“What Went Wrong With Her? Is She Adopted?” My Struggle With The ‘Kali-Kalooti’ Complex

Posted on May 8, 2015 in Body Image, My Story, Taboos

By Jyoti Kumari:

This is something I have never spoken about to anyone, not friends, not family, and definitely not relatives. I read Kainat’s article on Youth Ki Awaaz which was on similar lines, and it made me realize that small things add up to a bigger picture, and until and unless we start raising our voice against it, people won’t understand and will continue to take it as a joke.

So here I am, doing my bit.

silhouette of a girl
Photo Credit: Michelle Carl

I must have been 12 when my mother and I had this conversation; she told me what went through her mind when she was expecting her second child. As she lay in a hospital bed in the maternity ward, the lady on the next bed had just had a child, and it was a boy with ‘dark complexion’. At that instant, she prayed “Please God, let it be a boy, even if his complexion is dark”. The entire maternal side of my family was hoping for the same, and boy were they disappointed (if the stories are to be believed, “they were really sad”). Their prayers backfired and my mother delivered me – ‘a girl’, and that too ‘dark’. On the other hand, my father was the happiest man that day and thanked God for sending Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth in Indian mythology) to his house.

The Fault In My Face

This was only the trailer of what was coming next for me. I am sure everyone is aware of the word “bullying” and its meaning. You must have seen many movies and read articles about it. I used to believe that it generally happens to people who are not physically strong, have low or no confidence, belong to minority groups or different religions, etc. I faced another kind of bullying – ‘complexion bullying’. Believe me; I didn’t realize it till I turned 18.

While I was in school, some people called me names like ‘kali‘ or ‘kalooti‘. I ignored them, or tried to hide myself whenever I could, often looking for another route to reach my classroom without being spotted and insulted. I didn’t have a problem with them calling me names, but I pity those who segregate and differentiate among people on the basis of complexion.

Who were these people who bullied me? They were none other than the loving uncles and aunts, close relatives, sweet neighbours, friends, and people dear to me. At least, they were in my case.

We were residing in an Army colony and one question my parents were asked repeatedly everywhere I went with them was – “Is that your child? She doesn’t resemble any one of you. What went wrong with her? Is she adopted?”
The answer of adoption appeared to be the best answer to me (sometimes I have used it to freak out people). Whenever these questions were posed, I wanted to punch all of them. However, I did nothing about it, because all of this happened in front of my parents, and they never said a word. When they couldn’t do anything, what difference would I have made by raising my voice?

The Fight With The ‘Kali-Kalooti’ Complex

My relatives would say that no one will marry me and even if somebody said ‘yes’ then my parents most probably would be required to give a minimum of Rs 20 lakh in dowry. Every time someone visited my house they would assure my parents by saying “Badi hogi toh colour change ho jayega” (She’ll become fairer as she grows up). The best example they would give was of Kajol (Indian actress), how she had been ‘ugly and dark’ in ‘Baazigar’, and how she transformed into a ‘fair beauty’ in ‘DDLJ’.

These things influenced me so much that by the time I reached class 12th, I couldn’t interact with my classmates. I had developed a severe inferiority complex; I had no confidence, I could never get myself to fight people who called me names because I was made to believe that there was something lacking in me and I was at fault. Some of them still believe that.

But I don’t.

This whole experience made me empathize with my mother’s thoughts. She knew where my dark complexion would lead to. The kind of society we are living in, marriage is the ultimate end goal, everything in between is the means to that end.

It holds true for ‘fatsos, dedh footiyas, sookha tinkas’, basically anyone who doesn’t fit into the ‘perfect picture’ of a human, be it a girl or a boy.

I could write about what inspired a change in me, and made me fight back but it will bring you no good. There is no single way for it. Everyone needs to find their own path. Be perfectly imperfect. You have to find your own hero, and more often than not, that hero is you.

I am 22. I am pretty. And that definitely has nothing to do with not being ‘fair & lovely’. I am more than dark. I am enough.