By Vishakha Sethi:
“Dad, I want to pursue higher education in Canada,” I said reluctantly while trying to convince my father.
“Beta, I’m glad you talked to me about it. Even my friend’s daughter has gone to some college in Canada. I was thinking of asking you if you’d like to join the same place. She likes it there. Let me know what you want me to do to help you,” came his reply.
Wow! That was something unexpected or, maybe, I just had a wrong opinion about my father. I jumped with joy and excitement as half of the struggle was over.
“How would she survive there? Look at her! Such a thin girl who doesn’t even know how to make tea for herself,” said a feeble voice of an old relative who was listening to the whole conversation between my father and I.
“Have you gone mad? Aren’t there enough colleges in India that you are trying to send her off this far? You are making a mistake. You’ll repent later,” the voice kept trying to convince my father to change his decision. My father, who is always firm in his decisions, replied, “You need not worry. She has every right to live her dream! For your concerns about her cooking skills, an empty stomach can make everyone learn and earn.”
So, here I was, after 4 months and 12 days, breathing in the air of Toronto.
Weddings are the perfect excuses for me to visit India. Someone rightly said, “Home is where your heart is.” I was excited to meet everyone after such a long time.
“Namaste auntyji! How have you been?” I greeted one of the aunts I was seeing after a long time.
“Namaste beta! You haven’t changed a bit after so many years. I heard people have a fair complexion and they are more stylish when they return from Canada, but you are still the same dusky nerdy girl,” came auntie’s response to my greetings. “For God’s sake auntyji, I was studying in Canada and working two part-time jobs concurrently to pay for my studies. I didn’t have maids like you do to work for me. By the way, I didn’t go to a different country to look stylish and become light skinned,” I whispered.
My mom, standing next to me, felt bad as well and she replied to my aunt on my behalf, “Since my daughter is too modest to let you know herself, let me tell you that she is a university gold medalist and a post-graduate with honours from a Canadian University. She neither applies make-up nor does she dress to please anyone. She is capable enough of expressing herself through what she has achieved and not by what others perceive. By the way, Canada does not offer beauty classes where Indians can go and turn white.” Proud of you mom!
‘Fair complexion’. The term does not even exist in the country where I work. ‘Light skinned’ does but never in a discriminatory context. Thanks to the beauty products in India that make everyone believe that ‘Fair is fair’, females in India are subjected to such questions about their appearance, irrespective of their education and other skills they might possess. Scrutinising eyes are always on them and they have to dress up to please society more than to please themselves. God forbid if a daughter-in-law is little darker than her in-laws’ family, she has to bear mortifying stares and teasing.
Some people argue that we dress as we think and one must dress good to look good. But in my humble opinion, appearances can be deceptive. If a woman is covered up, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is close-minded. Wisdom and attitude matter more than appearance. A woman’s uniqueness can be in her gentle touch, smile, compassion, little acts of kindness, her sense of humour, self-confidence or her expressions rather than her appearance. In my diverse country, why do I find it difficult to explain what the essence of beauty is?
We must amend the definition of beauty in the constitution of orthodoxy and keep ourselves away from the irrational judgements based on appearances.