Boys and girls, gather around. It’s pop sociology time again. Talking about pop, the first thing that popped in my head last week was whether HRD Minister Arjun Singh would survive the shock if he was requested to not sit on the floor but in a chair at 10 Janpath before being told that he was being made Maharashtra Governor. But the second, and more lingering, pop in my head was about a phenomenon that was triggered after a pop-up popped up on my computer screen at home.
As I was diligently tabulating National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme figures — as I always do in my spare time these days — an announcement advertising the anatomical virtues of a pretty large number of Indian ladies landed on my screen. In that split 20 minutes between it appearing out of nowhere and me clicking it shut, I realised that such display of eroticised aesthetics (from now on to be referred to as ‘pornography’) had, till not too long ago, been overwhelmingly the domain of ladies with low melanin pigmentation (from now on to be referred to as ‘White chicks’). You don’t have to be a Vinod Mehta to know that apart from a handful of publications that specialised in the visual depictions of sartorially shorn Indian women, every other demand for that kind of fantastical photographic literature was provided by foreign magazines. As any desi teenager would know till the late-80s, ‘White chicks’ were the mainstay, thus forming a synonymous bond with his notion of ‘pornography’.
Even in films, Hollywood and (especially) European movies, the women, the revered actresses included — overwhelmingly White again — kissed and much more. In Indian films, the heroine ran around trees. And if she sang under a waterfall in a wet white sari, well, that was our ‘Swedish movie’. This great division between firang and desi visualisation of women led generations of Indian men to believe in two things: one, that ‘White chicks’ are much less hung-up about things that we are so totally hung-up about; and two, amorous moments in cinema being depicted by two flowers rubbing against each other in the breeze, with a bumble bee egging them on, serve a very limited purpose.
As a consequence we saw a strong correlation between ‘adult behaviour’ and ‘White chicks’, which in turn led Indian men (and women) to see ‘Whiteness’ in women — as opposed to ‘fairness of skin’ as championed by fairness cream companies, matrimonial ads and mothers-in-laws across this country — as something erotically charged as well as erotically fraught with dangers. (A fling with a ‘White chick’ was seen as hitting the jackpot; but going steady with her would be perceived to be denied the sense of real ‘possession’.)
But then, something happened: the internet.
Slowly but surely, Indian ‘men folk’ — thanks largely to the initial response of NRI ladies with ‘White chick’ sensibilities — discovered that ‘White’ didn’t have to be the only colour of choice for internet-driven ‘pornographic’ images. (‘Black’ was never in the race unlike the desi-looking ‘Hispanic’.) Like believers finally creating a God in their own image, Indian men discovered new shores inhabited by ‘Brown chicks’.
In the meantime, though, the Indian man’s belief in the supremacy of the ‘White chick’ in the no-inhibitions department continues. They still seem to him to be ‘classless’ — despite the growing recognition of the presence of a White underclass (to be referred to only once as ‘White trash’). That was also the case when Yusuf Khan, one of the early travellers from India to Britain, reached London in 1837 and was surprised (and shocked) that he could see (and gawk at) “even respectable British women in Britain”, something that wasn’t possible back home in Lucknow where the elite Indian women remained secluded and the British Raj ladies kept away from desi men.
All this may or may not explain why we Indians have a certain automatic fondness for White women (never to be referred to as ‘White chicks’ again) — especially if they happen to be blonde cheerleaders at cricket matches.