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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014
‘Papa, ich liebe das exotische’
Renuka Narayanan
September 22, 2013
First Published: 03:06 IST(22/9/2013)
Last Updated: 03:08 IST(22/9/2013)

The thorns attached to Nina Davuluri’s crown and the consequent smiting and blighting, wuthering and blasting going on in America and at home make me realize with some astonishment that I have never been made to feel bad about myself because I am dark-skinned. And if I’m not wrong, many Indians share my experience.

It can actually work out as a dire cultural responsibility abroad to be a dark-skinned ‘Indian woman from India’ because you‘re almost always expected to be ‘exotic’ with it, be swathed in gauzy saris, keep your eyes constantly kohl-rimmed and exude whiffs of sandalwood like an aromatherapy candle when perhaps you’d rather hang out in shorts and a faded (though clean) tee, eating takeaway and watching Devon Ka Dev Mahadev, football or Grey’s Anatomy, like, you know, normal?

The nut-brown maid or café au lait woman must be prepared therefore to encounter attitudes — even today — that seem straight out of Franz Lehar’s ooey-gooey 1920s operetta, ‘Land of Smiles’, in which Lisa, the Viennese general’s daughter, falls in love with Prince ‘Sou-chong’ of China and wants to marry him and go settle in the East. And when her father sadly asks why she’s going so far away, she says, “Papa, ich liebe das Exotische…” (Papa, I love the exotic…).

At home, neither my own clan of pink or golden mothers, aunties, cousins and grannies nor my close galpals who are all much lighter-skinned than I have ever made me feel bad about being the coffee bean. Nor have I complaints on this score about gentlemen of my acquaintance. Did I miss something? I can’t possibly generalize on this very personal issue that is also a right royal khichri of politics, culture and religion.

But within the large bandwidth of necessary protest against racist and ignorant attitudes, I could perhaps reasonably share this small counter-report that being dark-complexioned has never been a drawback despite growing up wall-to-wall with fair and lovely family and friends. So I can and do personally testify that lots of Indians don’t seem to think like that and also submit that being dark-skinned can actually be a bit of a bore because of the fancy expectations often attached to it by the lighter-skinned races, white and yellow.

Given the big picture however, I’m sure we ought to cheer the encouraging message in HuffPost Senior Religion Editor Rev. Paul Raushenbush’s response to Nina Davuluri’s win that she is “the right woman for the right time” to be in the public eye.


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