By Anubha Sarkar:
A large part of one’s childhood consists of reading or watching fairy tales which instil in us straight jacketed ideas of beauty and gendered roles. The stepmother is jealous of her step daughter’s fairness, which is equated to being beautiful and virtuous, and hence we have Snow White. It is not difficult to see that in our society, it is mostly girls who happen to bear the brunt of not being fair. Matrimonial ads scream out for fair brides, and every mother desires for their sons to find a beautiful and fair wife. And having been fed these fairy tales all their lives, children grow up with the same notions of fair being equal to beautiful. Girls grow up thinking they need to be fair in order to be accepted and get married, after all, the princesses in the fairy tales are all fair and virtuous damsels in distress.
Hence, we at Brown n Proud decided to dismantle the ancient fairy tales, and give it our twist. More importantly, we decided to also include the younger generation in helping us modify the stories. In this regard we decided to rechristen fairy tales as Kaali Tales; Kaali meaning black or dark in Hindi. We launched a writing competition amongst schools wherein children gave their own twist to the stories. Our agenda was two fold here – first, we included the school children who become important stakeholders in modifying the tales, and second, this competition compelled children to think about concepts of beauty and fairness. The competition was launched in 2014 with nine schools of Delhi participating, and we received 140 entries. This year, we plan to reach out to more schools and eventually hold a nationwide competition. The schools were rather enthusiastic about our initiative and the result has been rather insightful.
The inspiration behind this initiative is rooted in my childhood, where I distinctly remember my mother’s friend telling her that she should put saffron in my milk so that my skin colour becomes fair. That seemed to be the perfect remedy to ‘cure’ me off my darker skin tone. Notwithstanding the popular perception of fairness being lovely and beautiful, here is some valuable information- melanin, the main determinant of skin colour, is actually a result of evolution. People living close to the equator are more exposed to UV radiation, and the melanin helps protect us from the same. So unless one is interested in endangering themselves to extreme UV radiation, our varying skin colours are a result of evolution and an important protection mechanism. Yet for most, skin colour is a determinant of one’s beauty.
It is our attempt to go beyond skin deep and question the root causes that shape our perceptions of what is beautiful and what is not. And that is why, we had earlier decided to file a complaint against Hindustan Pencils for labelling a peach shade crayon as ‘skin’. Yes, remember that crayon that we all used to colour the humans we would draw? Did you ever think that inadvertently it was imbibing in us which skin colour was the most acceptable and appropriate in our society? And that is what we want to strike at, at the age and stage when our notions and worldview are still being developed.
Following the competition, we launched the Kaali Tales blog to bring out one story every two weeks. It is an ongoing process involving all to come up with a coherent and tangible bloc of stories, enough of which can challenge the behemoth of the traditional fairy tales. As a culmination of it all, we plan to publish a book of the stories – this generation’s version of fairy tales, The Kaali Tales.