’ to choose anyone else instead of you.”
“What about the white dress I chose to wear?”
“Are you crazy? Look at yourself. I am not sure how you would look even in blue and you are talking about white. You would look no better than coal in that.”
“Shut up and listen to me. Don’t utter a word unless asked. Do not make eye contact with anyone. We will tell them that the edibles had been made by you. So, if they ask just nod your head in agreement. And yes, we have kept your chair just under the tube light so that you look fairer…rest lies with GOD.”
The tension in the house rose to the highest level. People looked at the watch with every beat of their heart. Everything was arranged; the sweets, cold-drinks, samosa and so on. The other girls were strictly asked to remain inside their rooms. Only the girls under 12 were allowed. They decided that Sunaina would be called only after all the other formalities, so that ‘they’ would get less time to analyze her beauty.
After a slight delay of an hour a car stopped in front of Sunaina’s house. 4 people came out of the car and were greeted by Sunaina’s parents with excitement and enthusiasm. Soon everyone was settled and guests were fed with lots of sweets, samosas and tea. There was a long session of introduction between guests and Sunaina’s relatives. There was a pin drop silence in the room after that for almost two minutes, which was ultimately broken by Sunaina’s dad.
“Sunaina is a very talented girl. She is not only working in an MNC but also is excellent in domestic works. In fact, everything which you see here had been made by her.”
Guests said nothing but smiled. Every one of them was fair. The ‘to be groom’ was looking like price charming and his sister was no less than a princess. After seeing them, Sunaina’s family was on back foot. They had no option but to make excuses and prove how talented Sunaina was.
“So, what is the name of the MNC she works in?” The boy asked after a long waiting.
Sunaina’s father and mother looked at each other’s face. In fact they never knew it. They never took interest in Sunaina’s career. They allowed her to work just because they had heard that working brides are preferred these days.
“It is a big company. Why don’t you ask Sunaina? I think she would be able to answer it better than me. Young people should interact now…what say Mr. Sharma?” Sunaina’s father said with a grin on his face.
“Why not? We also want to see her.”
Sunaina’s mother walked in to fetch her while father continued talking.
“She isn’t well you know. Seasonal fever… It is unfortunate that she is not at her best in your presence.”
“That’s ok…I know seasonal fever is on peak…Manav’s mother had fever a week ago.”
Manav, the ‘to be’ groom’s mother looked fair like goddess. Her pink blush was attracting random eyes more than Sunaina could afford even at her best. Sunaina’s father saw her from the corner of his eyes.
“It must be a light fever.” Sunaina’s father smirked again.
Sunaina entered with her mother. She looked taller and fairer than ever; though her skin color was still the darkest there. Her eyes looked big and beautiful. Her slender lips looked well sculptured and juicy. She walked perfectly like a typical traditional Indian girl showing nothing which could be blamed to be ‘sexy’. She greeted everyone and sat on the chair pre-assigned to her.
“Why don’t you sit with us?” Manav’s mom asked.
“No…no…she should sit there…she is suffering from cold too…it is contagious…you see.” Sunaina’s mother didn’t waste a fraction of second in interrupting.
A strange silence prevailed in which people looked at each other’s face, knowing nothing what to talk about. Sunaina’s parents were hoping that Manav will ask something but that never happened.
“Excuse me…I need to take this call.” Manav stood and walked outside the house.
As soon as Manav left the house, the shoulder of Sunaina’s parents dropped, understanding why Manav left the house with an excuse.
“He could have taken the call after some time.” Manav’s mother complained.
“Could be from his office…that’s ok…I understand how career oriented and ambitious kids are these days. Sunaina is also one of them.” Sunaina’s father no longer had control over his grin.
Clock’s hands ran rapidly, and after almost an hour Manav reentered the house. The sweets and other edible items were over; mostly eaten by Sunaina’s relatives and a second tea session had ended as well. Soon after his arrival it was decided that the meeting should be concluded. Nobody from Sunaina’s family dared to ask Manav or his family about their opinion on marriage. They were afraid, as it was almost clear that they didn’t like her.
“We will call you.” Mr. Sharma had something to say only after reaching safely inside the car.
Manav looked towards the house and noticed Sunaina standing in the balcony. He turned his gaze towards the steering wheel.
“They said nothing.” Sunaina’s mother asked.
“What do you expect them to say…had I been in their place I would not have even bothered to sit here for couple of hours…I would have rather keep my son unmarried for whole life than getting him married with an ugly girl like her…doesn’t even die.”
“What are you saying?”
“So…what should I say? They approached us…and they happily accepted my invitation to come here…now after seeing that menace, they didn’t even respond properly…didn’t you notice that boy…office, my foot…it was all after he saw her obnoxious face…”
“She is your daughter.”
“It is better to remain daughter less than having this hoodoo.”
Sunaina’s father rushed to his room and slammed the door with all his power. Her mother sat on the chair with her hands on her forehead. Relatives started whispering among themselves.
Sunaina on the other hand stood still in the balcony, listening to her own father. Inside of her head, she was the maltreated lady who had found the courage to move on with her life. And she had been finding it, over and over again, after every insult and painful episode. She wiped tears coming out of her eyes and it was a straight ‘no’ to all the powders, creams, bleaches and cleansing. She felt that she love herself more than ever. She looked towards the sky. There were few fairer pigeons flying freely.
She noticed her mobile vibrating.
“Hello, how are you?”
“Why did you walked out?”
“I got a call from the dealer…you remember…the house I am willing to purchase.”
“My parents thought you rejected me.”
“Poor they, how can they even think this…you are so beautiful…nobody can reject you.”
“Enough of flattering…what did your parents say?”
“They said…‘Yes’…they liked you but they didn’t like that you fell ill more often…common cold and fever…my god…you parents are so dramatic…they can win in ‘India’s best Dramebaaz’…”
“Shut up…they are my parents…so…when will you send message to my parents?”
“Tomorrow…my parents will send our priest to give your family the message and find an appropriate time for marriage.”
“Ok…then will see you tomorrow in the office.”
“I love you.”
Sunaina had tears in her eyes…but it wasn’t of grief. It was of love and happiness. She was happy that she met Manav in the office where she worked. They made a plan so that marriage would look arranged. Now when everything was fine, a new hope of a new life was knocking Sunaina’s conscience.
“I love you too Manav”
She disconnected the call and looked up in the sky. The fairer pigeons were joined by some darker ones and they looked beautiful than they ever did. They were flying freely…together. Sunaina had a smile on her lips.