the unfair project 1

Have you heard this song from Satyam Shivam Sundaram?

Yashomati maiyya se/ bole Nandlaala/

Radha kyun gori/ Main kyon kaala?

(Baby Krishna asked his mum Yashodha why Radha was fair, and why he wasn’t)

Boli muskaati mayyaa/ lallan ko bataya/

Kaari andhiyari aadhi raat me tu aayaa/

Laadla kanhaiya meraa/ kaali kamli vaalaa/

Isiliye kaala

(Smiling, his mum told her baby boy that he was dark because he was born at midnight, when it was pitch black. He is her darling, doer of ‘black’/mischievous deeds, and that’s why he’s black)

Yashomati maiyya se/ bole Nandlaala/

Radha kyun gori/ Main kyon kaala?

(Not satisfied, baby Krishna asked again)

Boli muskaati mayyaa/ sun mere pyaare/

Gori-gori Radhika ke nain kajaraare/

Kaale nainon vaali ne aisa jaadu daala/

Isiliye kaala

(Smiling, his mum teased him about fair Radha’s black eyes. Perhaps these black eyes had cast a spell on him, turning him black too)

Yashomati maiyya se/ bole Nandlaala/

Radha kyun gori/ Main kyon kaala

(Baby Krishna persisted with what we know today is FBI-style questioning- tautological and borderline menacing)

Itne mein Radha pyaari aayi ithlaati/

Maine naahi jaadu daala/ boli balkhaati/

Maiyaa Kanhayyaa tera jag se nirala/

Isiliye kaala

(Just then, Radha dropped in, swaying her hips like the diva she was. “I swear I did no magic,” she said, “Yashodha, your son is different from the rest, unique. Maybe that’s why he’s black, so he can stand out.”)

In a world where even a god needs reassuring, a lot of us find ourselves scrambling for something, anything, that will explain the colour of our skins, our different-ness. Could it be the opposite of a genetic lottery, too much sunbathing as a baby (Vitamin D, why u no available in potato chips?), too much tea (unsupervised teacups + guests leaving = greedy baby slurping dregs?), an unfunny freak of nature that’s made you the sole repository of the family melanin (the inverse of family wealth?), not being a vampire, and not using fairness creams as recommended, which is twice a day everyday, with separate fairness creams for the earlobes, for that strip of nose between your nostrils, and for the part where white scalp becomes brown forehead- parts neglected, ignored and doomed into darkness forever?

I married into a Punjabi family, and when they don’t get a Gold Standard Bahu, (i.e. rich, fair, poker straight hair, nose studded with solitaire), they explain away her undesirable colouring with “Beeji, assi taan vunn hundred per sant sure aan, vyaa ta assi ethe i karvaana ai- kudi dil di vadi achchi ai, odaa dil vilkul saaf ai.” (“Beeji, we’re one hundred percent sure about getting our son married to this girl- at least she’s got a good heart!”) And then, I watched what is most certainly the World’s Most Depressing Video, called the Doll Test.

It’s stupid and unfair, and we need to fight it. Not with an arsenal of fairness creams, but with grit, sass and humour. Thus The Unfair Project, a photo-showcase of my girl crushes, women I admire for being ridiculously comfortable in their gorgeous, chocolatey skins. I also ask them about their beauty regimen and their attitude to dark-skinned-ness, in the hope that I can steal their secrets to both great skin and adorable pancreas. (Of course you’ve heard that Jean Kerr quote-“I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?”) Today, we’re meeting four wonderful women. Onward ho!

1. Dr. Bhavika Sen, Doctor (ENT consultant). Likes playing with colours and little children.


When was the first time you became aware that you weren’t fair, and how did you deal with that knowledge? 

As a kid my lil sis got just a wee bit more attention, and I would wonder if it had anything to do with the difference in our skin tones. Once during internship, when I mentioned that I don’t particularly like the colour pink, my significantly fairer colleague was quick to point out that it wouldn’t suit me anyway, considering the fact that I am ‘black’. Ha Ha, really!

When did your first ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ moment happen, and how did you nurture that realisation into self-love and confidence? 

In my first year in Kolkata (I did my post graduation here), I realised that I got noticed a lot more than I did in Mumbai. People here are exceptionally accepting of dark tones, considering the fact that Bengalis are rarely what is usually defined as ‘fair’. And that was so f*****g liberating. I learned to embrace my skin and all its perfection/imperfections thanks to this city!

What do you think of fairness creams? *to self- it’s okay, obvious questions are what great institutions like Vogue and Arnab Goswami build their reputations on*

Ladies, please take this from a certified doctor: if not all, certainly a vast majority of these creams contain steroids. It causes your skin to thin out, then break out , and before you know it, you’ll be losing your hide. Is it worth it?

What’s your beauty regimen? *readies spiral and ballpoint*

Saslic (Cipla) face wash. Youth Code cream by L’Oreal in the winter. Revlon kajal daily, sometimes touched up in the evening. I try to get a facial clean up once a month, though.

Do un-fair women have an unfair advantage over their fair counterparts? *congratulates self on witty wordplay* 

We can go out in the sun, get tanned, and no one’s the wiser!

Nerdydevi notes-

Dr. Bhavika was a Facebook find. She’s the wife of a former senior of Husband’s (they worked at the same hospital), and when I saw her face on Husband’s Facebook feed (I was looking over his shoulder and correcting his grammar on a status, because Grammar Nazi), I knew I had to reach out to her. She is what a matronly Punjabi woman will call a ‘typical Bangali byootee’, a reductive, cringe-inducing term that should, frankly, be banned. Thank you for being so prompt with your replies, Dr. B! Also, could you teach me how NOT to look like an eggplant when I’m wearing purple?

And yes- I’m going to try Revlon kajal. I want eyes like these!

2. Kirin Vas, Entrepreneur (founder, designer, production person and sole proprietor of Funkanatomy @, a place where beautiful earrings are born to feed on the contents of your wallet, while you deliriously order dozens more because they’re all so gorjius and you’re all MOAR! MOAR! I WILL HAVE THEM ALL!). Likes music, DIY projects, silly gifs and videos, making people laugh, hot pink and aloo in all forms.


When was the first time you became aware that you weren’t fair, and how did you deal with that knowledge?

I’ve never really had that experience. I think it’s basically because I’ve been lucky enough to be brought up in a household in which fairness wasn’t a priority. Actually physical appearance was always brushed aside as something that fades with time, so why would you bother spending so much time agonizing over something that no matter what you do, will be liked or disliked regardless of what you do because beauty is subjective?

When did your first ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ moment happen, and how did you nurture that realisation into self-love and confidence?

I was a very vain child. I think I got a lot of positive reinforcement growing up. Luckily my grandmother caught me preening in front of a mirror one day and said, “You know the longer you look at yourself in the mirror the uglier you get!” At that time I took it at face value and started avoiding mirrors completely. BEST. DECISION. EVER. Though at the time I took what she said at face value (I must’ve been 3), what she said is completely true. If you spend too much time staring at your own reflection, you’ll end up finding flaws which are not even there. (kind of like saying a word over and over till you think it’s a made up word!)

What do you think of fairness creams? *mandatory garden-variety question to be asked of any dark-skinned woman, especially if she’s a feminist*

Sunscreen is good because skin cancer sucks but I’ve never really understood the point of fairness cream. Your colour is what makes you unique, dark or fair, variety is the spice of life. Embrace the deliciousness that is the colour of your skin – whatever shade it may be!

What’s your beauty regimen? *to be asked of anyone that looks like Norah Jones, which Kirin totally does!*

In the morning, I wake up, splash water on skin, wipe face with towel, apply lacto Calamine lotion. I apply Kaajal (Colorbar Waterproof Black) when I go out. Eyeliner is optional depending on my mood (Colourbar Liquid Liner in Black). I work from home so I avoid applying anything other than Lacto Calamine lotion when I can help it. At night, I wash my face with Neutrogena face wash (the blackhead eliminating one) because I like the scrub more than the plain foam. Sometimes, I rub some Dr. Quinn Vitamin E Oil on my face before going to bed, and definitely use face wash the next day if I use Vitamin E oil at night. When going out, I tend to use Lacto Calamine lotion as the base. I bought some products from Mac in the throes of a quarter life crisis which I rarely use – foundation, setting powder and blush- the foundation is good in case I want to cover dark circles. I also use very light eye shadow (Revlon). 

Lips-wise, Biotique used to have this sunflower seed lipbalm which I used to swear by but they have discontinued it, so Himalaya lip balm is what I don’t leave home without! 

Lipsticks I am a sucker for- Maybelline’s Deep red, and I picked up a mauve-ish lip colour by Stila that I use quite a lot. I usually just dab a bit of colour on.. lipstick DOES NOT stay on my lips. I think I end up eating most of it.

Do un-fair women have an unfair advantage over their fair counterparts?

I always find that I look fitter/slimmer/more toned when I am tanned as opposed to when I have been kept out of the sun. Who doesn’t love the just-returned-from-a-vacation-sun-tan (nobody needs to know you got it from wandering around in the sun at Sarojini Nagar.)

Nerdydevi notes-

Kirin was at college with me, a year junior course-wise, but many years senior chops-wise. At college, she sold the pwettiest earrings and jewellery at Diwali Mela, working hard at her tiny stall, so focused on making a sale that she’d forego lunch just for a friendly conversation with giggly freshers who were clearly only window-shopping. She struck me as being a very smart businesswoman in the making, and years later, I was proven right. She runs a great website that sells all of her lovingly-handcrafted goodies, *shameless plug alert!* Did I mention how pocket-friendly her earrings are, how wittily-named and executed, and how gorgeous? I’ve erm..bought TONS. And did you notice the can-opener earrings she’s wearing in the picture? 🙂 Thank you for doing this Kirin. Love!

PS: Dr. Quinn sounds interesting. He sounds like a crazy German pharmacist who calls himself ‘Kvin’. Google search on!

3.  Vasudha Singh, Lawyer, and currently taking baby steps toward entrepreneurship. Likes her sunny balcony, road trips, pink bougainvillea and marble cake.



When was the first time you became aware that you weren’t fair, and how did you deal with that knowledge?

That would be somewhere in my late teens when some ‘aunty’ or the other said that even though I was ‘saanvli’ (the colour of ripe wheat, a borderline negative word Indians use for darker complexions), I was quite pretty. This is a vague recollection because this matter of my complexion just never occupied any mind-space ever, before or after this ‘aunty’ commented.

When did your first ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ moment happen, and how did you nurture that realisation into self-love and confidence?

I’m not sure about beautiful, but I realized I was somehow attractive when the first ‘love-letter’ arrived. I was 16 years old in an all-girls boarding-school so this was a shocker! This boy had just seen me somewhere! I couldn’t understand why he liked me without ever having spoken to me! It took me a while to put together that it had something to do with how I looked. As for the confidence, it came from accepting myself as who and how I am…that’s simply said but is a painful process of identifying and letting go of your insecurities.

What do you think of fairness creams? *fumes. they’re evil, what else?*

They are a waste of money, cancer-inducing, inconsequential-to-your-self-worth products. They are also a symptom of the superiority attached by Indians to the West and everything western, including fair Caucasian skin.

What’s your beauty regimen? *I want your face, I want your face!*

There isn’t much of one, just wash my face and moisturize. The morning routine is using Himalaya Neem face wash to avoid pimples, moisturizing with Neutrogena Oil-free Moisture SPF 15. Then I just slap on FabIndia Lip butter and MAC kajal. I also drink gallons of water all day which I think helps.

Do un-fair women have an unfair advantage over their fair counterparts? 

We can carry bright colours well. We also have to find other things than our skin colour to attach our self-worth to – an exercise in introspection!

Nerdydevi notes- 

Vasudha practically flew in straight from Paris into the murky and endlessly exciting Delhi office of Hindustan Times. She was a qualified lawyer from a great school and had lived quite the life in France, but there were no airs about her, which was nice- because I half-expected her to sneak pretentious French into conversations and declare that the bakeries in CP were shit because they didn’t have profiteroles or macarons, mon dieu! All that went down the chute when she chose to lull us, Pied Piper-like, into glassy-eyed submission with a beautiful ghazal and a song derived from a raga. Heart touch ho gaya, ji.  Thanks for doing this, Vasudha. I’m sorry I stole a picture from your Facebook- you were so undecided about one that looked nice, when the truth is that you’d look nice even with your nose pressed up against a glass door. Plus, you’re one of the most beautiful brides I’ve seen! So much love!

And oh- I’m going to Fab for some lip butter, stat!

4. Atisi Rana, Entrepreneur. Likes beaches, chocolate, coffee, travel and books (not particularly in that order!)

photo 2-2 xyz

When was the first time you became aware that you weren’t fair, and how did you deal with that knowledge?

Some old aunty made a comment on how it will be difficult to find a groom for me since I wasn’t fair when I was 14 and attending some distant cousin’s wedding. I remember coming home and trying to use all readily available bleaching agents and Vicco Turmeric for about a week (without making mom privy to this activity of course). Finally, when there was no change in my ‘darkness’, I went and sobbed in front of mom, who sat me down and told me that my complexion is like my eyes- I am born with it and will live with it all my life. That was my first lesson on how one should never be proud (the bitchy,’I-own-you-because-I-am-pretty’ proud) or unhappy about the way they look ’cause it’s a gift from God and can’t be changed. It is what you make of yourself as a person that is in your hands and will be of prime importance all your life. Thankfully, that lesson has stayed with me ever since and always shall.

When did your first ‘I’m beautiful, actually’ moment happen, and how did you nurture that realisation into self-love and confidence?

Well, what I really did was I stopped taking the way I look seriously. I stopped associating people’s faces with their personalities. Once I did that with other people, applying the same formula to myself was rather easy. So I try never to let people make more of my face than my personality. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, it’s actually very tough, especially with people of the opposite gender but more often than not, it works for me. Once people look beyond your face, they automatically take you more seriously and things fall in place themselves.

What’s your beauty regimen? *ooh, notes-time!*

I’m afraid I don’t have a strict beauty regime.My husband and I travel a lot (almost 15 days a month) and following any set fancy routine is almost impossible. But I try to stick to certain basic rules and follow them no matter what part of the world we are in.

1. I start my day with a glass of warm water ( if you have access to a lemon and teaspoon of honey, or either of the two, nothing like it)

2. I drink plenty of water through the day. Fresh fruit juices contribute to that, coffee and cold drinks do not- strict no.

3. I try and keep my face moisturised always. Irrespective of the climate and location, I carry a moisturizer in my bag at all times (I feel that Olay’s All Day moisturizer is great)

4. I use a lip balm as often as possible in a day (Fab India Lip Butter)

5. I use a hand cream from L’occitane, something I carry in my bag always

6. The water proof sunscreen with SPF70 from Neutrogena is something that I swear by, nothing else works in Goa, where I live!

7. Mascara from Shiseido and liquid kajal from L’Oreal make up  my every-and-any-day look

8. Removing the eye makeup and cleansing my face at night before sleeping is the biggest favour I do to myself.

Do un-fair women have an unfair advantage over their fair counterparts?

1. Warm, earthy colours and big chunky silver jewellery look great against our skins

2. We dont have to worry about getting ‘tanned’ 😉

Nerdydevi notes-

Not many know this, but Atisi was my first real friend at college. She was (and is!) such a calming influence that I’d single her out like a heat-seeking missile every day, only to dump all of my boyfriend-anxiety on to her. She gave me wise counsel, good food, and the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten- “Do whatever it takes to make you happy, and don’t feel stupid or guilty doing it.” We spent tons of missed class-time in the many gazebos that dot LSR’s campus, I biting my nails and crying and telling her I was going to be killed if found out, and she telling me there was no way anyone could get their hands on the call records of a prepaid number. She also accompanied me on my first nervous visit to boyfriend’s college, my first after a really bad year trying to convince my parents that I knew what I was doing. Atisi, I’m sorry for leaving you stranded in the middle of sweaty medicine students, harried staff and stalls peddling stethoscopes. You’re a sweetheart. thank you SO much for doing this! :-*

I’ve er..been binge-drinking Diet Coke by the gallon. This stops today. I’m going to keep a giant 2 litre bottle next to me starting tomorrow!

Hope you enjoyed this instalment of The Unfair Project. Please share it with as many women as you can, a. as a sort of message to your girl friends, especially those that need to embrace their beauty, and b. as a ‘fuck you!’ to the fairness/ whitening product industry. Thank you so much! There’s more coming! 🙂

6 thoughts on “the unfair project 1

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