We Indians are obsessed with fair complexion; we Punjabis especially consider it a benchmark of beauty. The umpteen brands of creams being sold on television and in the print media all claim to give a fair glow to the skin. It's easy to be carried away by the propaganda.
Leave aside womenfolk, now there are fairness creams for even men, which the advertisers claim can make them irresistible to girls. Even the Mills and Boon heroes were all tall, dark and handsome. What happened to those times? Who changed the definition of handsome?
In almost all matrimonial advertisements, fair complexion is the prime qualification that families seek in prospective brides. My family is no exception. My mother-in-law, addressed as "Biji", was a persona of beauty. Her head always covered with the 'pallu' of her sari, she walked around the house with grace.
She was white as a marble statue; and I, her daughter-in-law, was no match.
When my son entered marriageable age, hunt began for a bride who at least was on a par with Biji. Being an ardent devotee of Radha-Krishna, that was the image she had of a perfect couple. At every wedding, her eyes would scan for a girl as beautiful as her Lord's companion.
It was a ritual in the family to not touch anything she had cooked until she had served it to her "Thakurji" first on a silver platter. Afterwards, it was distributed among us as 'prasad'. Now she made an addition to the custom. Every time 'prasad' was given to my son, she would pray aloud: "O' my Thakurji, scout a Radha Rani for Rajesh as well."
One day, we were gathered in the lounge when Biji came over with her plate of 'prasad' and said her prayer again. Rajesh asked her: "Biji, everyday you pray for a Radha Rani for me. Why didn't you ask your God for one when your son (my husband) was to be married?" Pat came the reply: "That time, my prayer was not answered. Maybe Krishna listens to me now."
Everybody had a good laugh but I didn't know which way to look. She spotted it and realised her mistake. She hugged me and said: "No, no, I want another daughter-in-law like her only." I knew it was to massage my hurt ego. I had been put in my place for being of wheatish complexion.
My daughter-in-law is highly educated and very talented but she, too, could never come up to Biji's standards, as she was beautiful but not "fair enough". Gradually however, Biji became so fond of her that she set aside her parameters of beauty. It has been almost a decade since Biji passed away but her standard of beauty continues to live in the next generations.