The International Women’s Day is coming up. It is on the 8th of March, and still too long a length of time away to warrant any general excitement. Not so if one works in online retail, as I do. And so it was, that today, while deciding upon which book to promote on the occasion, the aspiring writer in me came to ponder if I have any message to share with the women of the world. And while there are many themes from my life – the life of an average 24 year old female born and brought up in India – that touch upon the subject of womankind, I decided to share the one that is closest to my heart.
It is also the one that has changed and shaped my perspective on life the most.
Born in the early 90s in a nation obsessed with many things that ranged from the sport of cricket to kinky Bollywood numbers and unfortunately also included the “fair skin type”, my dusky skin colour was, well, a problem. Relatives whom I did not meet often commented on it. Relatives who were closer home took it upon themselves to suggest ‘remedies’ and tricks for a fairer complexion to my mother. They’d often wonder aloud, while I was within earshot, about how I would get married. It was a strange thing for me to hear, and all of four or five years that I was, I began to feel that something was wrong with me. I began to feel that somehow, in some way, I was a little different from the others. Slowly, as I grew up, my interactions with people outside and at home, came to be coloured by this thought.
I was very close to my father then, and he was to me the only person who didn’t seem to hold me against a shade-card when he played with me, when he bought me books and when he read the little stories I’d scribbled. He just didn’t seem to care much about that sort of thing. He loved to read, and could be seen most evenings snuggled with a book after work. I imbibed that passion from him. With books and that coloured thought, I’d often disappear into my room for hours. Sometimes, I would surface with something I’d written.
Soon, when I had the courage to share these writings, however childish and amateur they were, with people around me, I realized that the colour of my skin suddenly didn’t matter anymore. I was no longer Varsha – the dark girl who wore thick glasses. Suddenly, I was Varsha – the girl who loved to write. And it was then that I began to dream of becoming Varsha – the girl who writes, and who will someday be a writer. It seemed as if the only time people had stopped from commenting on how I looked was when they paused to read what I had written. And though the thought is exaggerated in its expression, its essence became deeply rooted in me. It was then, that I felt everything – from the sound of my name, to the wealth and living conditions of my family, the comments by those aunts and uncles, strip away and become thoroughly impersonal. I began to feel that in other people too, the only true characteristics were the things that they were truly passionate about.
I want to share that in the years that have followed, I have been able to shed the thought that ‘something is wrong with me’ through the help of the wonderful set of friends, family and experiences that life has brought me. The cathartic act of writing has helped too, of course. However, the thought that ‘I am a little different from the others’? That, I’d like to hold.
And if any woman who has ever been told that she is ‘different’ because of her skin colour is reading this, I’d like her to hold onto that thought as well, because I am sure it has only spurred her on to shine stronger, brighter as it should.