‘Kali… At least I’m fairer than you’: This poem calls out society’s lack of acceptance of dark-skinned women

The beautiful, stirring poem chronicles the life of a dark-skinned woman from the time she was born to the time she becomes a mother herself, and how she faces the society's presumptions and stereotypes against dark-skin.

By: Trends Desk | New Delhi | Updated: April 16, 2018 5:18:10 pm

racism, colour discrimination, women with fair skin, fair skin women, beautiful dark skin women, beautiful dark Indian women, dark skinned women in India, Indian Express, Indian Express News Simple yet poignant, the poem sheds light on certain women’s struggles with something they had no control over in the first place — their dark skin. (Source: Hema Gopinathan Sah/Facebook)

If the recent disturbing events in the country are anything to go by, then they point towards one thing — being a woman in India is not an easy existence. Given how the obsession with fair skin runs deep and beauty is often determined by the colour of the skin, it is even more difficult if you have a dusky complexion. Which is why, this poem by Hema Gopinath Sah, a Mumbai-based blogger-mother, titled Kali is creating a buzz on social media. The beautiful, stirring poem chronicles the life of a dark-skinned woman from the time she was born to the time she becomes a mother herself, and how she faces the society’s presumptions and stereotypes against dark-skin.

“Kali
It was my mother’s fault that she birthed
Me on the banks of Kaveri
For try as they did they could not wash the black alluvial soil off my skin…”

Sah rues over how society takes it upon themselves to even provide remedies for your “condition”: “Stick to gold jewellery, silver makes you darker…” “Stay indoors, don’t swim, don’t tan, it’s OK That your Vit D levels drop to 4.75…” etc. are some of the gems you can collect over time if you don’t fit into the moulds of beauty and perfection. Simple yet poignant, the 45-year-old’s words shed light over certain women’s struggles with something they had no control over in the first place — that they were born with skin tone a couple of shades darker than the rest.

Read her post here.

“Kali

It was my mother’s fault that she birthed
Me on the banks of Kaveri
For try as they did they could not wash the black alluvial soil off my skin
Kali
Little piece of coal my mother’s brother calls me
As he pretends he can’t spot me in the darkened birthing chamber
It sounds very cute when said in Tamil
An endearment.
Kali
This one just got baked a little longer in the oven laughs my father when
My mother guiltily presents him with yet another daughter
One whose skin only a paddy farmer could love.
Kali
I am six when I am made to understand that
I who was proudly showing off my 99% in Maths was less than my classmate,
At least I’m fairer than you she says,
Sadly looking down at her own 73% marks
Kali
Raahat Ali hisses the epithet in class 3, that I would get familiar with through the years
Because I refuse to let him hold my hand
Kali
The shame I feel looking at my white face black neck makeup at my Arangetram
The shame
Is for the secret pleasure that even though I look like a clown, I am fair
For two hours
Kali
I burn my skin to a crisp with hydrogen peroxide, congratulations.
I now possess blonde sideburns to contrast my black skin.
Kali
The proud mother of a prospective groom, who insisted on a fair skinned bride
For her son who was ‘white as milk’
Amma told her off in no uncertain terms that her daughter
Is dark as decoction and only when you mix the two.
Do you get rich aromatic
Coffee
Kali
The boy who said your skin shines
Like burnished copper.
I let him go, I thought he was lying.
Boris Becker declared that the only time
He noticed that his girlfriend was black
Was when he saw how beautiful her skin
Looked against his white sheets
Kali
Touching my husband’s peachy creamy skin when we make love
Wondering how he could find me desirable
Kali
Lakme has three shades white, off-white and peach
The joy I feel when I purchase my first compact
At Heera Panna smugglers market
At age 26
It is the mythical, never seen before MAC compact,
In the pre- Manmohan Singh era
And it is the exact shade of my skin,
NC45
They got me. They knew I existed.
I had a number.
I still have that compact. After 18 years.
But the shop assistant wants me to buy NC 44 Because it makes me look fairer.
Kali
I’m pushing my light-skinned daughter on the swings
Someone asks me where her mother is
I bristle that I’m the mother
The lady giggles apologetically,
Usually only maids are dark skinned no,
No offense meant ji
Kali
Stay indoors, don’t swim, don’t tan, it’s OK
That your Vit D levels drop to 4.75
Depression, stress fractures are a reasonable price for fair-er skin
Melanin is a disease, there are treatments for it
Kali
Stick to gold jewellery, silver makes you darker
Leave the diamonds to the porcelain Punjabis
Don’t wear white, don’t wear black,
don’t wear blue, don’t wear pink,
Don’t wear light colours, don’t wear dark
Don’t wear pastels, don’t wear warm colours, don’t wear cold either
Kali

She who stands naked
Wearing heads and blood
Suffering no one
Fangs are bared as are the talons
Fulsome, fearsome
Black of skin
Revered worshipped adored
Kali.
——————

I wrote this for the talented, beautiful Catherin. She takes great pics and loves posting them on social media. Occasionally I find insensitive, colourist comments on her posts, which I had hoped would disappear in this post Millennial next generation. But Catherin deals with them beautifully, she completely ignores them. Something I need to learn.”

“I grew up thinking, nay, knowing that I was not good-looking, that I would never be considered good-looking and it was better that I studied hard and became smart. For only then would I stand a chance in life. I was told that I could take part in sports because, hey I didn’t have to worry about tanning. It is very very hard for an outsider to conceptualise how deeply entrenched this notion is, that those dark of skin are less than that of those who have the ‘good fortune’ of having less melanin in their skin cells. I once saw a TV interview of a little girl no more than 4, she was asked why another little girl was her best friend, so the girl replied because she is fair. The audience laughed delightedly in understanding. How do we ever change this, lift this prejudice, which is entrenched in our DNA?” asks Sah, a resident of Mumbai, talking to indianexpress.com. “I want to claim the word Fair back. I want it to only mean the opposite of unfair. It should only stand for what it was intended- justice, equality, equitability,” she quips.

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