Fair, is it?
That you know I’m talking about skin colour
And not about justice and equality and honour?
With all the browns
In my Camlin watercolour palette,
I would only use peach to paint
The skin of the princesses I drew
With golden hair and blue eyes for good measure.
And yet everywhere I looked,
I saw the hated browns and blacks.
On faces, on races.
Burnt sienna: Calligraphic strokes on the wings of a Coucal
Too dark on a baby girl,
Minutes old and already mourned.
Raw umber: Rich mud,
So fragrant as it soaks up the first rain,
Poets have wept;
Too dark on a girl.
Her mother lovingly buys her creams and potions,
To scour the earth off her skin.
Burnt umber: Rendered intensely fertile
By the heat Of the subcontinental sun,
Too dark on a girl
With long raven tresses, and kohl-rimmed eyes.
She doesn’t get the part of Cinderella.
Chocolate: A taste of sex before you’ve had it,
Bittersweet and potent.
You would see it in flashes,
On the burnished bare backs of Lambani women,
As their mirrored skirts swung in
Sultry insouciance.
Too dark on the women.
Because they’ve taken to hiding behind sarees
And modest blouses.
Coffee: my skin
The heady aroma of a fresh brew swirling about.
We who love our coffee
In the Starbucks shade card
Latte, mocha, cappuccino, espresso, americano,
We who wax eloquent and argue ferociously
Over the aroma and flavour of our particular taste,
See beauty in only two hues, milk and cream.
Obsidian: The darkest of all.
The colour of the Mother Goddess,
Her crystalline rage
Flows underneath as red-hot magma
That her Name is sung
In reverence and prayer.
And just as easily, casually,
To demean, ostracize, exclude.


I thought I had said all that I had wanted to say in my poem Kali. But She has a mind of Her own. Everytime I think I will not discuss colourism anymore, there arises yet another opportunity I can’t say no to. Recently Femina asked me to write for their 59th anniversary inclusivity special issue. For a kid growing up in the 80s and the 90s Femina was the shizz! I remember as a 12-year-old, telling my sister, that I’d be featured in Femina someday… My mother would always say, choose your words carefully, for everything is heard. To think there was someone out there listening to a dark, scrawny, sad little 12-year-old still moves me to tears.

©Hema Gopinathan Sah 2018 First published in the Femina 59th anniversary issue, inclusivity special.

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