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.
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.
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.
I am six when I am made to understand that
I who was proudly showing off my 99% in Maths was less than my best friend,
At least I’m fairer than you she says,
Sadly looking down at her own 73% marks
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
The shame I feel looking at my white face black neck makeup at my Arangetram.
Is for the secret pleasure that even though I look like a clown, I am fair
For two hours
I burn my skin to a crisp with hydrogen peroxide Congratulations.
I now possess blonde sideburns to contrast my black skin.
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
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
Touching my husband’s peachy creamy skin when we make love
Wondering how he could find me desirable
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
She who stands naked
Wearing heads and blood
Suffering no one
Fangs are bared as are the talons
Black of skin
Revered worshipped adored
This poem originally appeared on the Facebook page of Hema Gopinathan Sah. Find more of her writings at https://youareanothing.com/. She is a homeschooling mother, artist and blogger. Mythology is the subject closest to her heart, particularly Hindu mythology, and she is always seeking to contemporize the learnings from the epic stories of the Puranas.
The poem “Kali” has been shared on Instagram and in a number of publications based in India. Sah writes, “the poem is literally the story of my life seen through the color coded eyes of the world we live in. I was moved to write it when I read the discriminatory remarks on the posts of my friend, Cathrin Ezerder, whose beautiful face accompanies the poem and is probably the biggest reason the poem went viral, the way it did.”