Color of the Skin

 “Black Uncle”. This is how I addressed him during my growing up years. Somebody taught me to address him this way. Later, when I learnt to differentiate color, the name made sense. He had very dark skin. My dad also possessed dark skin (shades lighter than “Black Uncle”) and that did not stop me from being insensitive.

Once, my mom was making dosas for breakfast. During that time, my dad was working for the Municipal Corporation of Cochin. He left for work early in the morning but took an hour break at 10 to come home for breakfast. She took extreme care in preparing my dosas. I wanted it to be thin, devoid of any brown or black patches. Despite my mom’s best efforts, there were a couple of them that did not meet the specified quality norms. She looked at me questioningly. “Let’s give this to dad.”, I replied, “He is dark. So, it is okay”. She laughed at my response. When dad came home for breakfast, she narrated this incident to him with dramatic pauses and intermittent teasing. My dad gave me a painful smile without uttering a word.

I have replayed this scene several times in my mind in the intervening years. In every replay, the brief flash of hurt and pain on his face was clearly evident. That incident taught me sensitivity. “Black Uncle” was not “Black Uncle” anymore. I have always called him maman(uncle) after that incident.

After several years, when the marriage of my favorite aunt was fixed, the the photos of the groom were shown to me (and other cousins). While showing the pictures, someone said, “The groom is not fair. He is dark.”, trying to lower the our expectations. There was an apologetic tone in the voice. Later, I overheard the conversation between the elders. “She loves darker skin”, said one of them, trying to justify the choice to the other. The aunt was very fair by my standards. That aunt getting attracted to darker skin was a revelation.

Dedication: Aparna wrote a thought provoking article on discrimination which made me take a stroll down the memory lane.

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Tags: Musings,Color of the Skin,Black Uncle,Dad,Mom,Aunt,Cochin